Wolf Wars is a book by Hank Fischer that chronicles the journey of the wolf in North America, into extinction and back. Fischer provides front row seats as this whole drama unfolds, owing to his close involvement with the cause. Fischer worked as a professional conservationist longer than anyone else in the Northern Rockies. He was the leader in the struggle to restore wolves to Yellowstone. His testimony before Congress, in court, and at public hearings played a pivotal role in bringing wolves home to America’s first national park.
Fischer’s account starts early where fear and dislike of wolves just started sprouting in American lives. He recollects the tragic “milestone” in this timeline where wolves in Montana were extinct and the public actually celebrated that with the Denver Post’s headline reading “Ghostlike Marauder Terrorizes Ranchers Ten Years Despite Rewards – He Laughs at Airplanes, Guns, Traps, Poison and Continues Depredation.”. Fischer goes on to explain “By the turn of the century, westerners had invented a mythic wolf: an animal capable of decimating big game faster than a speeding bullet; a beast that could lay waste to entire herds of livestock in ta single bound a creature of monstrous cruelty and incredible cunning.”
He goes on to describe the actions of an entire nation and it’s administration in pushing these animals to extinction and keeping them thus. He is brutal in his honesty and does not fear from offering some controversial, yet pragmatically brilliant explanations to why one nation ended up in this situation where they pushed a magnificent animal to extinction, all sponsored by the law. While his chronicles of events remain more non-judgmental than I would expect a person in his place to be, he still makes provocative statements in the book like: “Many deep philosophical and ethical treatises have examined why America exterminated its predators. We read discourses concerning the insidious impact of our northern European heritage and incisive psychological dissertations evaluating how centuries of folklore have created public hatred of wolves. Yet the most obvious explanation for why people exterminated wolves still seems the best. It was self-interest, plain and simple, not malice or ignorance. If a pack of wolves today killed 25% of a rancher’s livestock, we’d still destroy them. If wolves today threatened the existence of big-game populations, we probably wouldn’t tolerate it; witness the struggles over wolf management in Alaska.”
Fischer assiduously details role the government played in pushing the wolves to extinction. His insights really highlight the significance of various actions the government took in this matter. “Wolves might have survived in Yellowstone Park had not two federal agencies – the U.S. Biological Survey and the National Park Service – joined forces to destroy them…But the real turning point came in 1914, when Congress appropriated special funds for the Biological Survey for ‘destroying wolves, prairie dogs, and other animals injurious to agriculture and animal husbandry.’ This funding put new muscle behind the agency’s death-dealing programs.”
His account also takes him through the making of several legends in the field, including Dr. David Mech. His narrative follows the incredibly growth of Dr. Mech, the change of mind of several erstwhile hunters and now conversationalists, the will of politicians to do the right thing, the timing of politicians who were responding to change in popular views to value animal life and that of scientists who have been trying to explain the concept of an “ecosystem”. His accounts take you far back as to Charles Darwin who first tried to introduce the concept that animal lives matter.
In all, this is just an excellent book for any reader. But if you are interested in wildlife, animal conservation, animal behaviour, wildlife-politics, animal-welfare-politics or rescue-politics then this book is a must. It presents a fantastic case study on what to focus on when fighting a political battle on behalf of animal welfare, a fantastic case study of a battle eventually won. There are many lessons to be learnt for the smart reader invested in the subject. For others, it’s just fascinating to see how the collective human thinking has evolved over time in one part of the globe.