george wamser | wrestling with timber wolves…

28 09 2012

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND  # 218 (& Poetry Dispatch) | September 27, 2012


Editor’s Note: George Wamser is a full-time blue collar worker and a ‘part-time’ writer, with a true hunter’s heart and mind, given the gift of the natural world that surround us. I first ‘discovered’ him about five years ago and invited him to submit a piece of writing for an anthology of unpublished writers I was putting together (OTHER VOICES, Works in Progress, Cross+Roads Press, 2007). George submitted a beautiful essay: “Tales from Good Medicine Lodge” wherein he says: “…the forest…the forest…has remained faithful all along, has remained my salvation, my healer, and has accepted my words of gratitude…Every time I returned to it, it is as if I have re-entered the echo of my own wonderful dream.”

Part of his bio on the “Notes on Contributors” page also states: “….that he has no particular qualification to write anything for anybody, and that he is simply a blue collar worker, a printer by trade, who is extremely interested in nature, and human nature. He is keenly aware of the great environmental changes going on in the North Country over the last forty years, and is extremely concerned about how much of the resources will remain for future generations.

George lives in Oconto, Wisconsin with his Native American wife, where they built their own cabin, The Good Medicine Lodge, on Sunrise Lake 25 years ago.

Here in Wisconsin, the battle for wilderness preservation is fought every day. (Hunters of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but…?) Some folks find a reason to kill whatever moves in nature. Here is George’s measured take on a current controversy of killing wolves. — Norbert Blei

Wrestling with Timber Wolves…

What is the myth… and what is the reality?

Which side of the line are YOU on? On the side of wilderness… or on the side of special interest groups that wish to micro-manage every single tiny bit of nature for its own selfish end? Because that’s what it all boils down to here, with the proposed wolf hunt. We are talking a population of 850 animals in an environment that is OVER 2 MILLION ACRES…think about that population density of wolves and you get the picture. This has nothing to do with damage caused by wolves, or even competition with hunters for game, this is all about a “state of mind” and the ancient penchant certain human cultures have; the irresistible urge to mess with and try to arrogantly dominate all things in nature, wild and free, and nothing more. Nothing symbolizes wilderness more than the timber wolf, which makes him the logical target for the enormous human ego. There is nothing logical or rational about such a hunt, in fact, as anyone who studies, or tries to photograph timber wolves for less nefarious purposes will tell you, is that even finding a wolf for a photo is maddeningly difficult, even with bait! And may require months of patient stake outs in blinds with little guarantee of success; so good luck “hunters”! Ha! Sadly, the clever trappers may do better…

Am I worried about some livestock taken? Or a few hunting dogs killed by wolves? Nope. Why? Because that is the REAL law of true wilderness, that, you take the chances of such predation when you CHOOSE to live in, or run your pack of hunting dogs in a wilderness area; which operates on its own terms, in fact, such predation is the golden badge of success in preservation of wilderness. It is the sign that things are working as they should in a northern forest left alone to do its proper thing. ANY outdoor organization who is in favor of a wolf hunt has forgotten this fundamental ideal, that so many great defenders of the wild like Ed Abby and Aldo Leopold and Sigurd Olsen fought for, and whose philosophy I still adhere to.

IF there were HUGE numbers of wolves, like coyotes, running all over the place, moving into urban areas causing all sorts of conflicts, I would have no problem with a trapping season, eliminating the problem animals in hot areas, but this is not the case…bears exist in a widespread population of many thousands and are a much smarter and more effective predator on game animals and hunting dogs than the timber wolf, but we live with them, perhaps even underhunting them for their population density. Bears do not carry the same negative emotional perception as wolves do, therefore even though bears are many times more “competitive” with humans than wolves, with a much larger population of over 20,000, they are not seen as a similar “threat”. Imagine a “hunting season” to reduce in number a population of 850 of anything…much less wolves in an area the size of all of northern Wisconsin…it is idiotic in its scope.

