April 2, 2010
In the Company of WolvesBy J.R. Dunn
The killing of Candice Berner by wolves in Alaska last month is one of those stories that we read through and shudder at before moving on. But it's also one of those stories that carries a lot more freight than appears at first glance.
Ms. Berner, a schoolteacher, was out jogging down a lonesome stretch of highway (does any other kind of highway exist in Alaska?) when she was attacked by at least two wolves. The details are horrific. The attack continued for some time -- Ms. Berner apparently broke away and continued running only to be brought down once again. This may have occurred several times. After she was killed, the wolves devoured her before making off into the woods.
The Berner attack was not an isolated event. This marks the second such attack in a matter of months. Last October, Taylor Mitchell, an up-and-coming Canadian folksinger, was attacked by two coyotes while hiking in a Cape Breton national park. Canadian rangers intervened, but Ms. Mitchell was so badly injured that she died the next morning. (The rangers fired at both coyotes but brought neither one down. What a country.)
So what is going on here? Have the beasts of field and forest lost all fear of human beings? Have predators begun developing a taste for petite human females? (Ms. Berner was 4'11" -- very tiny by modern American standards. While Ms. Mitchell's exact height is unknown, online photos reveal what was clearly a very small girl.) Or is nature, as the Greens never tire of warning us, at last striking back?
There is probably some truth in the first two assertions. (We'll get to the third.) In recent years, animals have been adapting more completely and closely to humans. My neighborhood, in a large-scale metro area of Western Pennsylvania, boasts two distinct pods of deer. Their presence is, needless to say, charming, and they cause no trouble apart from mating season in mid-fall, when the males tend to get feisty.
But nature does not consist simply of deer, which often bring other animals with them in any case. I have been waiting for the coyotes and the problems they will create. And there are worse things than coyotes. Predators, until recently, had a healthy respect for humans as the creatures that carry barking sticks with no compunctions about using them. But hunting, once enormously popular and widespread, is today in the process of becoming an esoteric pastime. The more romantic strains of environmentalism often lead to animals of all types being protected, and in some places, cosseted. So we're getting generations of animals that have never been shot at and have no awareness that humans are the most dangerous animals of all.
In this epoch of female assertiveness, it's close to unacceptable to suggest that there are things that women should not do. But the truth is that women of childlike stature simply should not be out wandering alone in the woods -- or many other places, for that matter. Women have been told that the world is theirs, that they should fear nothing, that nature is benign -- and for that matter, female. (Ms. Mitchell's Facebook page contains a heartbreaking little note beginning, "I get many song ideas from nature.") Any male operating on such a basis would find his britches kicked in short order -- which is why men don't operate like that, but instead make their way through the world on the unspoken but firm conviction that trouble lies around every corner. For females, lacking male strength, alertness to danger, and a three-million-year legacy of brawling, the nature-is-our-friend attitude can lead only to catastrophe. Modern women -- particularly American women, the most sensible in the world -- had best adapt the male attitude of a dangerous world or cease wandering alone through the woods. Both would be preferable.
Perhaps the most disturbing element of all is the claim that both women -- and anyone else in the same predicament -- had it coming. This is the ugly side of the Green movement, one with no romanticism about it. It's evident in many of the comments on both cases: the claim that animals "belong there" while humans don't, therefore rendering the latter fair game. The fact that local authorities set out to track down and kill the wolves responsible for Ms. Berner's death was met with protest, along with assertions that the wolves had "done nothing wrong," and apparently, they should be encouraged to continue slaughtering petite women, children, and presumably the crippled and aged whenever the urge strikes them. The antihuman bias of environmentalism has seldom been made clearer than in these cases. (This was particularly unsettling in the comments attributed to Ms. Berner's father.)
If humans are simply "part of nature," as environmentalists like to claim, then the same rules apply on both sides. As the great Marlin Perkins of Wild Kingdom used to put it in his introductions to the Mutual of Omaha commercials, "Animals protect themselves in the wild." That being the case, human beings will, too -- and it's a simple fact that we're a little better at it than animals are.
(The recent Sea World killing, while superficially similar to these cases, is in fact something else altogether. The Sea World incident was a clear human violation of the natural order vis-à-vis orcas, or killer whales. These enormous, powerful, and highly intelligent predators, used to roaming the oceans for hundreds and thousands of miles, should not be confined to tanks, no matter how large. The cetacean equivalent of frustration, neurosis, and eventual breakdown are sure to develop. This is in no way a suggestion that trainer Dawn Brancheau had it coming -- only that such outbursts as resulted in her death are inevitable under the circumstances. The fates of Ms. Berner and Mitchell are not.)
Incidents such as these will inevitably become more common. In hopes of increasing "biodiversity" -- a rather metaphysical concept -- environmental activists are encouraging the transplanting of not only wolves, but cougars and grizzlies to areas across the U.S. (Coyotes don't rate this treatment -- they tend to take care of that themselves.) The argument is that the animals "used to" dwell in these areas and thus deserve to return. This is one of that class of program, like ObamaCare and the latest nuclear disarmament treaty, where you can be certain that the proponents have not taken the time to think things through. Many of the areas where the animals are released are not at all far from human habitations. In the case of bears, this has led to a number of confrontations with humans, each ending with the bear being shot, which seems a rough deal for the animal. (I go into further detail on the "biodiversity" programs in my upcoming book Death by Liberalism.)
So what is to be done? The answer, simply put, is control of animal behavior. One of the limitations of animals is that they possess no sense of judgment. It is human beings who must make up for this lack by acting somewhat in loco parentis. Animals must be made to respect human beings and to comprehend, to whatever extent they are capable, their particular spot on the great chain of being. They must learn the virtues of fear.
While I was living in Maine a few years, many of the locals had a hard time with coyotes, which had moved in only a few years previously. Many lost small dogs, cats, chickens, and other domesticated animals. But oddly enough, though we heard them clearly, the coyotes never came over the ridge to our section of Red Schoolhouse Road. The reason? Every morning before breakfast we'd go out with a sixpack or two and a few crates of ammo and pop some rounds from our pistols, shotguns, M-40 grenade launchers, Vulcan minicannons, and whatever other armament was lying around. The uproar was audible for miles. Now, coyotes are not stupid, and they knew what that noise meant. The better part of valor from their point of view was to confine their operations elsewhere.
(Of course, if young women could be persuaded to arm themselves before gallivanting through "nature," the problem would also be solved. But the two are mutually exclusive -- few daughters of Gaia are interested in firearms. So that solution is closed to us.)
Like it or not, human beings are dominant in this planet's ecosystem. A predator who learns to avoid humans and cease viewing them as prey will be a far happier animal and live a longer and more pleasant life. The alternative -- to encourage public indifference to the deaths of young women and even children -- will merely serve to increase the dehumanization and extremist reputation of the environmental movement. And I'm sure our friends to the left don't want that, now do they?
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and will edit the forthcoming Military Thinker.