Jewish World Review August 17, 2004 / 30 Menachem-Av, 5764
Peter A. Brown
A home where wolves don't roam?
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | CODY, Wyo. Democracy is based on the idea that people choose their own rules, and that those decisions are made by and for the human beings who live under them.
Yet many in the Rocky Mountain states wonder if that notion has become a 21st-century casualty of the environmental movement.
They resent the ability of special interests to push government toward a mentality that many here see as caring more about four-legged creatures than it does about two-legged ones. They are angry about the reintroduction of vicious predators and other efforts to kill a staple of the local economy - all in the name of an idealized vision of nature held by those who don't have a clue how people here live.
The culprits in this self-proclaimed Rodeo Capital of the World - and throughout much of the Rockies - aren't gunmakers, cigarette companies, trial lawyers, insurance companies or big business.
To those like Cody residents Karen Gee and Tom Hiltz, the bad guy is a Sierra Club they see as trying to impose a mentality that ignores the reality of life in rural America.
In the Gee/Hiltz view, this environmentalist mentality springs mostly from people who live in cities and bustling suburbs, where the closest they get to nature is walking the family dog and watching Animal Planet.
Obviously, states' rights and local decision-making can go too far, as the need for federally enforced changes in the civil-rights era showed.
Yet it is hard not to sympathize with these folks who see federal mandates as more concerned about animal welfare than people welfare.
The residents' complaints center on efforts to ban snowmobiles in nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, even though they are restricted in number, operate on existing roads and must be parts of guided tours.
Also outraging residents is the reintroduction of Canadian wolves into the parks to restore some supposed "ecological balance."
The former threatens to hurt the region's tourist-dependent economy. During the often sub-zero winter, visitors don't trek through the parks to get up close to the buffalo and moose. Those who flock here in summer to commune with nature then are snuggled in well-heated homes complaining about shoveling their sidewalks.
The government importation of the wolves threatens hunters' ability to feed their families. After all, the wolves aren't just a danger to two-legged creatures; they eat the elk and game prized by hunters.
"The Sierra Club wants to stop our way of life. Why don't they go into Central Park in New York City and release Canadian wolves and see how the people there like it?" said Hiltz, 40, a county worker who operates heavy equipment.
His wife, Karen, 37, an Air Force veteran who has two kids and runs an Internet-based, graphic-design business out of her house said: "You have to live here to know how we live. Why should they tell us how to live?"
Their resentment is genuine. They live close to the parks and understand they are national treasures. Anything that endangers the parks' future would be even a greater threat to their way of life.
The Gee/Hiltz household doesn't buy beef, although they're not vegetarians. "We buy chicken and pork at the store, but hunt an elk," and that's better than beef. "With them (the feds) importing Canadian wolves into the park, they are thinning out the herds, and I'm afraid to camp near the park entrance for safety reasons."
To be fair to the tree-huggers, the environmentalists didn't bring the wolves from Canada, but are viewed as responsible for getting Bill Clinton to do so. The restocking of this vicious predator, which had almost disappeared here, and in neighboring Idaho, Montana and Utah, occurred under Clinton, who also came up with rules to stop snowmobiling in the parks.
During the Clinton years, environmental groups had greater government clout. Then, since 2000, the environmentalists have made inroads with the federal judiciary.
It is not lost here that Emmett Sullivan, the federal judge who has tried to ban snowmobiles in the parks, sits 2,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., where the environmental lobby operates.
However, Clarence Brimmer, a Wyoming federal judge, has blocked Sullivan's ruling, leaving those whose livelihoods depend on winter tourism to wonder what to do.
Democracy works strangely, and our federal system is rife with examples of national priorities shoved down local residents' throats.
This is a good example of that.
It is hard to disagree with those here who wonder if things might be different were wolves set free on the D.C. Mall.
08/10/04: Public interest vs. minority rights