Monday, May 02, 2016

Wolves are People Too--Letter #79

Dear Governor Ducey, 

When I was a kid, I loved the TV show “Kids Are People Too.” The program advanced the revolutionary idea that kids had brains and ideas for what they wanted, usually in the form of playing an accordion, but still, the kids had direction. Volition! I hated being told what to do. I was a righteous fifth-grader. My best friend, Jeff Whiting, who is now a director on Broadway, and I protested boys and girls being separated for everything: sports, maturation programs, lining up for recess or to sit in rows at assemblies. “This discrimination must end!” we claimed although I don’t think we used the word “discrimination” and I don’t think the justice we were looking for was entirely self-less. Jeff and I wanted to sit by each other. Still, we felt the injustice deeply. We wanted things to be less categorical, less divided.

I-40 is a dividing line for the Mexican Gray Wolf. None are allowed to cross it. If they do, they will be removed and taken back to “their” area in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and White Mountain Apache Reservation, in the White Mountains. This wolf, one of just 97 Mexican Gray Wolves, is having a hard time reestablishing his species. The pickings for females are low. He’s related to most of them. Confined to this smallish, space means his chances for ever being anything but a representative of a dwindling species whose genetic variation is so small that, eventually, the species will die out.

I know you hate being told what to do. I get it. So do I. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has been court ordered to develop a recovery plan. You sent a letter saying you would not allow wolves on to cross I-40. But the problem is, it’s not really up to you. While some people still fear and hate wolves, many others see them as amazing creatures, able to withstand near eradication, form social bonds, use elegant forms of communication to maintain those bonds. The people who love wolves aren’t in charge either. It’s not a boy/girl, pro-wolf/anti-wolf kind of situation. It’s a situation where the will of one side can be balanced with the will of another side. Ranchers can be compensated for lost livestock. Farmers can be taught how to keep wolves off their property. Some wolves may be removed or killed. But that’s the point of government. To address the needs of the many individuals and try to find a way to understand how wolves are part of the wilderness and part of what we mean by “the west.”

The principal told Jeff and me that we would have to abide by the boy and girl divisions but he didn’t dismiss our concerns. He explained that it’s just an easy way to organize the class and get students to quiet down. Our gender didn’t really matter in the line. In fact, he whispered, if you plan ahead, you can line up so you’re right next to each other. We weren’t thrilled. We’d still sometimes be divided by what was to us as arbitrary a distinction as a freeway running through Coconino County, but we took his advice and managed to line up near each other and, when we got to recess, played four-square with an uneven number of girls and boys.

The wolf, after centuries of being reviled, now enjoys a sliver of hope that his point of view will be addressed. A metaphor for the loner, the alpha, the killer has morphed into a metaphor for the family man, the communicator, the wild order itself. The idea that wilderness can live beside civilization, can in fact make us be more civil, is the a revolutionary idea that isn’t really that revolutionary. People and wolves have lived together for a very long time. Supposedly, humans are smart. They should be able to stand in two lines peacefully next to each other.

But, my fear is, like the way you have defied the order by the court to pay the schools the amount of money they are owed, you will defy the order, if it comes, to allow the wolf on this side of I-40. My fear is, like the way you want state trust land to give the schools money that is already owned by the schools in replace of money you already owe them, you will sell the land upon which the wolf is meant to recover and kill two wolves with one stone. No land. No wolves. No justice.

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