There may be a day when a wolf hunting season is needed, and I am NOT against it in principle; but not now. Not yet…

Wolves, like all predators, are beneficial in the ecological picture of the North Country. They kill and eat the sick and weak of the game animals, and may help eliminate deer ill with CWD, “processing” the diseased tissue through their bodies so other deer cannot access it. Mostly timber wolves are omnivorous, and eat anything that is available to them including certain plants, small mammals and even fish on occasion. Over 50% of their diet is made up of non-game animals. Predators of all types have an extremely positive effect in “balance” and these effects run through the entire ecosystem.

This beautiful predator-prey relationship, (add into this common diseases in canines such as mange) ancient way beyond historical time, is itself a natural control on the population of these animals as they are dependent upon one another…and yes, I have a history with timber wolves, and am biased towards them as a species. I worked for timber wolf recovery in Wisconsin for ten years in the late 80’s and nineties; I have studied the scientific research and the myth and historical materials, and have observed them in the field in Minnesota, which was both beautiful and thrilling. Perhaps no animal on this planet, among a family of large predator fauna such as grizzlies, polar bears, tigers, snakes and a few others is more misunderstood, feared and reviled for no scientific reason whatsoever; it is always emotional. The scientists… are not in favor of a hunt at this time. This will sound extremely radical to many of you, but in this time of Earth’s natural history, with the largest mass extinction of species since the Pliocene, experiencing a wolf up close and personal, observing, hearing their lonely call, and odd as it sounds, even in the rare instance of suffering some loss of livestock, pet or hunting dog to a wolf or another predator, is a privilege…and this spring as I heard my first single beautiful wolf call from my back door at Sunrise Lake, my joy was tempered by the knowledge that soon, people will likely be out to kill that fellow. Aldo Leopold, God’s gift to Wisconsin and the source of modern Game Management, literally writing the first textbook on the subject, started out as a “wolf killer” with a strong belief in the control and elimination of predators, but as he was a good scientist, came to the conclusion over a decade of research, from the evidence, that he had been dead wrong, and that the science backed not only the value of all predators in the total ecological picture, but also of their utter necessity. Aldo changed…through the diminishment of his ignorance of the scientific facts, overcoming his emotions, cultural biases and an official government program to eliminate predators, to a much more factual, enlightened view that counterintuitive, and went against nearly everything he was taught to believe, but was; right.

As I thought about this subject my intellect and emotions ran all over the place…to the science of game management, to the beautiful sort of simmering anger and frustration someone like Edward Abby could cleverly express in defense of the wild and play it to the public like an irritating French Horn, to the artsy satire, ridiculous, like Tom Robbins portrayed in his “Wrestling with Woodpeckers” novel, and to the utter sacredness the traditional Native Americans hold the wolf: Muwase…in the highest possible regard, just as sincerely as Christians hold Jesus Christ. Nothing is sacred anymore, not even the concept of things being truly wild, which in my view may exhibit the highest possible expression of a creator. Wilderness in and of itself is sacred enough for me. While the powerful hunting organizations pay lip service to “wilderness” they back a wolf hunt and seem to have a secret need to tame anything truly wild; meanwhile lobbying for artificially high populations of game animals and fish to satisfy the sport recreational market, rather than the healthy holding capacity of the ecosystem.

It makes us all sad when we think of the wondrous progress the human race is capable of, and then, we contrast the steps forward with the “two steps back” rut that we seem to be stuck in over and over again, dampening the accomplishments we make. We never seem to learn, as over the last century the heart of hard lessons about ecology and game management evolved around “balance” and a holistic approach to habitats which benefitted the ecosystem as a whole, which is why the major predators were allowed back to begin with. Again and again, the public thinks we can do better, and expects more from public education, an enlightened media, hunting organizations, and the recreational industry to help show us the way…but I’ll tell you, all of the above are capable of sending out bad, outdated, self centered messages as well as good ones, and they have both the money and political pressure to apply where needed to insure their agenda is on the table, regardless of whether it is good for the ecosystem or not. This is nothing new, as there are struggles over proper use of ATV’s, mining, wetland use, clean water issues, logging, oil leases and endangered species that never seem to go away.

