From Montana to beyond, the Republican war on wildlife must end

Eufemia Didonato

“To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords that bind the earth together.”      —Barry Lopez As we enter the new year, Montana is going to full-scale war with nature. The election that was just completed gave Republicans a sweep in our state, allowing for […]

“To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords that bind the earth together.”
      —Barry Lopez

As we enter the new year, Montana is going to full-scale war with nature. The election that was just completed gave Republicans a sweep in our state, allowing for the first time in a generation, for our state to have a Republican Governor, House and Senate. This clean sweep has removed the safeguards for wildlife that have been in place, including preventing the removal of wolves. There are also those pushing to expand trapping. Yes in 2021, trapping of wildlife still occurs in Montana.

Others are pushing to find new ways to allow hunting from across state lines and to begin once again to chase black bears all year long with hounds. Now all of this is part of a radical anti-wildlife agenda being pushed forward in the next few weeks. These actions are a stain on the moral consciousness of our state and they could well become reality.

Our new Governor Greg Gianforte, best known for body slamming a reporter, is radical by any standard, a religious zealot, multi-millionaire who believes woman should be subservient to men, also sees wildlife as something to be killed, trapped or destroyed to make way for livestock, logging, mining, coal development or oil drilling. In a state known for its magnificent wilderness and trout streams, we have elected a man dedicated to selling off our public lands. Republicans in our state are introducing bills at warp speed; many designed to remove protections for sage grouse, to put trappers on our state Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission. They are doing what they can to limit bison and making property owners’ concerns more important than wildlife with every new bill introduced.

But more than anything their sights are on wolves. Bills have been introduced by State Rep. Paul Fielder, a Republican and trapper. His new bills include night hunting of wolves, snaring or choking of wolves with wire strands, increasing the season of hunting wolves and doubling trapping quotas. The new governor will sign them with glee, this in a state that garners most of its wealth from tourism. 

From people that come from across the world to see wolves in the wild, to have a chance encounter with a grizzly, to float a river, see a bison or beaver and witness the beauty that defines a Montana summer. Yet, what our legislature and governor are saying by these actions is don’t come to Montana in BOLD letters.

While it’s clear that the majority in our state voted for the new governor, many did so with the idea of fewer taxes and less government, yet the Republicans in our legislature, with a green light from the governor elect, are making this election about wildlife and turning Montana into a killing field.

Trapping takes an unimaginable toll in our state. More than 150,000 animals are killed after days and nights of suffering. Many of these are non-targeted animals and include family pets, eagles, endangered or threatened species. That does not even include all the coyotes that are trapped and killed year round. Ranchers continue to complain about bison and push efforts to limit their access to the state thus creating a slaughter of them at the gates of Yellowstone each winter.

Photo credit: Eva Blue via Unsplash

Trophy hunting being pushed by groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Safari Club result in more killing of wolves as they push members and legislators to demand their removal, ignoring the important realities of a diverse ecosystem and the role of Keystone species in return for a push to make the state an immense elk farm.

These groups are now in charge in Montana and they are pushing the boundaries of what is just and humane. The loser remains wildlife. At a time when climate change and the pressures of four years of relentless attacks on our forests and Bureau of Land Management lands at the hands of the Trump Administration have caused great pressure on our state’s wildlife, we now are witnessing the reality of what can happen to a Western state governed by a Republican majority, with no checks.

It will take strong actions by the Biden Administration including new federal protections for wolves and Executive Orders to remove trapping from public lands to provide the critical protections needed to check our new anti-wildlife government in Montana. Our legislative session begins on January 4th. The bills will be formally introduced shortly after that.

Wildlife remains the soul of our forests, rivers and prairies. They were not placed on earth to suffer at the hands of humans, but rather to co-exist with us. The actions of our state deserve the attention of our nation. We need pressure to be placed on our elected officials.

The definition of insanity is to destroy that which makes you great. Montana’s greatness comes from its wildlands and wildlife, from its mighty rivers and vast forests. The tragic aspect of this comes from those lawmakers, who represent the people and special interests that seek to exploit and destroy the very species that make our life in Montana great. It’s an insanity that must be stopped.

The big picture

Whether its aerial gunning of wolves in Alaska, or bear baiting in Idaho or a free for all mentality in Montana or trapping in New Mexico where bobcats, bear, coyotes or mountain lions die a horrible death, there is something of thuggery, bordering on gangsterism that happens when Republicans take charge. So what happens when the party represented by the greatest land being on earth, the elephant, goes gung ho and starts to implement wildlife laws?

