Don Young, Congressman for Alaska of Alaska,1 managed to stick his foot in his mouth again, this time up to his knee. At a House Natural Resources Committee meeting on March 5, Young was incensed that 79 of his fellow Congressmen had signed a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel asking that the Gray Wolf not be taken off the endangered species list. He said,
“We’ve got 79 congressmen sending you a letter, haven’t got a damn wolf in their whole district. I’d like to introduce them in your district. If I introduced them in your district, you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore.”
Matthew Shuckerow is Young’s Press Secretary. Once again, he had to issue a press release attempting to spin Young’s over-the-top, outrageous comments into something slightly less stupid. This is the best Press Officer Shuckerow could do:
The analogy I made today was intended to be hyperbolic in nature, in order to stress the point that wolves are a serious problem for communities who deal with them. Anyone who’s dealt with a healthy, roaming wolf population, as we have in Alaska, understands that these predators have a detrimental impact on wildlife populations. If you misunderstood my comments, just imagine the impact a healthy wolf population would have on your own town, community, or congressional district. It would wreak havoc and place anything in their reach in great jeopardy.
We know Don Young didn’t say this or write this; Young has never used the word “hyperbolic” in his life, and wouldn’t have a clue what it means. But let’s parse Young’s statement and Shuckerow’s spin for accuracy.
Young said wolf packs in, say, Maryland would eat the state’s homeless. The implication is that wolves eat people all the time. In fact, since 1900, in all of North America, there are exactly two (2) documented instances of wolves preying on humans. In the same period there are some 25 fatal cougar attacks. More than 287 people have been killed by lightning just since 1986. So you are 12 times more likely to be killed by a cougar as a wolf, and 150 times more likely to be struck by lightning. It’s a fairy tale, like Hansel & Gretel. Congressman Young has lost whatever ability he once had to distinguish fairy tales from reality.
The danger of wolves to humans exists almost entirely in Don Young’s head. Young’s statement looks crass, uncaring and, even for Young, unusually stupid.
Which made Mr. Shuckerow’s job difficult.
So first he said, “wolves are a serious problem for communities who deal with them.” Exactly which communities would those be? WC challenges Mr. Shuckerow to name one community that’s had a “wolf problem”, other than the Chignik incident in 2010, that WC alluded to earlier. Any wolf dumb enough to venture near a village gets turned into a batch of parka ruffs.
Next, Shuckerow had Young say, “Anyone who’s dealt with a healthy, roaming wolf population, as we have in Alaska, understands that these predators have a detrimental impact on wildlife populations.” He has shifted the focus from human-wolf interactions to wolf-wildlife interactions. Before Kass’aq or “white persons” came to Alaska, wolves and their prey lived in pretty good harmony for millennia. There was not then and is not now any “detrimental impact” by wolves on “wildlife populations.” They had co-evolved.
No, the problems arose when the Kass’aq wanted to harvest moose and caribou at levels above what the populations could sustain. That put us in competition with the wolves. The Board of Game’s solution was, in Jamie Smith‘s phrase, to “smoke a pack.” We kill wolves in a misguided attempt to create more moose and caribou for Alaska hunters. There are not and never have been “detrimental impacts” from wolves, except in Young’s fevered imagination. So Shuckerow got that wrong, too.
Finally, Shuckerow, possibly recognizing the errant stupidity of his last argument, reverts to hysteria, saying, “just imagine the impact a healthy wolf population would have on your own town, community, or congressional district. It would wreak havoc and place anything in their reach in great jeopardy.”
Piffle. The wolves might thin out the surplus deer on the east coast. Folks who let their pets run loose might be surprised. But merciless predators slavering at you door, trying to eat your kids? Only in Young’s decaying synapses. If you want a better idea what it is like to live with wolves, have a look at the story of Romeo, the black wolf who hung around the
Malaspina Mendenhall Valley, northwest of Juneau. Better still, read Nick Jans’ excellent book.
Don Young and his over-taxed staff seem to be stuck in a fairy tale world from 19th Century Russia. Pretty damn depressing. And embarrassing. Definitely not a job anyone sensible would want.
(Thanks for Mike Notar for catching WC’s glacial error.)
- Except for folks who didn’t vote for him and maybe some others. ↩