Fighting Hate With Love and Lawsuits

By targeting native wildlife like wolves, Wisconsin is harming the sacred relationships we have with life and land.

I pity the country

I pity the state

And the mind of a man

Who thrives on hate

- Willie Dunn

When Indigenous singer-songwriter Willie Dunn sang these lyrics in 1971, he was railing against a colonialist system of oppression. At its root, colonialism is an exploitation of land and its inhabitants. Dunn saw it as a manifestation of hatred, an observation that holds up in 2021 as it did in 1971. Today, colonialism still oppresses people, commodifies land and its wildness, and tramples the rights of anyone in its war path.

Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board has set a quota of 300 wolves for the state’s upcoming fall hunt, roughly half of the 700 living, breathing souls who survived a February hunt there. Photo by Dan Dzurisin.

As our collective consciousness awakens to the tentacles of colonialism, we find it in every corner, in contests for land and for life. We find it in the area of the Great Lakes now known as Wisconsin, where Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) consider wolves (Ma’iingan) as sacred siblings whose fate is entwined with their own. One would be hard pressed to disentangle hatred for one’s brother from one’s self, and thus the war on wolves is inextricably tied to colonialism. The hatred my colleagues and I fight on a daily basis is one directed at wildlife, the “others” most often represented by glowing eyes in the deep dark woods. By targeting native wildlife like wolves, that hatred also hurts humans and the sacred relationships we have with life and land. So I want to tell you a story, about Wisconsin, about wolf and human families, and fighting hate with love and lawsuits.

The powers that be for Wisconsin’s wildlife serve on the state Natural Resources Board (NRB), a governing body of governor-appointed members. Recently, that power decided to ignore science, public input, and any semblance of a democratic process or legally required tribal consultation and wage war on wolves with hounds, snow mobiles, traps, and other lethal methods. Their goal is to eradicate up to 300 of Wisconsin’s remaining wolves, nearly half of the roughly 700 living, breathing souls lucky enough to have survived the February hunt during their breeding season. That brutal hunt decimated the wolves’ still recovering population.

In that hunt, Pat Clark, a resident of Bear Dam, Wisconsin, and his family lost the neighboring wolf family that grew up along with Clark’s children. Hunters pitting hounds against wolves chased and shot dead seven of the nine members of the Lewiston Bog Pack. No more sharing stories of hushed moments spying pack members following each others’ tracks in the snow. No more trail camera photos of pups exploring the bog. In their place, a photo of eight people holding seven dead wolves with smiling emojis obscuring the true identities of men who thrive on hate. More than just seven wild lives were lost in that act.

In defense of family, land, wildness, and the intrinsic values of wolves, my organization Project Coyote (an Earth Island project), along with coplaintiffs Animal Wellness Action, the Center for a Humane Economy, and Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife, sued Wisconsin over their war on wolves. As our complaint explains, Wisconsin’s state-sanctioned policies — both the kill quota of 300 wolves and Act 169, the law that compels the state to hold a wolf hunt every year — blatantly disregard not just wolves and their ecosystems but also science, democracy, and sovereign tribal rights.

Wisconsin’s War on Science

The current process of setting wolf policy in Wisconsin has ignored the best available science that articulates wolves’ contributions to healthy, functioning ecosystems and warns of the folly of lethal predator control. A vast wealth of scientific literature outlines how carnivores like wolves self-regulate based on prey availability and habitat and thus do not require lethal management. Studies from Wisconsin researchers led by Project Coyote Science Advisory Board Member Dr. Adrian Treves indicate that allowing legalized killing increases illegal poaching and thus humans have likely contributed to a 27 to 33 percent decline in the Wisconsin wolf population since federal protections were removed late last year. Additionally, howl surveys this summer are not revealing pups in many packs. After the February hunt during wolves’ breeding season, we should not be surprised. The dire population scenarios that we are already seeing will only get worse with another hunt this year.

