John Oens found himself confronted with the harsh reality of hunting. There is always a risk that an endangered species can get stuck in the cross hairs. Not only does that raise moral issues, it also brings serious legal dilemmas. In Wisconsin, where our story takes place, if you hunt an animal that is protected by the Endangered Species Act, you can face a heavy fine and some serious jail time. When John found himself face to face with an endangered species deep in the Wisconsin woods, he panicked. He wanted to be smart and escape possible legal penalties, but he also wanted to rescue the animal that accidentally got caught in his trap. He had just moments to react and so he went to work. John knew just what he had to do…
Hunting in America
More than 38 million Americans hunt and fish each year. That’s quite the number if do say so ourselves. In fact, more Americans even say they prefer to hunt than play baseball. Many people enjoy it for sport while others do it to gather food or to even control populations. The practice is most common in states with more relaxed laws on the activity and is often an activity that is ingrained in communities and families. Some hunters find loopholes in the law that allow them peruse certain lands and target certain animal groups. On average, a hunter spends approximately $2,500 each year on the sport. That price accounts for licenses and materials. That surely ain’t cheap.
John Oens of Wisconsin is an avid and enthusiastic hunter. He enjoys going out and finding prey for sport. One chilly November day he went out for a routine hunt. He laid down coyote traps in the forest so the species wouldn’t interrupt his sport. The traps typically grab onto the animals leg so they are prohibited from going after John. This is the technique that John prefers although – as we will learn – they come with a price. They’re not the most reliable methods to warding off prey. He traveled with his father and friend that day and they split up to find the traps. Suddenly – a sound came from the forest.
Hunting in Wisconsin
Hunters cover the state of Wisconsin. Many communities enjoy the sport and take pride in the activity that is often passed down among generations. Wisconsin’s laws tend to cater to the hunter rather than animal but it still has passed stricter laws throughout the years. The population of wolves have grown each year ever since federal law mandated that the breed be protected as part of the Endangered Species Act. This piece of legislation makes it so those who target wolves will face heavy penalties. This doesn’t mean, however, that hunters don’t target the species regardless.
Face to face
The sound grew louder and louder. John searched for the noise that sounded more like a whimper the closer he approached. It was the sound of an animal in trouble that would break anyone’s heart. Finally he came face to face with a beautiful and majestic animal. He made eye contact with the distressed animal and he realized that this wasn’t just any kind of wolf – this was a timber wolf. The gentle animal needed help.
Meet the timber wolf
Timber wolves are also called gray wolves. This breed of wolf are stunning creatures that have been growing in population in Wisconsin thanks to laws that protect them. Without these laws, experts say that hunters would have eliminated them from the state. It’s a harsh reality for a breed that is actually quite harmless for humans. They’re not interested in attacking people, rather they’re mostly interested in just surviving. It’s a tragic reality, however, that the timber wolves are still targeted illegally by lawbreaking hunters.
On first glance
John couldn’t believe his eyes. Timber wolves are quite uncommon for humans to come across in Wisconsin as they naturally tend to stay away from people. They’re incredibly perceptive and intelligent animals – in addition to being so beautiful. On first glance they are easily confused with coyotes. They feature similar coats and size and John was confused when he came in contact with this timber wolf. He examined the animal and determined that yes – this was definitely not a coyote.
These wolves tend to keep away from humans and generally aren’t threats. Because this wolf was trapped against its will by a human, however, there’s no saying what the timber wolf could do. John had to be cautious. For one, the distressed wolf’s behavior would be unpredictable. Secondly, by trapping the wolf he was violating state law. He knew that he would need to set this animal free from its captivity without any authority figure finding him.
Don’t cross the wolf
What would happen to you if you were caught hunting and endangering a species protected by the Endangered Species Act? John could potentially face up to six months in prison with a serious fine of up to $25,000. The state is very serious about protecting the most vulnerable animals that hunters have brutally attacked over the years. The population of grey wolves are so low in the entire country because of the damage that humans have caused and John didn’t want to be part of that group.
John figured out the perfect plan to free the wolf. He told his father to run back to the truck as fast as he could and to get him two items from the trunk. His father obliged and returned with a large piece of plywood and a rifle. The weapon was for his protection. John was worried that the wolf would see him as a threat once freed. He did in fact set the trap and wolves are smart creatures.
