Though perhaps it is simplistic to think of wolves as victims of a social phenomenon, indeed they were. The phenomenon, which the influential American editor John O’Sullivan called “Manifest Destiny” in 1845, rolled over wolves, bison, bears, and native peoples like a hurricane. Pushed by a swelling immigrant population and the promise of “free” land, Manifest Destiny thundered across the American landscape, transforming once wild lands into pastoral countryside.
Bounties, poison, traps, and restless young men with guns and horses—these were the cruel winds of Manifest Destiny. They howled through wild America until she lay bare. Gone were the animals with sharp teeth and claws—and with them the cornerstones of the land’s wellbeing. Though it would take the nation nearly a century to realize the implications of this radical transformation of the continent, visionaries like Aldo Leopold and John Muir presaged the outcome. Ultimately, Leopold’s words would serve as a clarion call to the great-grandchildren of those who cleansed the continent of wolves, motivating them to stitch wolves back into the fabric of the American West.
Standing at the banks of the Little Piedra River, I wondered what Leopold might think of this contemporary effort to give wolves a foothold in the West. Would he argue that it is too late? Would he bemoan the fact that wolves must now make a living amongst herds of cattle and sheep? Or, conversely, would he celebrate? Would he urge us on, pointing to all that we now know about the role that wolves play? I decided that he would celebrate.