Wolves, like other apex predators, beget biodiversity. Ecologists have measured astounding trophic cascades, where apex predators influence every level of the food web and increase species diversity from beavers to beetles and birds. Wolves mitigate the impacts of climate change on species such as bald eagles and ravens by provisioning scavengers with carrion year-round. Wolves even reduce deer-vehicle collisions and save Wisconsin residents about $10.9 million in damages each year. Because wolves reduce overabundant prey, they also reduce transmission of diseases such as chronic wasting disease, and economic and ecological damage to myriad landscapes. Killing wolves ignores and erases the many benefits wolves bring to complex socio-ecological systems.

Wisconsin’s War on Democracy

The NRB is arbitrarily choosing a kill quota wholly untethered from any science. It has failed to consider the many voices in support of wolves. Despite overwhelming public comment against killing wolves and against the most egregiously cruel killing methods — Wisconsin and Idaho are the only states that allow hunters to abuse dogs in pursuit of slaughtering wolves — the NRB is not interested in evidence-based decision-making that reflects real science and the values of the public.

The NRB gets a major assist in eroding any chance of just or fair process in state Act 169 that requires an annual wolf hunt regardless of science, public sentiment, or commonsense. Approving a hunt without public support or adequate scientific information is undemocratic and a violation of the public trust responsibilities the NRB has as policy-makers. It violates the trust constituents place in the law and those that govern wildlife policies and manage wildlife. It ignores numerous studies and public comment periods demonstrating that diverse Wisconsin residents, including farmers and hunters, value wildlife alive as well as carnivores’ contributions to ecosystem health and function.

Wisconsin’s War on Tribal Rights

Wisconsin wolf policy fails to respect true, proper tribal consultation with sovereign Native American Nations. True consultation would proceed in a fashion similar to two sovereign nations negotiating policies in which both governments have an interest. Instead, sovereign tribes are treated as another stakeholder (and if you are not a license buying hunter, you are not a stakeholder with equal footing in state wildlife policy) and simply informed of NRB decisions.

In the case of the February 2021 hunt held during the wolves’ breeding season, tribes were informed of the quota of 200 wolves (and given that some pregnant wolves would inevitably be among those 200, the death toll surely counted much higher). The Ojibwe tribes, according to federal treaty laws, claimed their right to 50 percent of the wolves within their ceded territories, which translated to 81 of the 200 wolves slated to die by the NRB. Given their sacred relationship, Anishinaabe would not kill their 81 Ma’iingan sisters and brothers.

Within approximately 60 hours, hunters killed 218 wolves, exceeding the non-tribal quota by 83 percent (99 wolves). This slaughter thus not only violates the sacred ecology of the land but also the sovereign rights of its people to be in relation to the land and its inhabitants in a genuine and ethical way.

Wisconsin’s war on wolves is a war on its people, particularly the disenfranchised voices that speak up for a moral, just life. But their voices will not be silenced. In response to the national war on wolves being waged in Wisconsin, Idaho, Montana, and other areas, tribes sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior urging emergency listing protections for wolves to stop the ongoing slaughter and allow for proper tribal consultation. On September 28, a delegation that includes Tehassi Hill, chairman of the Oneida Nation, the largest tribe in Wisconsin, will present a document called “The Wolf: A Treaty of Cultural and Environmental Survival” — considered a new framework to approach wolf conservation — to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

As Indigenous artist, mother, and narrator of the new short film Family, about Indigenous relationships with wolves, Crystle Lightning clearly articulates in her recent opinion editorial in Native News Online, “This trophy killing of wolves is a manifestation of the continuing assault on Indigenous cultures.”

Only hatred pits family members (dogs on wolves) against each other. Only hatred attacks the whole family and their neighbors (Anishinaabe, Ma’iingan, the Clark family and the Lewiston Bog Pack). Only hatred runs roughshod through the world to kill for no good reason. Willie Dunn recognized the pathos of the White settler and the State that is the vehicle for his hatred. When I hear Dunn’s words today, they are the only solace I can find in a world overwhelmed with hatred. They remind me that only love that unites us counters hate that kills. Love and maybe the occasional lawsuit.

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