Well for starters, in 2016 senators voted along party lines 52 to 47 to rescind a law that would forbid the most inhumane practices imaginable for wildlife. No Republican was against H.J. Res 69 that gave Congress the final say in whether wildlife refuges will become target practice arenas and killing fields for hunters — all in counter distinction to the Alaska National Interests Land Conservation Act of 1980 set aside for wildlife. Most Americans, in fact, do not agree with the Republicans on animal welfare and their views on sports hunting.

Hundreds of years ago, there was a caring naturalist who knew about the mass destruction of the whales to light America’s and England’s cities. He knew about the mass murder of tens of thousands of egrets for their feathers to adorn women’s hats. He also knew about the distant ivory trade in Africa that was starting to decimate the great body of the elephant. His name was Thoreau. He wrote, “What if a greater race of beings were to make flageolets (flutes) and buttons out of our bones.” In light of the search for otherworldly life and fascination with UFO’s of late, especially among the elite in DC, it might behoove us to rethink how awkward, barbaric and senile our behavior has been over the last few hundred years. Today 70 percent of the world’s wildlife has been lost due to the same kind of empathy the Republican mind or lack thereof has cast on the world. In terms of climate change, the party of oil and gas, is one of the main reasons we are losing the planet and also losing key species around the world, prompted by the antics of the NRA and the Dallas Safari club which encourages bagging rare species and predators around the world.

Unlike indigenous people on five continents who have pursued animals for food, trophy hunters hunt for fun, a practice that will probably be considered criminal when most of the world’s animals are gone. We will look back longingly and with great shame and think what it meant to encounter leopard and polar bear, and ibex, and jaguar and giraffe and seal and lion and orcas and wolves and elephant and grizzlies and bobcat and pronghorn and be in awe at the living wonder they embodied in their being and that we mutilated so irreducibly because we could and we like the heat of a barrel after it sent a missile into the brain or heart of the innocent and applauded our guile, wit, vanity and utter arrogance as we snuffed out the life force of the defenseless. Not because we had to eat, not because the grocery store was hundreds of miles way, but because we had to prove that somehow we were clearly superior to a life form now reduced to a lifeless carcass with a grin embedded in its lifeless stare.

Beleaguered bears

Every year about 50,000 black bears are shot because they are deemed dangerous, living in too close proximity to humans. Bears are also killed for their gall bladders and paws which end up in Chinese medicine either in the U.S. or in China. Dried gallbladder can fetch many thousands of dollars for supposedly alleviating liver and blood diseases and other ailments like fevers. According to Bear Watch, based in BC, the poaching is a $2 billion a year business. Once poaching could get you a year in jail. Today it would be 20 years behind bars. While bears are legally raised in China, the wild bear trade is completely illegal and only underscores the schizophrenia in Chinese animal practices. The domestic use in China does not lessen the demand abroad. North American stores in Chinatowns trade not only in bear parts but also leopard, tiger and musk deer parts. The world is losing its bears and wildlife for exotic practices and superstitions that have no place in the 21st century. It is an abomination.

Alarmingly, after being urged by the international community to ban their wild animal consumption, the Chinese government has even recommended the injection of Tan Re Qing, which contains bear bile, to treat COVID-19. Containing high levels of ursodeoxcholic acid, otherwise known as ursodiol, it is said to help dissolve gallstones and treat liver diseases. Clifford Steer of University of Minnesota says there is no proof that ursodiol is effective for the coronavirus. Bears are also imported from Laos, Vietnam and North Korea. The cruelty and obscenity of the trade knows no bounds. The slaughter, procuring, processing, storage, and lastly consumption of bear and animal parts is something humanity needs to eliminate as fast as possible. Most Chinese medicine contains only plants. The elimination of animal parts would go a long way to making Chinese medicine a more noble practice.

While American and Canadian black bears are being impacted by foreigners, it behooves America to set higher standards while populations endure. Every year 100,000 coyotes are killed by Wildlife Services abetted by the ranchers of America who see their flocks menaced, although it is mainly the aura of coyotes that ranchers and farmers loathe. As of 2019, 5,000 wolves have been killed in the lower 48 states and not one human killed since 1900. About 3,000 mountain lions are killed every year and given climate change, forest fires and habitat loss, their number are sure to decrease over the next few years. Idaho is only one of 12 states that allows black bear baiting. Others include Wisconsin, Utah, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Michigan, Maine, Alaska and Wyoming. The question is why?

