Compassion with a Twist of Anthropocentrism: And A Dive into Carnivorism


Do their friends miss them? Do they miss their friends?

I’ve been thinking how often in news stories, and in public life, we are told implicitly or explicitly that some people and critters are deserving of compassion and not others.  Take OHV folks who would prefer not to have roads closed.  Or the people who have jobs at a uranium mill or a biomass plant- some news stories focus on some people (those potentially harmed) and not on others (those potentially harmed by its absence).  Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to focus on certain people, but I think we should pay attention to whose stories are left out.

There are two reasons.  First, there is no limit on compassion. It’s not as if we have some for person or group  x, there will be less for person or group  y.  If you do feel that, there are traditional spiritual ways to open up to acquire more compassion energy, and that’s a very different discussion.

Second, some will imply that if you feel compassion for x people, that leads directly to a certain policy choice, which of course it doesn’t.  For example, if you feel compassion for people around some infrastructure (wind turbine, uranium mine, biomass plant), there are a wide array of regulations that might be adopted.

Now our journalism friends have been taught that they need to engage our emotions, in many cases compassion for individuals or groups, but sometimes they leave out other individuals or groups and go directly from their own chosen circle of compassion to a specific policy outcome.  And to my mind, many perspectives and policy options are not presented.


So for right now, though, we have the five Oregon wolves recently reintroduced to western Colorado (in the depths of winter).  It was a politically contentious idea, driven by urban folks druthers with consequences for rural folks, and to me the oddest thing was that the goals did not change when it turned out that wolves were already coming down from Wyoming on their own volition.  So to me, this seemed as yet another unnecessary sharp stick in the eye to rural folks. For me, disturbing Oregon wolves  (is different from allowing wolves to naturally repopulate Colorado.

Plus our friends of CBD had this to say last spring about Oregon wolves not doing so well.

PORTLAND, Ore.— Oregon’s wolf population increased by two confirmed animals in 2021 — from 173 to 175 wolves — according to a report released today by the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. There were 21 reported packs in 2021, while the number of breeding pairs decreased by one for a total of 16.

This small population increase comes after a tragic year that saw eight gray wolves killed by deliberate poisoning in northeast Oregon. State officials themselves killed another eight wolves in 2021 over conflicts with livestock.

I’d like to anthropomorphize a bit. So you know,  peer-reviewed literature says its OK and does not cause “significant misconceptions”.

Now if I were a wolf, making a living in eastern Oregon, happy and accustomed to my pack dynamics, surrounded by wolves I know and like, knowing where elk and deer are likely to be.. knowing where water is, knowing what ranches and highways to avoid, would I want to be dumped off in western Colorado in the winter with other wolves unknown to me? Not.  Why are you doing this to us, I might ask?  Oh, because some people have an idea.. and they couldn’t get wolves from closer states, so … we picked you.  You see, these peoples’ ideas about “the balance of nature” “keystone species” “apex predators” (mountain lions, you aren’t doing the job..)  and the timing (no we haven’t had them around for 70 years, but we can’t wait for natural processes, because…. some humans don’t want to).   Will they bring Oregon diseases to Colorado canines? Will they be susceptible to diseases Colorado canines carry?

I’m mostly a fan of the folks at Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but driven by a ballot initiative they might not have been able to consider the latter two questions. But back to critters.  Whom we care about. But some to quote Orwell “are more equal than others.”

If we could interview coyotes and mountain lions, they might say “hey, we’re carnivores too.. sure we’re not exactly the same niche, but we think we’re doing fine right now; why do they count more than us?”

As to the elk and deer, “hey, you guys are wildlife too, but you don’t count as much because of some peoples’ ideas. It’s actually better for you as a species to have more animals hunting and killing you on the landscape.. because maybe they will kill the sick along with the unlucky.  Your well-being is sacrificed for the good of the population- and well, some people have this idea about “balance of nature” and so on, and it’s more important than your well-being.”

As for cows, sheep, livestock guardian dogs, domestic dogs and others.. sure being ripped apart or killed is not good for you, but maybe you shouldn’t be there anyway. Besides, some people have this idea that it’s better for an abstraction.. “the ecosystem”..

Then there’s a narrative where elk fear is really good because it changes their behavior and that’s good for other species.  Again, the individual sacrificed for the whole.species, ecosystem?

My own experience with safe places as a college and graduate student, and unsafe places, is that it’s a much easier life in many ways to be in a safe place.  Aside from alertness and stress, there’s decision making (should I go to the library after dark?).  There was also time spent reviewing the list of crimes and locations and trying to discern patterns and adapt to them.   My college roommate was mugged on the way to the Computer Center.. (yes there was a building that housed The Computer) and her box of cards (that is how a person programmed in those days) was dumped across the road, and she needed to redo her semester’s project.  Perhaps that’s the equivalent of the energy expended running away from an attack.  I’d say generally less crime and fewer perpetrators was actually good for my mental and physical health. So I’d be displeased if someone said “higher crime is better for you as it keeps you on your toes” or “it’s better for the human species if not you”, or “the ecosystem” or whatever.

