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NWF View: Of Wolves, Wetlands and Wisdom

NWF View: We all make mistakes; for society as well as individuals, wisdom´s true test is how we deal with them.

  • Mark Van Putten
  • Jun 01, 1998
The relentless slaughter of wolves that caused their virtual elimination in the continental United States 50 years ago was a tragic mistake. The damage inflicted on Florida´s Everglades was another error of unparalleled dimension.

In both cases, we diminished both the natural world and ourselves by approaching nature as conqueror and imagining wolves and wetlands as enemies to be overcome. We let our role as citizens of the land community lapse in the mistaken belief we were its rulers. But in confronting these mistakes, the National Wildlife Federation and supporters everywhere are living up to our responsibility to actively restore through good management that which we have damaged.

Today, the most successful wildlife recovery ever undertaken in this country has produced thriving populations of reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, augmented by naturally occurring new wolf packs in western Montana. Northern Rockies wolves are flourishing on public lands for the first time in a half century. Left to themselves, within a few years these wolves will be sufficiently recovered to take them off the Endangered Species List.

But this triumph over our own mistakes is now itself threatened by a recent court ruling stating that the reintroduced wolves must be captured and removed to correct a perceived technical violation of the Endangered Species Act. NWF is appealing that ruling, just as we fought to write into law and implement provisions that ultimately allowed wolf reintroduction to go forward and become a success. Whatever lies ahead, we are confident that with the help and insistence of concerned people everywhere this triumph will stand.

In Florida, too, NWF is taking action to undo errors of the past through active restoration. At the same time, we´re striving to avoid in the western Everglades the same mistakes that have made the eastern Everglades a national conservation concern (see "Listening to Wildlife in the Everglades")

In a unique partnership with our Florida Wildlife Federation affiliate, we have created a new regional office in Naples, Florida, dedicated to keeping Big Cypress Swamp and Ten Thousand Islands healthy and intact in the western Everglades and to supporting restoration of the entire Everglades system.

The western Everglades are poised between the best of times and the worst of times. From the Okaloacoochee Slough headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico, the million-acre-plus expanse of cypress stands, wet prairies and pine islands remains a last wild outpost for an abundance of wildlife, including the endangered Florida panther, West Indian manatee and wood stork. But the western Everglades are imperiled by rapid expansion of urban growth upstream that could adversely alter the downstream water flow and by pending applications to convert 3,500 wetland acres to other uses.

The National and Florida Wildlife Federations have accepted the challenge of avoiding the potential damage before it is done. Using the lessons of the past to guide us, we will build public consensus to shape future development so--in the words of Aldo Leopold--it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.

Past mistakes teach us that modern conservation means creating a balance--whether through flexible management in wildlife recovery or environmentally sound urban planning--that respects our role as part of a land community: partners, not adversaries with nature. To act on those lessons is to demonstrate the wisdom we need to shape a better future for people and wildlife alike.

Mark Van Putten
President & Chief Executive Officer
National Wildlife Federation


Learn more about how NWF is helping to restore gray wolves to Yellowstone 

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