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Defying the Laws of Nature : Environmental elitists seek laws that favor mountain lions and wolves over the well-being of people.

<i> Katherine Dowling is a family physician at the USC School of Medicine. </i>

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

--Genesis 1: 26.

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Americans are romantics. We get a concept into our collective brain, and for a generation or two it’s almost impossible to shake that concept loose, no matter how ill-conceived or misapplied it may be. Take the taming of the West: Buffalo, Native Americans, immense trees and plants all were bulldozed under as we plowed toward our manifest destiny. Lone voices called out in the 19th Century to go slow, to preserve what could not be replaced. And we in the 20th Century have finally listened to these voices.

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Unfortunately, a movement that should promote appropriate husbandry of natural resources for man’s good now shows signs of husbanding mankind for the good of our natural resources. The mountain lion, for example, was declared a protected--although not endangered--species by Proposition 117, the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990. The noble goals of this proposition included the “protection, enhancement and restoration of wildlife habitat and fisheries . . . (because) small and often isolated wildlife populations are forced to depend upon . . . shrinking habitat areas within the heavily urbanizing areas of this state.” Funds are allocated to buy more land for protected species, and unique restrictions placed on hunting, even when the mountain lion population grows so much that it threatens humans. Hunting fees and licenses are one method used to foster the numbers of various species within a given ecosystem while bringing in revenue for appropriate care of that ecosystem.

We have now reached a point where the mountain lion and human populations are expanding together, with occasionally tragic results. Cats are predators; their instincts are aroused by movement, although their daytime vision is not good. These attributes put joggers and small children, always in motion, at greatest risk. The question becomes, whom do we protect? Proposition 117 tilts toward the mountain lion. Mountain lions may be taken after an attack, but their numbers may not be thinned prior to such an event, although several incidents, two resulting in tragic deaths, have shown that damage to humans and livestock is inevitable.

An even more compelling situation involving the grafting of a high-level predator onto an established ecosystem may soon take place. Last week, wolves were introduced in Yellowstone Park through the purchase a Canadian species from British Columbia. The animals are being penned at Yellowstone and fed, with the survivors freed after about six weeks’ captivity. (It’s estimated that about half of the wolves will succumb prior to release.) Why? Apparently to re-create the old days when these beasts roamed free in the great Wild West. There seems to be no specific biologic reason for wolf relocation.

Predictably, Wyoming ranchers and farmers are far from delighted. They feel that the real issue is not restoring species of past centuries to their abandoned ecological niches, but rather land control. Once the wolf is reintroduced, they maintain, local industries like logging, ranching and tourism will be federally curtailed under the Endangered Species Act. An even bigger fear is what wolves may do to livestock and perhaps even people. Old-timers testifying recently at a Wyoming hearing recounted chilling tales of yearlings killed and sheep stampeded by wolves. Wolves attack because of innate predatory instincts, not just to get food. Even Sinapu, a Boulder, Colo., group devoted to “rewolfing” that state, admits that the reintroduction of wolves may present unanticipated problems. Anybody remember “Jurassic Park?”

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Man depends on animals and plants. Each species has a special place on our planet, and sometimes we do not realize just how important it is until we have ravaged it beyond replacement. We need to shepherd our resources. But we should also be aware of the risk of environmental elitism, in which the privileged few enjoy an environment legislated to meet their personal philosophies of life, to the detriment of the real needs of others.


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