Under the cloud of government shutdowns, economic instability and worldwide political turmoil, we seem to have lost the fundamental framework that our great country was founded upon. With our collective and passionate race towards achieving self-serving humanistic goals, Americans need to remind themselves that the word freedom should not be one that is bundled into the context of values that serve only the two-legged homo sapiens—that now number more than 300 million. Freedom in America is also about the open space of our wild lands, the complexity of our ecosystems, and the liberty of our animals, plants, birds, and fish to live as they’ve had for centuries.
It is our responsibility as a country to look deep into the beauty of our wild lands and to protect the species that roam, facing ever-increasing pressure on their sensitive environments. A wild America is a free America, and although many will never actually see in person the very species we need to protect, just knowing they are there brings us all a perspective of majesty and connection.
The grey wolf, one of the most feared and misunderstood species, epitomizes the wildness of our country. It creates an ecological balance that has only recently been understood—benefitting trees, songbirds, and fish. Yet, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell may soon take the wolf off of the endangered species list. This would be a tragedy to the ideals of our hard-won freedoms and an economic blow to the communities surrounding these wild places that depend on the millions of tourist dollars that help support their communities.
The very reason tourists from around the world come to places like Yellowstone National Park, is that they want to breathe the air and feel the heartbeat of something wild. Americans spend $646 billion on outdoor recreation each year. The industry provides 6.1 million jobs—more than oil and gas, construction, transportation, real estate, insurance, and finance industries. Over 60 million Americans spend time fishing at least once a year, and the habitat that supports the ecosystem in which they recreate is vital to hundreds of species well beyond the fish in which they pursue. In fact, most often it is not really the fish that pulls them to go fishing, but the purity of the open space and wild environment that allows the spirit to connect to something much less tangible.
Wolves are as much a part of our landscape as elk, bears, bald eagles, and trout. And since we’ve done a remarkable job in protecting parks and forests across our country, there are habitats in more than a dozen states that can sustain wolves happily, including Colorado—from Rocky Mountain National Park down to the San Juan National Forest. But wolves will only make it to these places if they’re protected. As a founder of an outdoor recreation based company that has become successful because of the natural beauty and health of our wild lands and waters, I feel responsible to promote the ideals of freedom that are often overlooked. And not only do I understand the direct beneficial impact that free wolves can have on our economies and our well-being, I live it.
The wolf personifies America’s wild landscape, and it is our responsibility to protect it with everything we have in our power through the Endangered Species Act. The Act is now reaching its 40th birthday. And while our country is sometimes divided on many issues, I hope that, for the most part, there exists a common thread of equality in our outlook towards the necessity of a balanced ecosystem that thrives by the very nature of it being protected. I hope that we are unified in our quest to live within a land filled with our native species—wild and free.
The wolf is an American icon that deserves to return—just as our bald eagle has come back from pathetically low numbers to a sustainable population due to the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The wolf, like the bald eagle, represents a healthy country, a healthy planet, and the fundamental ideals of liberty. The economics of my business depend on this habitat, and it is our responsibility as a country to maintain the protections for species like the wolf that is threatened, so that we can forever enjoy the freedom, together. For without wolves, America is not truly wild and free.
John Land Le Coq
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