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Howling Polarity

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Scott tries really hard not to make anyone angry about wolf reintroduction

Ask any electrician or auto mechanic about polarity and you’ll get something like this: “The condition of being positive or negative in relation to a magnetic pole. Cross them and you are likely to see some sparks!”

This can also be said when firing up a conversation with just about anyone regarding wolves and their ‘right’ to be here.

For several years now I’ve been avoiding a story/’toon request from a few long-time friends, not only because I sensed some high voltage in this topic, but I also couldn’t think up a decent cartoon to go with it, no matter how hard I concentrated (these very rarely, by the way, come from anything short of unregulated aloofness).

The ‘95/’96 reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone and the central Idaho mountains has stirred a lot of blood, most of which is so heavily charged, one could jump start a dead battery with it. I am thankful to have lots of friends, of probably every bent I can imagine as well as some I haven’t. Hoping not to lose any by opening my mouth, here goes.

Not too far back that I can’t recall the finer points, my dad, on a trip ‘up north’ to check out the hallowed grounds of the Ruby Ridge fiasco, gave his thoughts on wolf reintroduction thusly, “That’s the dumbest proposal I’ve ever heard!” I sidled past that remark by asking if he’d like me to mix him up another Manhattan on the rocks.

Sometimes finding the middle ground with both feet is like negotiating a log over a creek that won’t stay put but rolls this way and that with every careful step, regardless of flailing appendages, innocence or center of gravity.

Like so many of my ‘boomer’ generation, I grew up “free range,” my parents seemingly okay with the fact that I did so with every other critter known to the northern Rockies, with the exception of wolves. The theory being, “If it doesn’t eat you or gore you, it will make you stronger and wiser (or at least faster).” Had reintroduction happened fifty or sixty years earlier, I now wonder if I’d have had such an idyllic childhood.

Such was my rearing, but the world has changed, diminished way beyond the half-scale of a youngster’s memories compared to the ‘grown-up’ version I later realized as I topped out at six-two. “Everything shrinks as you age” is true enough, but this is different. It can be extrapolated like a census. Sixty years ago, the U.S. population stood at just over 165 million, about half what it was in the 2010 head count. It will nearly double again by 2070. Where we as a species will “plateau” is anybody’s guess. My guess is we passed sustainable some time ago.

As most of you know, I spent my youth in the Yellowstone Caldera, a place rife with wildlife and stupid tourists. The animals I could deal with, the others, not so much. I ran away with a more “whole-istic” approach to the term wild instead of the turnstile version I grew disgusted with.

The stories came early to my yearning ears. Bears ‘going rogue’ by eating visitors’ young instead of “posing nicely the way they should have been trained” while licking jelly from innocent little faces for a photo op. Or fur-bearing locomotives implanting movie cameras in obtuse but otherwise innocent heads. Or parents letting their toddlers run down slippery boardwalks only to see them cartwheel into boiling thermal features designed by nature to be observed, not felt. All warnings taken but unheeded.

It didn’t take many of these to develop in my mind a sharp sense of awareness as I enlarged my free-ranginess, as well as an understanding of how things can go if one doesn’t keep their senses open to consequences.

This is no less true today, a half century later, especially given the even more distracted nature of our self-centered society based on Twitter and Facebook feeds where we get to blow our own horns for attention, all too often in stupid ways. Mimicking what we see elsewhere, we repeat the cycle endlessly. The ‘stupid’ stories continue and probably always will, as it seems to be in our collective nature to let goats lick the salt from our sweaty legs and get pictures to prove it.

Thirty-five grey wolves were transplanted to the mountains of central Idaho between ’95 and ’96. I didn’t give it much fanfare as we already had one lope through the property in the late ‘80s (not even pausing to pee), not to mention that we also had a half-breed red husky/wolf female adorning our driveway and sometimes howling the presence of cougar in the vicinity. No kidding.

Discounting hundreds of ‘kills’, legal and otherwise, by hunters, trappers, idiots with poison and the USDA’s Wildlife Services, those thirty-five originals have grown to, as of 2014, 777 documented individuals. In addition, we have, here in the northern panhandle, twenty documented packs shadowed by one young lady who thinks nothing of going in a den to check on pups while the pack watches from a distance. These are not part of the Idaho tally as they are considered migrants out of Canada and northwestern Montana.

First off, in this quagmire of a topic, I searched up “wolf attacks /North America” and recoiled over the account of one young special ed teacher (Candice Berner) in Alaska, out for an evening run after work, in training for an upcoming marathon, who was taken down and partially devoured by a pack outside her remote village. This has stuck to my mind like a dollop of fresh silicone on brand new Levis. Will it happen down here? 

A little more research got me these tidbits of knowledge. Each year, on average, cows kill 21 people, pit bulls – 151, alligators – 2 to 3, lightning – 49, cars – 30 thousand. I’m not even going to mention guns. All seemingly waved off as “collateral damage” so that we can go about our business without fear of anything but unavailable cell service or a far from loping economy.

Life is one big I.Q. test and not passing is self-explanatory.

Anti-wolf groups flaunt, “In case of bleeding [hearts], apply pressure!” whereas, pro-wolf advocates responding to ‘shout-downs’ at public forums have taken the course (or courts) of least resistance to get their point across. Too much searching on my part has resulted in a raw scalp from all the head scratching. 

Where is truth? Beats me, perhaps it’ll bite me on the butt one of these days while I’m bent over with my nose in a patch of chanterelles, morels or warted giant puffballs. Sometimes, I’ll admit, my name is O. Blivious. At least I’ve been warned. 

Whatever your take on this cartoon’s image, whether glee or hatred for all the wrong reasons, let me say this: if it only saves one person from becoming, in the end, a dog turd in the wilderness, any consternation will be worth it. Have a nice walk and enjoy this beautiful state before it gets completely overrun, sterilized, homogenized, fracked, pulverized and paved. 

Recommended reading: “In Wolf Country” by Jim Yuskavitch.

I hope I haven’t pissed anybody off.

On a lighter note, I recently eyed one of my white firs having some new ‘territorial’ claw marks two feet higher than my raised eyebrows, eight furrows, deep and to the point. More food for thought.

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Scott Clawson Scott Clawson No, he's not the electrician, he's the OTHER Scott Clawson, who's a quality builder when he's not busy busting a gut while writing his humor column for the first issue of each month, or drawing his Acres n' Pains cartoons.

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wolves, wolf reintroduction, Scott Clawson, Acres n Pains

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