Photo credit: Madhu Madavan via Unsplash

Of the 1,500 or so grizzlies, the greatest predator in America, about 50 are killed every year either by poaching, cars or trains. But it is the poaching venue that continues to haunt the public, because all is not right on public lands when it comes to conservation. In August 2016 a law was passed that forbade the aerial gunning of wolves, bears and wolverines in Alaska. Congress members Don Young and Dan Sullivan didn’t like the laws so they had Congress reverse it. They believed the rule was an infringement on Alaskans’ rights, although young wolf pups might not agree. The barbarity and atrocity involved beggars the imagination. How can America’s greatest state, in terms of size, the last great hope for America, be so dead set, in well, death? Secretary Ryan Zinke has also been at the head of an effort to rollback wildlife protection across the country all in favor of agribusiness and ranchers. It is almost a war mentality that has besotted the Republican mind, the kind our ancestors knew when they had wolf killing contests or daily shot hundreds of bison from trains just for fun.

Targeting endangered species 

The renegade coalition to upturn the Endangered Species Act is also part and parcel of the subjugation of wildlife by the Republican Party. In essence the subjugation of life for control’s sake and profit. The oil industry and mining count more than individuals. The sage grouse can’t hold a feather to the gas industry. They simply get in the way. They can’t compete with big toys and guns. Some 95 million cows chewing up the land and using a major part of America’s water supply are far more significant than a few pesky wolves — in the mind of the arch predator the white male Republican rancher, senator or industrialist.

We have had more than 300 years to figure out America and right about now, most of us realize that the edifice is tottering and teetering on the edge of survival. Whether it is devastating temperate rainforest or menacing pristine Arctic land in Alaska or simply baiting black bear in Idaho, America’s love affair with the wild is on life support. Cyanide bombs have been signed into law by the last administration. The right to bait, trap and kill, whether it is wolves in Alaska or in Oregon, shows how schizophrenic we have become. It defines who we are. For a party which believes in life, which claims to be pro-life, does not extend to other life forms. As a nation, we cannot afford to be selective in our decision making. Whether we choose to support the other species we co-exist with is a moral decision and an ontological one. 

As the grand dame of moral philosophy Mary Midgley wrote in her masterpiece “Beast and Man” (1979) citing Immanuel Kant‘s thoughts on the will, a philosopher who would surely scare most Republicans today,” But the will now stands mainly for arrogance, arbitrariness, and contempt for natural facts.”

The Republican mind that seeks to subdue is a reckless act of vengeance for which the natural world has no answer. It is the same mutilation and bigotry that education has suffered, women also and those who are foreign and whose epidermis reflects a different shade. It is the same bigotry that has been cast on the mindful and caring and the caretakers of Providence, when President Bush ran against Gore because he was an intellectual and the same reason a bullet has to ring through the brain of the wild in the form of trophies because the enslavement process then is total, as the former slaveowners would have admitted centuries past.

In subduing our fellow creatures we have threatened Creation in all its glory, here in America and in the far more biodiverse places of the Earth. We have been accruing a massive debt which we will have to pay back not in dollars but in antibodies residing in our blood, fighting off the minutest but most powerful of beings, wreaking havoc on our souls for perhaps generations to come. 

We closed the window on redemption a while ago. Maybe, just maybe, the next administration will set a course unparalleled to redeem this Earth of slaughter. It will have to take on the dimensions of an internal war the likes of which America has not had since the 1960’s. But this time it will be more than just human again human injustice, it will be humans vying for the remains of the Earth. In the middle of the battle will be the animals, the guileless, taking marching orders from a higher court while humans stampede, lost in the miasma of their own making. It will be a war waged to salvage the last sentient ones without which we perish. Heaven forbid, one day the children come out of their shelters raging under the winds of alien storms, and witness the last wild bear or mountain lion or bobcat or wolf shot by the egregious hand of a maniac who loved his gun more than his child and who loved the blood embattled carcass of one of Earth’s proud and innocent creatures, than the touch of his son or daughter reaching out for reassurance amidst a demented adult world.

I agree, for the children’s sake, the insanity must be stopped while we still have other beings lurking in the forest and the backcountry. Or we will go insane.

Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson’s work at their website.


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