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The Horse's Mouth: Conservation Northwest's Kit McGurn on Why 'Wolves are Awesome'

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By Matt Driscoll
The Seattle Weekly

"When I think of wolves the first thing I think is "fucking awesome," every time, without fail," said Kit McGurn. "How could you not? We're talking the top of the food chain here, the apex predator in a natural system. A social animal whose pack structure has a hierarchy and whose survival mostly depends on the entire pack being successful."

This week's installment of The Horse's Mouth features Kit McGurn of Conservation Northwest, discussing the Nov. 1 event at UW's Kane Hall at which clips from Land of the Lost Wolves will be shown and a panel of expert guests will discuss the misunderstood creature's plight.

Seattle Weekly: Wolves have gotten a bad rap over the course of history, but these days most folks seem to have come to their senses. How do you view the public's relationship with wolves, and what do you think the key to understanding them is?

Kit McGurn: Wolves seem to raise passions in people, regardless of whether they love them or hate them. The quick history of wolves is that as human populations expanded in the U.S. and livestock and agriculture crept into previous wild areas, wolves were systematically exterminated because they preyed on domestic livestock. Obviously our collective perception of wildlife has evolved since then, but the essence of the wolf debate still comes down to what wolves represent, that symbol of wildness that draws a strong emotional reaction from lots of people. Really, wolves are a proxy for that broader discussion of our competing values and views on wildness and its place in our contemporary society. As a result, controversy seems to follow wolves wherever they go, whether it was the reintroduction of the species in the Northern Rockies or the natural recolonization of wolves coming into Washington and Oregon from Idaho and British Columbia. In the end the key to understanding wolves is that they are a natural part of our landscape and they play a key role in maintaining an ecological balance. It's up to humans if we are going to allow them to do that moving forward.

Can you explain the purpose of the Nov. 1 event, and talk about the wolf-y knowledge you'll be busting out? What is one thing about wolves most people probably don't know?

At the November 1st event at UW's Kane Hall (starting at 7 p.m., check our website out www.conservationnw.org) we are going to screen clips from the BBC film that chronicles the return of wolves to the Cascade mountains and have a panel of wolf experts discuss what this return means for our landscape and what it will take to live with wolves in Washington. Most people probably don't know that wolves, despite being effective predators, are mostly unsuccessful with their hunts. The evolutionary advantage between wolves and their natural prey like elk and deer is so slim that healthy prey are often able to defend themselves against or escape from wolf attacks successfully. So the perception that wolves are nature's equivalent of expert ninja assassins who can kill as much and as often as they want is untrue. It's a tough life for wolves, usually feast or famine, as in much of nature.

In an email to Seattle Weekly a couple weeks ago, you wrote: "wolves are fucking awesome, and hip urban kids love em'." Please further explain the awesomeness of wolves, and why hip kids (and perhaps even average folks) are drawn to them.

It's true, when I think of wolves the first thing I think is "fucking awesome," every time, without fail. How could you not? We're talking the top of the food chain here, the apex predator in a natural system. A social animal whose pack structure has a hierarchy and whose survival mostly depends on the entire pack being successful. Sound familiar? Yep, wolves are a lot like us in many ways. And for your average urban hipster kid, it's all about being a cool motherfucker, somewhat detached and nonchalant like "Yeah I just killed my organic elk dinner with my own TEETH, no big thang." So naturally wolves are good symbolic fit. Average folks may like that thought too, I suppose.

Extra Credit: Ironic wolves-howling-at-the-moon t-shirts - are you for or against them?

The key here is irony. If you're wearing a wolf-howling-at-the-moon- t shirt to get some stares and laughs, all the more power to you. If you're wearing one and taking yourself totally seriously, then you may have some issues.

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