How can it be that people can see wildlife so differently? By that I mean, one group can love the wildness, the spirit, and beauty of an animal, while others see it as a commodity. Some view it as something devoid of spirit, something they have a right to abuse, torture and kill. They seem unable or unwilling to except wildlife as creatures with families, emotion or true feelings; the idea of truly being able to feel pain is something they simply deny.
This is a world of what I refer to as people who are missing a critical gene. This gene of love and compassion for animals is one that some seem to be lacking. That was apparent this past week when we held our “Ending trapping in the Urban Interface” forum in Missoula. After a week of trappers brutally threatening and ripping Imagination Brewery over their allowing us to present there, which included blasting them on Yelp and other social media sites, this group of missing genes appeared at our forum. They listened while staring straight forward. When they spoke they questioned, “if animals really felt pain when caught in a trap”; they talked about us taking “their lands.”
Their big message was that their payment of $28 dollars a year to trap, including the right to destroy five wolves each, gives them the right to control the fate of wildlife and the public lands we all use to recreate on because we pay nothing. How many non-target animals were killed in wolf traps? We’ll never know.
Let’s think about that for a moment, for $28.00, they can kill at will wildlife in numbers that can be staggering if you include animals like coyotes that don’t even need a permit. Coyotes--you can trap unlimited numbers for free. Pain, suffering, destroyed packs, more spread of disease, increased numbers of coyotes. Take out the alpha male or female and they all breed because the family structure is destroyed, and females can have up to 19 pups each to fill the vacuum. It also comes at the loss for us, the general public that long to see beavers in the river, who want to hear the coyote songs and wish for wolves to restore our lands, to keep our wildlife populations healthy. People do not want to see bald eagles caught in traps or grizzly bears. The by-catch of this indiscriminate killing is species that are threatened, endangered or your dog.
As the forum progressed, it was clear that we were not speaking the same language and more importantly, the strong urge that many people have to protect wildlife, to treasure it, was seen by those who trap as somewhat sentimental, silly and was constantly brought back to their needs, their desire to kill and their self-righteous belief that what they did was acceptable in modern society.
So I go back to a missing gene, a missing something that allows people to club innocent animals to death, to make jokes about picking up baby chicks at a store and bringing them home for "dog treats”.
This battle, this war, to save wildlife from the jaws of death at the hands of trappers is not an easy fight or something that will end overnight. It will be a fight for the right of animals to co-exist and to be part of our collective lives. We want beavers in the river, we want eagles in the sky, we want wolves on the ground and we want society to mature and finally understand the value of wildlife alive.
We want those that lack a gene or the capacity to love wildlife, to mature as well. We cannot progress with blood on our soil and in our rivers. We can only progress when the steel jaws and snares are removed from our public lands.
When I see images of the fear and desperation that animals have when caught in a trap and I understand their final moments are met with a club or a gunshot, I understand more deeply the many historical tragedies that humans have done to each other and to this earth. Many did so in the name of county or religion, but mostly because of ignorance and greed.
We have reached a point in society where we no longer want racism; we no longer believe in glass ceilings, we believe in the power of diversity. But on the long windswept prairies and tall mountains of Montana, there remains our country’s darkest side. It is a place where some kill and torture animals without fear of retribution. They are sanctioned by the state and proud and determined to keep killing without fairness, without heart and devoid of soul.
If there is a gene missing, perhaps I would feel better, to understand why. But what I know is we will never stop fighting, educating and demanding an end to this insanity or condoned cruelty and persecution in our country. Trapping must end and it must end not just in Montana, but across this country.
When I look in the eyes of the coyote or wolf, I feel shame, shame that we have not stopped this and awed by their strength and wisdom. They ask only for freedom and space to live, we must honor that and stop their suffering. We must be better.
For those unwilling to change, we must force the change, we are not taking their lands; we are reclaiming ours. Not just for us, but for the wildlife that calls it home.