The Resilience of the Wild:
Stalking and Talking Wolves with Rod Coronado.
Rod Coronado should need no introduction. In the history of the Earth and Animal Liberation movements, fewer have left a bigger footprint. Be it sinking whalers with the Sea Shepard, taking part in Operation Bite Back (one of the first ALF campaigns to use arson as a tactic and focus on wild animals), a legacy of hunt sabs, being a Yaqui warrior, getting thrown back in Federal prison over Facebook friends, and now protecting wolves, Rod has quite the legacy. I’ve often said that while I don’t believe in heroes, Rod is as close as they get. If you need a reminder of why, he is also the author of Memories of Freedom, which I consider to be required reading.
He has also remained in the crosshairs of the government more than anyone in this world. His last incarceration was a reminder of how bad the government wants to silence him and that threat still looms. He is legally no longer allowed to speak as a radical, but he has found ways to remain active for the wild through the Wolf Patrol, his sab-inspired group that has been tracking and documenting wolf hunts since they were taken off the endangered species list in 2012.
While some have postured over Rod’s legacy and current work, none have walked in his shoes, faced this level of threat and found a way to continue struggling with and for the wild as he has. And as you can see and read, the inspiration, that wild light he exudes, has not and will not be killed.
For more information on the Wolf Patrol, check out wolfpatrol.org. For more of Rod’s words (including Memories of Freedom) check out the collection of his writings, Flaming Arrows (Warcry Communications, 2011).
First off, it’s great to have you back in the fold even though I know your heart never left. The response from current, future, and would-be wolf killers and their sympathizers has been almost following the archetype for civilized fears of wildness. Can you talk a bit about those responses and how the wolf became that icon of snarling, rabid wildness just waiting to kill.
Equally Kevin, it’s a great honor to be having these kinds of discussions with you again. While my actions are what gained me the disfavor of many, it’s our thoughts about the wild that fueled such actions that still need to be spoken. My actions and approach might have evolved, but my commitment to the preservation of intact ecosystems and the animals needed to maintain them remains the same. Which is partially an answer to your question.
I see my own views on wildness as a reflection of different world views that see (not saw) nature as a living being, a relation deserving of respect, and yes, reverence. That’s not the dominant worldview, but it still is the view of many on this planet. My job has always been to represent that perspective, and when it comes to the most maligned animal on the planet, few would argue that it’s not the wolf. The wolf may represent the lynch pin of healthy ecosystems, that is apex predators as a whole, but to many cultures including Western European culture here and abroad, there still exists a strong hatred for predators like wolves.
Yes, some do not demonize the wolf, yet they still believe in managing them like other “game” species, but what I want to address is the very real culture of hate that has been vocally expressed recently towards the wolf. 500 years ago, when colonists first invaded, they brought with them their hatred for wolves.
Some say it was born out of wolves feeding on the human victims of the Plague, but much of that disdain arose out of the simple fact that wolves desire the same food source as humans, so there’s a perceived level of competition.
So those first colonists wasted no time in their efforts to eradicate the wolf from North America. In my home state of Michigan, one of the very first acts of the Territorial Legislature was to enact a wolf bounty. So upon first contact, we had a culture of people fomenting hatred for an entire species based on ignorance and Old World fears. Those forces won, and for the better part of the 20th Century, the wolf was gone from the American landscape.
Then came the ecological awakening among the Invaders, and for the first time, European Americans began to look at, and seek an understanding of the role apex predators play in healthy ecosystems. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Aldo Leopold represented a new Euro-White Male perspective on nature and for the first time, we indigenous people breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe there was hope. Wolves returned. They are returning, and they will reclaim the majority of their traditional territory if left to their own devices.
But the hatred seed remained, and when wolves were reintroduced into the Northern Rocky Mountains in 1995, many mountain state residents saw the project as the federal government imposing its will on the good livestock raising people of the region. The only way the project could go forward, was for the federal government to promise to return management of wolves to state’s authority when their numbers reached sustainable levels.
So those wolf-hating people waited, and when wolves were stripped of federal protections, it was like a fire sale on them. High hunting quotas were set in states like Montana, Idaho, Minnesota and Wisconsin and literally thousands of wolves were hunted and trapped between 2012 to the present.
But what happened recently, that hadn’t happened before was the advent of social media. What Facebook has meant for wolves is the rise of sites dedicated to the eradication of the wolves Second Coming. “Lobo Watch”, “Montana Wolf Hunting & Trapping”, “Wisconsin Wolf Hunting” and “Idaho for Wildlife” are all sites that have popped up that blatantly advocate for the illegal killing and extermination of wolves.
These sites post pictures of elk and deer killed by wolves, arguing that they are “killing our deer” and “wiping out the elk herds” in acknowledgement of the wolves primary prey source, as if their predation isn’t natural and the human hunting of these animals is. These sites also are littered with the acronyms, “S.S.S” and “S.O.S.” meaning, “Shoot, Shovel & Shut-up” and “Shoot On Sight.”
There have also been plenty of violent threats made against Wolf Patrol directly, wolf haters threatening to shoot me and break my legs and some online wolf hating trolls trying to associate me with ISIS!
Which for me is really revealing of an operating worldview that still sees not only wolves as vermin, but a lot of red, yellow and brown people as vermin as well. And this is the real troubling revelation. That behind the hatred for the wolf, lies also a hatred for indigenous peoples and their attempts to preserve their own worldview in the continuing face of a culture that is empowered by governments to commodify and regulate wild nature through sport killing and lethal controls against any predator that kills livestock.