Here we go…
John used the plywood as a barrier between himself and the wolf. He slowly approached the animal. The wolf began to panic – unsure what John could do to him. Again, wolves don’t typically view humans as a threat but this time was different. John moved closer. His heart was pounding in his chest. He was so careful because each step could have been a matter of life or death. Finally, John took his chance and made his move.
The plywood wasn’t just an ordinary piece of wood. This one had a small latch cut out in the bottom. Fortunately for John he was able to approach the wolf carefully and lower the plywood over the wolf’s trapped foot so it wouldn’t thrash about and he could have easier control. The plan was working and John successfully had the plywood between him and the wolf. The wolf scratched at the plywood eager to break free.
Pro and against
Hunting is a hot button issue. There are passionate people and activist groups on both sides that advocate for and against the practice. Primatologist Jane Goodall is a die-hard anti-hunting activist. She says that the conservative argument for hunting is baseless and that they don’t uphold their promise of giving back to the environments they damage. “What I find so totally abhorrent is the idea of keeping animals alive on this planet simply to make money off their horns or their hides,” she told CNN.
Who could forget the infamous killing of Cecil the lion? In July 2015, a rich dentist traveled to Zimbabwe, obtained a permit and crossed into a national park, and brutally killed the beautiful animal. The world was in an uproar especially because the dentist didn’t get penalized for the incident. Goodall says that for most hunters, it’s all about trophies – not conservation. “The hunter wants to go for the best and the biggest, and so this is bound to be having an effect of the long term effects of the species,” she says.
The case for hunting
There are conservative thinkers who say that hunting can be therapeutic. Environmental philosopher Gary Varner says that for those who hunt for therapeutic reasons do it to conserve another, more vulnerable species and to control over-growing populations of animals such as wild deer. He also describes these hunters as ones who tend to truly utilize all parts of an animal that a hunter kills. They tend to eat their meat and use their hide for necessity purposes.
Back to John
John was now completely lowered over the wolf’s paw. He began to sweat with nerves knowing just what was at stake here. The poor wolf was terrified as he worked to loosen the trap that painfully gripped its wrist. John held up the plywood with one arm as he struggled to work the grip of the trap. His father and friend watched in disbelief. They were so concerned for their friend and son’s safety. They held their breath and prayed for good luck.
Loosening the trap proved more difficult than John thought. For a second there he was scared that it wouldn’t work. After some time and some jiggling and messing around with the machinery he finally freed the wolf. The group looked on in shock as the wolf got his barings, climbed to its legs, and took off running back into its home in the great Wisconsin forest. John’s plan worked and he couldn’t believe it. Everyone was safe and the animal was free without physical harm.
Took off running
John did his best to make sure that the wolf was unharmed. He knew how important this wolf was and the risk that came with trapping a wild animal. Both human and animal were fortunately safe after this incident. Wolves are known to be perceptive creatures and we can’t help but believe that the wolf knew that John wanted to help it rather than hurt it. We’re sure the wolf was eager to return home and back to its freedom.
Big bad wolf
Little Red Riding Hood is the childhood story about how a wolf manipulates a young girl and antagonizes her to get what he wants. He is the ultimate super villain of the story and one that sends all small children hiding under their covers. If we were to change reality based on stories like this we would think wolves are serious threats. The truth is, however, is that wolves are relatively harmless. They aren’t interested in harming humans and are just merely curious animals.
Preventing this incident
While this story may seem unbelievable, John has a history of trapping animals and releasing them. Here he is with a small fox son after the incident with the timber wolf. He used the same method of gathering the plywood, separating himself and the animal, and setting it free. Rather than setting traps, experts say that John should set food around the perimeter of the forest so the coyotes will gather there. This way he wouldn’t have to frequently harm innocent and endangered animals.
Going forward with trapping
Trapping raises a lot of ethical questions in particular. It certainly injures animals and leaves them hanging. It’s a brutal act but hunters say that it’s the most effective method for maintaining a population of nuisance animals that are getting out of control and difficult to manage. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the right thing to do. What we do know, however, is that the act certainly harms endangered species as we’ve seen with John’s story. Perhaps a better method will come out soon.