During an involuntary gap in my daily newspapering career, I helped a group of scientists spread the word about their experiments in creating new, more environmentally friendly ways of growing grain.
One day I sat in on a gathering of distinguished plant biologists. The first order of business was to go around the room and have each of us introduce ourselves. In such company, I learned, that means stating one’s name, one’s highest academic degree and one’s university.
The room got more and more intimidating as each of them said something like, “Ph.D., plant pathology, Kansas State University.” “Ph.D., crop production and physiology, Iowa State University.” “Ph.D., genetics, North Carolina State University.”
When it came my turn, I sat straight up in my chair and said, “George Pyle. I got an A in Biology 100-G at Wichita State University.”
They let me stay.
As thin as my knowledge of biology was, and is, I knew enough to recognize the following statement as pure garbage:
“There’s nothing magical about how wolves manage themselves. They kill and they breed. And if we don’t manage them, they’re going to kill more, continue to breed and then there will be no elk, no moose, no bighorn [sheep].”
This was the explanation offered to Tribune reporter Brian Maffly by Keith Mark, top guy at an outfit called Hunter Nation Inc., to explain why the Utah Legislature had given Mark’s group $500,000 of your tax money to launch a campaign to get hunters from other parts of the country to come to Utah and hunt wolves.
And it marks him, and the overwhelming majority of Utah legislators who are paying him, as biological illiterates of the worst order.
You could listen, as The Tribune did, to various real experts in the field, the ones with Ph.D. attended to their names, who explain that wolves and other apex predators -- such as cougars and bears -- are an essential part of any ecosystem. How herds of deer and elk and related beasts are actually healthier when there are adequate numbers of furry hunters to cull out the weak and the sick.
Or you could use basic logic.
Hunter Nation, the Utah Legislature, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and everyone else having anything to do with the way we “manage” wolves and other wildlife were not around when Jim Bridger and other mountain men first wandered into Utah in 1824.
But wolves were here. And deer. And elk. And moose. All in large numbers and all unencumbered, and unprotected, by modern hunters carrying modern weapons.
Yes, there were various assemblages of Native Americans in the area. But they had neither the weaponry nor the bloodlust necessary to wipe out any species, predator or prey. On the Great Plains, Native Americans skillfully and aggressively hunted buffalo. And there were wolves and other four-legged hunters about as well.
Yet, when the white guys showed up, the horizon was routinely darkened by herds of bison that went on for miles. The subsequent slaughter of buffalo by European interlopers was a successful effort to wipe out both the buffalo and, in the process, the Indigenous tribes that depended on them.
If it were true that an unchecked wolf population would hunt elk, deer and bighorn sheep nigh onto extinction, then the obvious fact is that they would have done so hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago. And we wouldn’t be having this ridiculous conversation today.
It is clearly human hubris - and a psychiatric phenomenon called projection - that leads these hunting groups, and the lawmakers who buy their baloney, to view wolves and other predators as creatures that are into mass slaughter, as opposed to what they really are, which is predators who kill what they need to survive.
The urge to kill way more than one can eat, and just keep on killing until there is nothing left to kill, is strictly a human trait. Which is why we have the Endangered Species Act and various lists of endangered and threatened species that are protected by that wise law.
Yes, wolves are scary. They can, though rarely do, harm humans. And they are known to take down a domestic cow or sheep from time to time. Which is why a society that grasps the need to protect predators will also offer ranchers fair compensation for their losses.
The Hunter Nation campaign and previous efforts to keep wolves off the endangered list only make sense if one envisions the Great Basin before the arrival of European settlers as basically empty, eagerly awaiting the onset of humans to impose their will upon it.
It’s like the childish joke that asks why everything didn’t float off the earth before Newton discovered gravity. Gravity worked before we had any idea what it was. So did natural predators.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, may also have mumbled some smart alec remark about how, in moving from a newspaper to a scientific research facility, he lowered the average IQ of both institutions.