There are just as many scientists working diligently in labs all over America finding new and imaginative ways to exploit the environment, as there are working to find ways to protect and preserve it. There are more forces as work today trying to manipulate the environment, spending money and wresting for political control over resources now, than ever, with great media outlets telling only their side of the story, and we wonder why…we are so confused as to what is progress and what is destructive. If you watch the ads on TV from BP about the Gulf oil spill they make it seem like BP was the best thing that ever happened to the region! We try like hell to subdue nature, when in reality our greatest failure is in simply conquering ourselves. Isn’t it sad, that some of our greatest scientific discoveries in ecology do not seem to carry clear instructions on how to use them ethically? Ecology is a science that does not clearly state the facts with a “good or bad” label on them, and the simple scientific “facts” the nuts and bolts of the reality, are left for interpretation by the public as a relative consequence of our economy, our population growth and so much more. And to the vast majority of the public, the life of a single wolf, an elk, a whole wetland ecosystem, or even the quality of my relationship with wolves here in the Nicolet National Forest and where it all fits in to the total picture; is completely meaningless.

IF some real meaning were endowed upon subjects regarding the environment, to the people, to the actions and potential emotion the public is capable of, if they can come to relate to the value of wild things like timber wolves, then and only then will the great power of human forces to protect and preserve be unleashed. We must learn to frankly admit that we as a people are failing now, in an era, where we are more concerned about the I-phone in our hand than the disappearance of whippoorwills, consuming the present at such a rate as to leave the future more impoverished for our grandchildren. Admitting ignorance here; opens the possibility for new directions in conservation, of new creative thinking, of a greater sense of ethics; altruism in regards to the climate, lands and waters, and ultimately even how we value our own existence as a member of an ever diminishing community within nature.

Yes, it is diminishing…

Finally, when Wisconsin was wild, it was one huge Garden of Eden underneath a canopy of massive white, yellow and red pines 200 feet tall, born before the landing of Columbus “the pinery” as it was called by the first settlers in the north, and wherever a chickadee might fly within this mighty virgin forest, along the sacred Wolf River, over the Oconto “river of many fish” over the hundreds of crystal clear lakes and deep green valleys, over the remnants of mountains once as big as the Rockies now ground down and glaciated to thousand foot hills, deep leafy deciduous glens and scrub oaks along the “Ouisconsin” limestone dells and Mississippi River through every type of ecosystem, micro climates such as along the Great Lakes or Green Bay, down from “the Spirit’s Door” south to tall grass prairies, and coulee country of the south west, over the great central bog-land, wildlife and plant life prospered in lavish abundance…nature gave and gave and gave when the humans arrived, but no adequate compensation was ever offered for this incredible unfathomable blessing we have received over centuries, and now, when nature asks for a few free Timberwolves…how do we respond?

Shame on us…





6 responses

28 09 2012

I agree with George Wamser–850 wolves doesn’t begin to ask for a “hunt.” Is this another group trying to turn the state red by using the blood of timber wolves?

28 09 2012
Jeffrey Winke

I applaud George Wamser. Thank you for fighting the good fight.

29 09 2012
bill gray

Unfortunately, this fight will go on forever for this misunderstood creature. As for all predators. Education is the key, so the uninformed, can see the benefit of a complete ecosystem. We need wolves.

30 09 2012
Cathleen H.

Yes, the wild places are the Great Sacred Places. The wilderness stirs and stills our soul. But we still don’t seem to get that.
Only when this is understood on both an emotional and intellectual level will we be able to move toward the kind of deep understanding Wamser is able to articulate so precisely, so eloquently.

1 10 2012
Ron Pearson

I agree that the hunt should be stopped. I have been lucky enough to have seen several wolves in the last few years and was thrilled each time.

13 01 2013

I was led to this site by the ‘frame’ from the movie 300 used to illustrate this work, and I am glad to have had the priviledge of reading such an elegant and erudite piece of prose by Wamser. I have not had the chance to witness timber wolves in the wild, but the quality of the descriptive prose enabled me to see them and their native environment in my mind’s eye. I agree that the hunt should not go ahead, nature has its own system and agenda and when we interfere too much it never works out for the best.

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