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Books: The greens crying wolf

Books | The author of Horse Whisperer now exalts wolves

Issue: "Midterm elections 1998," Nov. 14, 1998

A few years ago a rancher showed me some snapshots of a heifer that had survived a wolf attack. The predators had ripped a patch of hide about 18 inches in diameter from the cow's haunches just below the tail, exposing mottled, raw, pinkish flesh. The rancher considers wolves to be cattle-killing pests. The wolf restoration program currently underway in the northwestern Rockies is, he charges, a travesty. But outside ranching circles there is a strong tendency to romanticize wolves as strong, noble creatures with more right to the wilderness than man will ever have. Now a new book from Nicholas Evans, the author of The Horse Whisperer, places wolves on a pedestal of dizzying height. In The Loop the heroine, a brilliant young wolf biologist named Helen Ross, speculates that ranchers hate wolves so much because "they're too much like us. We look at them and see ourselves. Loving, caring, social creatures who also happen to be terrific killers." The Loop is set in the fictitious town of Hope, Mont., where the wolf restoration program is tempting local stockmen to adopt the Triple-S strategy: shoot, shovel, and shut up. Endangered species legislation provides for fines of up to $100,000 and lengthy jail terms for wolf killers. The main characters are Helen Ross, sent to keep tabs on a newly discovered pack outside town; Buck Calder, the region's most powerful rancher and a patriarchal, egotistical philanderer; and Buck's son Luke, a teenager with a stutter and an affinity for animals who detests his father and falls for Helen. Although Mr. Evans provided a detailed portrayal of the habitats and habits of wolves, when it came to the people of Montana he was clearly outside the loop. As for religion, the sensible characters believe in nature and maybe heaven, but not God. The author takes for granted the environmentalist view that wilderness must have wolves, lots of them, to complete the natural "loop." People are envious of wolves, according to Buck's beleaguered but thoughtful wife Eleanor, because "they're still part of nature and we've forgotten how to be." Dismissed without explanation is the view of many real-life ranchers that the West managed pretty well without wolves for 70 years. The biblical view that man is to have responsible dominion over the earth never enters the picture. Mr. Evans, who lives in England, reveals himself to be just another outsider; only a city-slicker would write about a red John Deere tractor (all such machines are "John-Deere green," with yellow trim). Having embraced the myth that man is just another animal, Mr. Evans's wolves become the murder victims. Luke "saw the wrongs [animals] suffered at man's hands and knew, by virtue of his own strictured tongue, how it felt to be unable to speak out against oppression." In the end, for Mr. Evans the only moral standard is the well-being of wildlife.

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Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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