What does the wolf represent to you?
I grew up in the West, after the wolf had been eradicated. I didn’t grow up knowing the wolf. I knew her cousin, coyote, better. But now that I live in the Great Lakes ecosystem, I’m beginning to gather more knowledge of wolf and respect, and share the Anishinaabe worldview of wolf. Anishinaabe are the principal indigenous peoples here in the Great Lakes, and they call wolf, Ma’iingan, which means brother.
The Anishinaabe believe that whatever happens to the wolf, will happen to them. So when the wolf returned, the indigenous peoples saw it as a sign of their own prosperity too. Then the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan began to hunt wolves, in MN & WI this included trapping and hound hunting of wolves too. Over 2,000 wolves have been killed in the Great Lakes states since they lost federal protections in 2012, so all the tribes here are adamantly opposed and upset at these policies.
So I not only see the wolf as my brother, because that is how he is to my indigenous cousins here, and as a resident, I choose to respect that, but I also see the wolf as this sacred being that is closely related to us. Anthropologists say either wolf taught us to hunt or visa versa, but what is known is that our evolution in North America paralleled each other’s and wolves have always been there, often helping humans find food.
I also believe that the wolf is a messenger from the natural world, sent to remind us of another way of living, a way of living not unlike the way we lived before, where we saw each other not as predators, but co-operators. Also, I believe the wolf wants to come back, wants to be a part of our world again, only some humans are staunchly opposed to that, and that saddens me.
I want to live in a world with predators. I don’t want to be the most dangerous animal in the woods when I go into them. I like knowing that there is a bigger predator out there, one that belongs and fits in a healthy ecosystem. I hate the idea of bucolic nature, tamed of all threats. That’s the Invader’s view, not mine.
I know you’ve been tracking individual wolves personally and coming to know some of them. That makes it easy for this to cross from an activist cause to a spiritual connection that isn’t easy to discuss, but I was wondering if you could speak to crossing that line and its significance.
I’ll tell you a story from last October’s wolf hunt in Wisconsin. We were looking for foothold traps placed for wolves, (which was legal until last December when wolves were returned to federal protections) so we were monitoring an area where wolves had recently attacked and killed a bear hound, knowing that trappers would know this as well. We had seen numerous tracks and scat, but no wolves. Then we spotted a guy on an ATV that I instantly knew was a trapper because of the gear on his rig, shovel, plastic tub to keep scent off his traps, rubberized gloves…so we followed him to a trail and when we walked up to him, he was placing a wolf trap in the ground. Afterwards, we placed a trail camera overlooking the trap site, so that if a wolf was captured, we would be able to film the trauma experienced.
As we drove back to camp, I started thinking about the wolves in that area, in particular, that one wolf that might happen upon that trap and be caught and killed. I thought about it, thinking that somewhere there was a wolf right at that moment catching the scent placed on that trap and possibly traveling towards its imminent threat. I started crying because I felt horrible. I consider myself a cousin to the wolf, he is my relative and I care about him. And here I was walking away from a threat placed specifically for him and all I could do was take pictures of his suffering. I cried struggling to rationalize my actions, knowing if I did more, I might go right back to prison.
The next morning as we walked up to check on the trap there was a knot in my gut and I felt awful, knowing I might come up on a wolf, the first I would have ever seen, stuck in a trap and waiting to be killed. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do. My brain said one thing, but my heart another. Luckily, the trap was empty. Days passed, and no wolf. On the last day of the season, we discovered in the morning, that the trap had been sprung, but no wolf.
Moments later as we were leaving the area, we began to hear a chorus of wolves howling all around us. It was magic. It was like the wolves were reminding me that they still have power, and that I shouldn’t fear for them because they are wild and can take care of themselves. Wolves like all wild animals, have so much to teach us if we are willing to listen.
Why focus on apex predators?
Because apex predators are way cool! Grizzlies, wolves, lynx, these are all such wild throwbacks to a primitive time when man was so much lower on the food chain. These animals inspired legends, myths and stories that indigenous people still tell their children in winter to get them to behave! When I was in the Yellowstone ecosystem, I had an elk hunter, this huge cowboy with a rifle and pistol, tell me he was chased by a grizzly near our camp…on horseback!
I wish more apex predators were around reminding us of their dominance in nature. We force our dominance over nature, apex predators were given it by Creator. Also, wolves have only recently become a hunted species again. We can stop it. Before they become just another “game animal” we need to wrestle them away from “game management” philosophies and show them that some of us are ready to live in peace with them again. If we could accomplish that, then there might still be hope for the wolf/human reciprocity connection that our ancestors knew.
What can we learn from the wolves?
We can learn how to survive. In the wolf advocacy movement, there’s a lot of infighting and division, a lot of strong personalities. I tell people we need to be like wolves, and instead of forcing one group’s agenda on the entire movement, we need to branch off and form separate packs and be mutually respectful. But wolves can teach us so much more. And maybe this is why they appeal to so many, because they have a social structure like us, no, we have a social structure like them. They love and care for their kin the way we used to when we were part of intact communities.
When I am out on a wolf campaign, we are like wolves, we work in a pack, collectively for the good of all. We tap into their spirit which is fed from the natural world around us. Ultimately, wolves are emissaries from a different world, showing us that in nature there still exists harmony, and that it is a sometimes violent and brutal existence, but one filled with love and honor for your kin. If we could learn that, the entire world would be a better place.