Yes, the jury is STILL out on the way that hunt is going to play into wolf populations here, and how it will shape interactions between wolves and humans in the long run. You can read the incremental coverage of this long running debate in various outlets: There is a 2014 Huffington Post story, or Fritz Klug's report from early that same year, and a follow on from John Barnes's report that March. Barnes wrote as a Federal Judge had stopped the kill by reinstating wolf protection, and as opponents of the hunt were organizing themselves for another petition against the hunt, and succeed in getting it back on a ballot for November 2014. But citizen votes to keep wolves protected met almost instant opposition from others in the state. By February 2015 Michigan's DNR was appealing the re-listing of wolves as endangered species, noting that it left many farmers in Michigan's UP without recourse when wolves threatened their livelihood. By July of 2015 a judge had upheld the Legislature's approval of the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, giving the NRC the ability to designate animals as game species. Later that same year, however, Michigan's U.S. Senators issued a call to action for wolf conservation on Isle Royale. Fast forward one year, to spring 20-16, and some of the first extensive ecological surveys of wolf populations in Michigan were underway, even as members of the US Congress and Senate considered measures to permanently resolve the question by delisting wolves as protected species in Michigan and three other states where these debates rage. As they say, "it's complicated."
If you are interested in teaching or learning about these questions, create an account and check out our new Wolf Wars case along with others for classroom or community use. It is open access, a manageable module, and really well built. It is a new way my colleagues at Michigan are bringing together ecology with culture, politics, and economics to try to help those younger than we are do better job than we have at making "complicated" decisions.
This is not an issue that is going to be easily resolved, neither in Michigan, nor more broadly. This year's entering class of masters students at SNRE again sat with the dilemma of whether to open a wolf hunt in Michigan, during their orientation up at the Biostation; some had to play the role of hunters, others of scientists, others of animal advocates. It was uncomfortable. Wolves always make people uncomfortable.
In my last entry on this issue I offered you clips from the film Twilight. But the lone wolf in the animated tour de force "Fantastic Mr. Fox" reminds us in a different way of the wolf's utterly unique symbolic weight in most cultures (and popular cultures). The scene reminds us to consider that hunting wolves is not necessarily anathema to respecting their animality. And protecting them doesn't always mean letting them remain free. Do those on both sides of the wolf debate in Michigan share the kind of respect-tinged-with-fear that Mr. Fox, with all his talking, finally shuts up and just feels?
Here is Jason Schwarzman's account of how that scene got made (he voices the role of Ash Fox):
Well, okay. I’m just gonna say it. There’s a scene at the end of the movie when George Clooney’s character, myself, my cousin and the opossum, Kylie, are all on a little motorcycle driving back to our home... And we stop and we see a wolf on a distant hill... a beautiful moment between these foxes and little animals and this really like mysterious wolf who we’ve heard about the entire movie and who doesn’t talk in this scene and he’s not wearing clothes. He’s kind of, he represents I guess, the wild. ...they have this great connection, and in that moment, it really like to me the point of that scene is let’s keep on being free. Let’s keep on being animals. And it’s such an uplifting moment. When I’ve seen it with audiences, a bunch of people break into huge cheers and hooting. It’s such an awesome, awesome scene. It really just blows my mind.
(videoclip from youtube; text from http://cussyeahfantasticmrfox.tumblr.com/)
Anyways, one day when we were doing this particular scene with this wolf...Wes said, you know we should really get someone to play the wolf so that the guys have someone to act opposite. And we looked around and Bill Murray was standing there with his hands in his pockets. He took his hands out and said, “I can be the wolf.” And Bill Murray just took off running, or I guess trotting. And he ran, ran, ran, ran really far away until he was tiny. And he turned around and actually became the wolf, like he, it’s almost as if he embodied the wolf. And he acted it out for us, and it was so inspiring and so beautiful. And Wes actually took out his camera phone, filmed it, and then sent that footage to the animators to base the wolf off of Bill Murray, so Bill Murray is the uncredited wolf in this movie. And he...was so good, it was as if he practiced it. I mean, it was incredible, his wolf performance...
Jason's comments reveal a lot of important ironies (they are also incidentally, a tribute to the ways that actual ensemble acting can enhance the high tech feature films of the computer animation generation). I digress.
The naive but earnest engagement with "literally" going and moving onto a farm together, and having breakfast, and being under a tree, is striking to any of us who have ever or whose friends have ever farmed for real. Certainly the film set farm is a far cry from the Michigan livestock operations where lots of folks seek the right to shoot wolves. Yet it does suggest that there can be a place for the wild in the new landscapes humans are crafting to meet our food and energy needs and our seemingly limitless aspirations for residential domination of the natural world. Maybe that new "wild" won't be a place or system that works like it used to (on my after dark dog walks around the Huron riverbanks my collie and i keep meeting bedraggled, exhausted foxes and coyotes...they seem to be uprooted; fleeing sewage spills, luxury home building and new road grading they only seem able to look at us plaintively for a moment, then flee).
Whatever wild will accompany our new "Food Water Energy" matrix world with open floor plans and pleasant recreational spaces, it will have to somehow justify how it enhances our world, and perhaps also our imaginations? The wild is icon, is beacon, is emblem for the various struggles we face as humans. It thus remains a crucial resource and one that more and more different kinds of people seek--if more and more through film and other digital media, and less and less through getting out there to hunt or fish or hike. Many only experience "the wild" through the kind of brief immersive experience that some shoot, or retreat, or reunion has afforded. Yet it stays with us, unforgettable, shaping all of the days we spend not doing that wild thing. And maybe, on some of those days, we weigh in with a vote, or a "like" or a meeting, or a conversation, as the policy wheels turn on what to do and not do to wolves in our own backyards.