One of the most famous men to kill a wolf was Aldo Leopold, who, as a 22-year-old forest ranger more than a century ago, slaughtered a mother and her cubs in Arizona’s Apache National Forest. Thereafter, he was forever haunted by the “fierce green fire dying” in the eyes of the elder wolf.
Slaying a wolf with its family, for Leopold, was an epiphany of conscience that helped fortify the convictions of a budding conservationist. But to the Trump administration, it’s now just another way to kill in the wild. For it will again be legal on some federal lands to kill wolves and pups in the season when they wean their young. Hunters also are free to harass and shoot bears newly roused from their dens by spotlights and bait, and to gun down swimming caribous from a boat.
You judge the character of a nation by how it treats fellow humans. Putting kids in cages, ignoring the warning signs of a virus that has killed more than 118,000 people in America, and using force to clear a park of peaceful protesters are among the most awful things that will follow Donald Trump into his dungeon of history.
But you should also judge the character of a nation by how it treats fellow living creatures. Because how we treat animals tells us something — a lot, in fact — about how we treat one another.
So, this is how you can now kill a bear on some federal preserves in Alaska: You put stale doughnuts or dog food drenched in honey outside a bear’s lair, and then shoot the drowsy and hungry animal that stumbles out to take the bait. This crude policy was banned by wildlife experts in the Obama administration, who said it was biologically unsound and unsportsmanlike.
There’s that curious and archaic word — sportsman, someone who follows the rules of engagement. Good hunters give their prey a chance. Bad hunters shoot hibernating mothers and their babies because they don’t have the patience or skill to track an animal in the wild.
Don’t be fooled by the stated excuse for the government’s turn to barbarism: that the feds are merely aligning themselves with the practices allowed by the state of Alaska.
This change is all about appeasing trophy hunters. Well, one trophy hunter — Donald Trump Jr. You may have heard the recent report that taxpayers spent $75,000 for junior to hunt and kill a rare argali sheep in Mongolia last year while in the secure silo of the Secret Service.
Trump Jr. is a hunter of privilege, jetting into an exotic locale, getting special treatment from the local government and a permit issued retroactively, using the best guides and equipment. The package was completed by Instagram posts of the entitled rich kid in camo atop a horse in Mongolia.
He snuffed the life from that magnificent animal, a species threatened with extinction and the largest sheep in the world, using a laser-guided rifle that allowed him to hunt at night, according to a story in ProPublica. If there was fierce green fire in the animal’s dying eyes, Trump probably missed it.
I’m not against hunting. I have family members and friends who are experts with gun and crossbow, including a nephew in Montana who has a freezerful of the most wild, organic, free-range meat you’ll find on the planet. He makes a terrific bear Bolognese.
But trophy hunters like Trump Jr. are another breed — soft-handed predators masquerading in manliness. In February, Junior gave a speech in Reno and auctioned himself off on a “dream hunt” in Alaska, to the Safari Club International, a trophy hunting club that pushed for the changes in the Last Frontier State. The Humane Society described the Reno event as a gathering of people who “celebrate the senseless killing, buying and selling of dead animals for bragging rights.”
You can only wonder what thrill it might bring little Donnie and the other big men who are now free to shoot mothers and their cubs. Trump Jr. likes to brag about “triggering the libs” with his behavior. But he just wants to pull a trigger at some defenseless animal.
By sucker-punch-killing bears and wolves, trophy hunters improve their chance at felling prized moose or caribous. The more ferocious animals must be “harvested” in order to increase the “bag limits” of the other species that are their prey. This kind of rigged hunting throws the natural ecology out of whack in order to appease the Trump Juniors of the world.
By far, most animal cruelty is not in the wild, but on American farms. And here the Trump administration has been characteristically inhumane. In 2018, Trump’s government threw out Obama-era rules providing some protection to cattle and chickens raised on organic farms. These measures were designed to allow creatures to breathe fresh air or move about somewhat freely.
From the beginning of his presidency, Trump has been toxic to the natural world. He has reversed more than 100 environmental laws, allowing more chemicals in our fruit and reducing air quality to such a degree that it may result in thousands of premature deaths. He is a doge of desecration.
It’s almost as if Trump has a master plan to make life miserable for all creatures great and small. But as with most things in his presidency, he has no plan. He’s just getting played by those who do.
Timothy Egan, winner of the National Book Award for “The Worst Hard Time,” is a Seattle-based Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.