Thinking Like a Mountain …….By Aldo Leopold

A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.

Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.

My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars,but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men…….

Aldo Leopold

From: A Sand County Almanac 1949

“The seminal essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” recalls another hunting experience later in life that was formative for Leopold’s later views. Here Leopold describes the death of she-wolf killed by his party during a time when conservationists were operating under the assumption that elimination of top predators would make game plentiful. The essay provides a non-technical characterization of the trophic cascade where the removal of single species carries serious implications for the rest of the ecosystem.”

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Lessons from Aldo Leopold’s historic wolf hunt

The nation’s legendary conservationist saw the value of preserving wildness. Perhaps someday politicians will too.

December 13, 2009|By James William Gibson

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/dec/13/opinion/la-oe-gibson13-2009dec13

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Photos: Kewl Wallpaper

Posted in: Biodiversity, gray wolf/canis lupus

Tags: Thinking Like A Mountain, Aldo Leopold, trophic cascades, apex predators

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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “A mountain with a wolf on it stands a little taller.”
    ~Edward Hoagland, ‘Red wolves and Black bears’

    “Of all the native biological constituents of a northern wilderness scene, I should say that wolves present the greatest test of human wisdom and good intentions”
    ~ Paul L. Errington, ‘Of Predation and Life’

    • Thank you John for the beautiful words. Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and reflect on wolves and wildness. Especially now when things are so crazy.

      N.

  2. This simply touches you, and it gives us the message that Nature has been here for thousands of years, and so have wolves. We have no right to start playing God with Nature, for God and Nature are wise. They now what is wrong and what is wright, and only they know how to keep the balance between predators and prey. And now, we have a bunch of politicians, hunters and ranchers, with no respect for Nature, thinking that they are wise, too. And, to please their irresponsible ranchers and their lazy hunters, they go around to kill wolves, that have been prematurely removed from the Endangered Species List. It is just stupid, “management” should have a scientifical base, and not only in thinking about small interest groups. After all, if we were able to land on the surface of the Moon, to abolish racism from our nation, to create vaccinations that save lives, then why can’t we create a co-existence with wolves? And not only wolves, but with most predators, too. “Overpopulation” is a word they want to use with wolves that means “we can’t have 1500 wolves in a place half the size of Europe, so let’s kill them to “control” the population”…

    • “Clap” “Clap” Loua…Beautifully said.

  3. I hear that the large Gibbon Pack in Yellowstone has left the park and is near Monida pass on the Idaho-Montana border (6o miles from Yellowstone). They will get into trouble with livestock in that area and Wildlife Services will be killing them when they do. I thought you might like to know.

    Larry

    • Thanks Larry for informiing me. It’s always the same story. It reminds me of the awful oil spill in the Gulf. The government and BP had a chance to put in place safety measures but they were too lax or too cheap to do it. Same with the wolves. They kill so few livestock because they have so much restraint, yet the ranchers don’t even make the effort to observe good animal husbandry practices. It’s a tragedy.

      N.

  4. STOP KILL WOLVES!!!!!!!! STOP THIS BASTARDS WILDLIFE SERVICE!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. NABEKI! PLEASE,I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW THAT,IN USA HAVE WOLF-ASSOCIATIONS FOR DEFEND USA’S WOLVES???? WITH MONEY???? WHO CAN TO DO SOMETHING??? WHO CAN TO HELP, TO SAVE WOLVES??? WHO????????

    • Agnes…wolves are at the mercy of the fish and game agencies because President Obama delisted them last Spring. Before that wolves were protected under the Endangered Species Act. There was no legal wolf hunting until 2009 BUT wolves were still being killed by Wildlife Services for agribusiness. On June 15 Judge Molloy will hear oral arguments on the delisting lawsuit. Thirteen environmental groups sued the federal government for delisting wolves last Spring. If Judge Molloy rules to relist the gray wolf population, then they will once again be under the protection of ESA and all wolf hunting will stop here. They can still be killed by WS for ranchers. That agency needs to be defunded.

      The delisting of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies is the reason wolves are under the gun and if they regain their ESA protections we will have won a major victory for them. We can only hope that Judge Molloy relists them and they remain on the list for years to come. That is the only way wolves can survive in this toxic environment. I blame the Obama administration for delisting them in the first place and pandering to ranchers.

      N.

  6. NABEKI….I DON’T BELIEVE THAT,I DON’T WANT BELIEVE THAT,ONLY JUGE MOLLOY CAN TO HELP…. IF HE NOT WILL RELISTE WOLVES??? AFTER WHAT WILL HAPPEND? IF IN USA HAVE 13 GROUPS WOLF-HATERS WHY HAVE NOT LEGAL,OFFICIEL PRO-WOLVES, DEFENDERS-ASSOCIATION???? IT’S MAKE ME CRAZY….

    • Agnes…I’m asking myself the same question. There are so many big environmental groups that could be organizing pro wolf rallies, energizing their base, speak out for wolves here on the ground in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. I’m certainly grateful to them for bringing the lawsuit to challenge the delisting but where the heck are all the wolf supporters to answer people like Jim Beers and Toby Bridges? I haven’t seen one pro wolf rally. It’s fairly shocking!!

      N.

  7. DEAR NABEKI! PLEASE,WHY WE DIDN’T TRY TO SEND PETITIONS TO THE BIG ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS FOR ASK TO HELP WOLVES? I’M SO WORRY…SO WORRY…

    • Yes Agnes…where the heck are the big environmental groups? Where are the pro-wolf rallies, the pro-wolf speeches? They are the only ones that have the money and membership to pull this off yet they are silent. We need lots of wolf supporters on the ground here in the Northern Rockies to answer all the hateful wolf rhetoric that is spewed continually…yet I can think of not one pro-wolf rally? It’s mind boggling to me.

      N.

  8. [...] the newspaper.  In his 1949 book of essays, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold encouraged us to “Think Like a Mountain.”   I suspect a mountain would not notice the daily economic and political struggles of [...]

  9. [...] the newspaper.  In his 1949 book of essays, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold encouraged us to “Think Like a Mountain.”   I suspect a mountain would not notice the daily economic and political struggles of [...]

  10. Wisconsin, home of the Sand County Almanac, had its’ first wolf hunt in 2013. In 2014 they will allow hunting wolves with dogs. This propensity to kill wolves for “fun” and “sport” to gain at most a hide, and trash the rest of the animal, speaks volumes about the mentality involved in this endeavor. I can only hope that this segment of the human population is quickly speeding towards an evolutionary
    “dead end”.


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