It’s also interesting to me how climate change is used for different species.   For some species (carnivores), climate change is happening so we need more protections of current habitat and more habitat and more reintroductions.  For herbivores, climate change is happening, populations in some areas are dropping and we don’t know why… so let’s stress them more by introducing more predators!  It seems like a bias against hervivores, what we might call carnivorism or carnivolatry.

Again, I’m not against wolves.  I just think that this Colorado thing is needlessly disruptive to all kinds of creatures and people.  Many bad things happen when individuals become unimportant in pursuit of ideas (think 20th century history) and I don’t think we necessarily are having the conversations around this that we should including all points of view.



9 thoughts on “Compassion with a Twist of Anthropocentrism: And A Dive into Carnivorism”

  1. “…needlessly disruptive to all kinds of creatures and people…”
    I kinda wonder how the CO wolf population felt about being “disrupted” – extirpated actually – by humans back in the day…
    and to paraphrase your text a bit –
    Now if I were a wolf, making a living in {w}estern Colorado, happy and accustomed to my pack dynamics, surrounded by wolves I know and like, knowing where elk and deer are likely to be.. knowing where water is, knowing what… to avoid, would I want to be {b}umped off ?
    I see this as an effort to restore normalcy to the environment

    • Ah… but (1) is the answer to past things you think were wrong, to disenfranchise the deer and elk of today.. who had nothing to do with the past? Or the humans who also weren’t around then?

      (2) If lots of wolves in the past were “normalcy”.. who is to say that North America with Native Americans only was “normalcy” and the Euro- Afro and Asian Americans should… I don’t know.

      My point is not that a hankering for the past is a bad thing… but determining to keep/go back to some things, but not others seems (to me) to have imbedded values that are worth discussing.

      • “My point is not that a hankering for the past is a bad thing… but determining to keep/go back to some things, but not others seems (to me) to have imbedded values that are worth discussing.”

        Which reminds me of one of my all-time favorite lobbyist comments. A young staffer for a timber industry association was asked about the spotted owl. She replied analytically (I paraphrase): “We need to define an optimum rate of extinction as Nature’s rate should not be presumed the best.” I wonder whatever happened to her?

      • The principle (is it a value or is it science?) embedded in public land planning law and policy is ecological sustainability as a basis for sustaining multiple uses. Past conditions viewed as sustainable are offered as guidance for the future, but not necessarily as a prescription.

  2. “Your well-being is sacrificed for the good of the population.”
    “The greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.” (Pinchot)

    Nothing novel about this idea. Maybe some disagreement about “good” and, in the case of people, mitigating the “sacrifice.”

    • Yes, but I thought we were more justice oriented than that.. a person could argue siting an oil refinery, or a wind farm (or for that matter, a shooting range) somewhere is OK, because there are more people outside the area who will benefit. I’m not saying it’s easy to decide all this. I just think we seem to have shifting rationales depending on whose ox is being gored.

  3. Kill off apex predators like grizzlies, wolves and cougars, spray atrazine, neonicotinoids and glyphosate on everything then wonder why cervids like deer and wapiti contract a prion contagion like chronic wasting disease?

    CWD is surging in Midwest states like Iowa and Minnesota but Wyoming and Colorado are seeing spikes, too. According to Wyoming Game and Fish, the disease, which occurs mainly in male cervids like wapiti, moose and deer, is found in 34 of the state’s 37 mule deer herds and in 15 of the state’s 36 elk herd units. In parts of Canada 85% of male mule deer and 35% of females are infected. Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s mandatory testing revealed increases in CWD in three of the state’s mule deer herds.

    A warming climate is blamed for part of increased transmission rates but researchers say the federal government’s feeding of elk, especially in Wyoming, in close proximity is also a factor. Hay fed to those animals is likely contaminated with Roundup® and other pesticides. Scavengers like American crows can move the disease from gut pile to gut pile and can remain in soils for years.

    Wapiti or elk, mule deer and pronghorn travel from Grand Teton National Park to winter ranges throughout Wyoming and into the Wind River Reservation. But disease, urban sprawl and oil and gas development have altered historic migration routes.

    • Those wolves wandered back to Wyoming, I wonder whether these wolves will stay put or wander back west?

      “CPW has released another five wolves from Oregon in Grand and Summit counties and said the Oregon pack’s “infrequent” livestock killing does not exclude wolves from relocation”

      “In September, Colorado Parks and Wildlife wolf reintroduction manager Reid DeWalt told the Colorado House Agriculture Committee that the agency was asking other states for permission to capture and relocate wolves that “do not have a recent history of depredation.”

      “You can see where folks would be like ‘You can have these bad wolves,’” DeWalt told the committee Sept. 12.”


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