Being from Chicago, when I hear, "You can't expect a well-oiled Chicago political machine to understand conservation's importance in salvaging the environment," I take it badly. So here's a test, and a big one. How fast can President Obama say, "Yanking endangered species protection from wolves and polar bears was a huge mistake. It's fixed. Sorry 'bout that."
While I'm skeptical, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Interior Secretary Salazar's terrible decision early in the week to deny gray wolves protection as endangered species was a stupid "rookie" mistake. After all, he's from Colorado and cynical pals from the "West" could have schnookered him.
But stripping both wolves and polar bears of their status, precisely the way the Bushites proposed to do? That smells intentional. And it's just as dreadful now as when Bush and his cronies pushed so hard for it.
The Obama Administration's abandonment of two vital keystone species to a handful of irresponsible killers makes it hard to choose between appalling and outrageous. So I won't. If anything, this egregious failure of responsibility for two vital species that should be naturals for protection is at least as important for a.) the Obama Administration, and b.) humanity, as it is for the wolves and bears themselves.
Contrary to our inflated sense of ourselves in the great scheme of things, humans are not in charge in the real world. And we're not the top predators, even though we make it our business to be the top killers.
Cooling my jets just a tad, let's take this one at a time. First, the wolves.
The Sarah Palins of the world have made it clear that they want their way with wolves: Kill 'Em, Kill 'Em All ... preferably just for the fun of it from the safety of an airplane after you've run them to the ground, exhausted. Compassionate conservatism at it's best.
This clearly is not about economic interests. Far more domestic dogs kill ranchers' livestock than wolves do. And when it is wolves who are responsible? Ranchers are monetarily compensated by environmental groups. So forget the profit motive. To say that wolves have "recovered" from the near extinction to which we drove them is as wrong-headed as it is to drive them back to that brink.
What this is about is grown-ups who mistake themselves for "Little Red Riding Hood," the "Three Little Pigs" or faux-macho Sarah Palin wannabes. Perhaps we should award these diseased souls the scat-wit merit badge or a one-way ticket to Pakistan's Swat valley. Even Romulus and Remus knew better than to swallow the poisonous swill Aesop dished out about wolves. To date, there are no recorded instances of wolves killing humans in the U.S.A. Maybe it's time to give the guns to the wolves. It appears they would use them more responsibly than we have.
Add hard-boiled reason to my own acknowledged biophilia. America has already been down this disastrous road with gray wolves. We wiped them out in Yellowstone National Park and got a stark lesson in return: destroy wolves and the entire ecosystem teeters. While it's a much longer (and very interesting) story, suffice it to say: When there were no wolves, elk completely over-ran the place and the entire ecosystem suffered, terribly -- plants, animals, water, soil, the whole place. Even the ditziest tourist knew something was wrong and acted accordingly.
And polar bears? They are lightyears beyond being either coca-cola cute, or if you want to slick that up, charismatic megafauna. Polar bears, like us, are at the heart and soul of the terrible consequences of global climate change. Whither goeth the polar bear, there go we -- no habitat, no life.
Protecting polar bears in every and all ways has "self-interest" written all over it. Pay attention to them and we also have a chance for the survival of life-as-we-know-it on earth. It's a stretch, but think of polar bears as canaries-in-the-ice; they're a lead indicator. Leave them to chance and we'll go down with them. What was all that talk from Candidate Obama, now President Obama about taking global climate change seriously? Tell that to the polar bears who desperately -- DESPERATELY -- need protection.
So here's the deal. Every authentic hunter and outdoors person, every owner of a "Bo" or "Muffy" or "Buster" (every dog in the world, whatever the pedigree or lack thereof, is a direct descendant of wolves) in the land should be howling along with me, in every parlor from the White House to Your House. Every one of us who has a lifetime allegiance to the bear in our own beddy-by; each of us who's ooo'd and ahhh'd when a commercial venture enlisted the iconic polar bear in an attempt to overcome our sales resistance; and anyone who's had to explain to a worried kid looking at a very real photo of a polar bear stranded on a tiny patch of ice needs to be heard.
It's not that they're cute. They are meat-eaters; they kill to survive, as humans do. They are essential species in the ecologies of which they are a part.
We, the sovereign American people saw to it that the Endangered Species Act was enacted way back in 1973. President Obama, if Ken Salazar isn't up to the job of using that Act on behalf of us all -- and that includes the species with whom we share the land and sea the United States claims -- get someone who is. Before it's too late.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Salazar, why kill a wolf? Why drown a polar bear?
I'm sure Secretary Salazar would like to hear from you as well, as would the president. Do either want to be characterized as a "wanton predator"?
Fortuitously, on Thursday we recorded a program with the President of the indomitable Defenders of Wildlife, Rodger Schlickheisen, focused on wolves and global climate change. We'll have the program up on our "Paula Gordon Show" website and the sunlight/oxygen "YouTube" site shortly.