Interview of Josh Schlossberg ― Resistance Radio

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(Sound of Mexican wolves)

Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen and this is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Josh Schlossberg. He is a Denver, Colorado-based investigative journalist who writes about ecology, wildlife, climate change, and energy for various publications including EnviroNews, Truthout, Earth Island Journal, Denver Westword and Boulder Weekly. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshSchlossberg. Today we talk about state governments working together to impede Mexican wolf recovery.

So first, thank you for your work, and second, thank you for being on the program.

JS: Thanks for having me back.

DJ: So let’s start with a little discussion of a little background. Who are Mexican wolves, what, say, was their status prior to the beginning of the recovery program, and then after that we’ll talk about the recovery program, and then after that we’ll talk about the states’ harming it.

JS: Sure. That sounds good.

The Mexican wolf is a subspecies of the gray wolf. It’s actually called the Mexican gray wolf. Canis lupus is the grey wolf. The Mexican wolf is Canis lupus baileyi. It’s also known as “el lobo.” And that was a creature that lived throughout the Southwest for many millennia. There’s actually a little bit of debate, since it separated from the other subspecies, became a subspecies of the gray wolf. Obviously the gray wolf has been across the western U.S. and Canada for ages. At some point in time it separated into a different subspecies. So its historic range, of the Mexican wolf, is a little bit in debate. However, most of the government agencies claim that the historic range of the Mexican wolf was Mexico, of course, and also Arizona and New Mexico. So over the 1800’s and 1900’s, like wolves in general, the Mexican wolf was hunted. It was thought to be competition to livestock. People were just afraid of wolves. They hated wolves. Whatever the reasons, they were hunted almost into extinction during the 1800’s and 1900’s.

In 1976 it got protection under the Endangered Species Act, and in 1982 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched what was the original Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan. The goal was simply to keep the keystone predator from becoming completely extinct, and at the time, they really didn’t have very high hopes. They thought maybe they could preserve a token number in the wild. And what they did is they had a captive breeding program, so they had a few strings of Mexican wolves that they had captive bred, and they released those into the wild over the years, and they actually did better than expected. So today there’s about 113 Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico and there are 31 in Mexico, down in Chihuahua and Sonora. That’s kind of good news but it really doesn’t ensure the species is going to exist into the future. The numbers are pretty limited as they are, and the other issue is that there’s pretty poor genetic variability, so basically inbreeding. The concern with inbreeding is that the animals are not as robust. They’re not as healthy. And the other concern is there’s not a lot of high-quality habitat left because humans have destroyed most of the habitat and the forests and the other lands in which they live. There are humans that are really close and that disrupts the wolves’ ability to prosper.

So over the years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been working on this wolf recovery plan, this Mexican wolf recovery plan, but they were kind of dragging their heels, at least according to conservation groups. Back in 2014 a few of those groups decided to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service for delaying that completion of the plan. So, because of a settlement, the agency agreed to have the final plan out in November of 2017, so they just released that a couple of months ago.

The plan itself, the purpose is, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, to create two genetically diverse Mexican wolf populations and that would be distributed across areas of the historic range in the U.S. and Mexico. And it’s estimated to cost about $180 million and that’s going to be paid for by federal and state government agencies and NGO’s as well. They have a specific number that they’re trying to reach with this plan. The number would be 320 wolves in the U.S. and 200 in Mexico. Obviously the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t have much of a say as to what goes on in Mexico, but the plan would be to have 320 of them in the U.S. over the next two to three decades, and then they would delist them from the endangered species lists. So at that point, all the protections afforded to the Mexican wolf would be removed.

Sometimes that’s a good thing, right? If you have enough numbers that it doesn’t have to be considered endangered, but a lot of scientists and a lot of conservation groups say that that number is way too low to delist them. I can get into a few other details of what’s going on, unless you have any questions for me right now, Derrick?

DJ: So far, the fact that they want to establish these two populations, that part at least is sort of good, right? I mean, this is, so far, we would like the numbers higher, we would like them not removed from protection. Bu so far, that part of the plan is okay, right?

JS: Of course. The idea of establishing protections for the wolf is a good thing, yeah. And the Fish and Wildlife Service does deserve due credit for having brought them back from the literal brink of extinction. So that’s pretty good. But there are some concerns with what the plan is looking to do, and I can get into those, if you like.

DJ: Yeah. Before we give too much credit to the Fish and Wildlife Service – and I do want to say, I know a lot of individuals who work for the Fish and Wildlife Service who are often very dedicated and doing great work. Which doesn’t alter the fact that, as you said earlier, the Fish and Wildlife Service had, as an organization, had to be sued to do the right thing, which happens every damn time pretty much.

JS: Yeah, they’ve definitely been delaying the release of the plan, that can’t be contested. They’ve been taking a long time to put things together.

DJ: Well, since later on we’re going to talk about sabotaging plans, I want to mention one thing and then we’ll move on. The thing I want to mention is that something very important to my own political awakening, or environmental awakening, or whatever, was that George Bush the first said that he wanted to destroy the Endangered Species Act, or harm it or weaken it. And this was a big rallying cry. And he was not re-elected, and Bill Clinton, who talked about supporting it; what he did is defund many of the programs. So Bill Clinton actually put a smiling face on doing more harm to the agency than Bush did. And my point in bringing all that up is both Democrats and Republicans oftentimes – the Democrats can give lip service to endangered species, but both Democrats and Republicans often work in their own ways to delay the recovery of species, which is a sort of foreshadowing of where we’re going later.

JS: Yeah, I think that is an important point. Some of the, not to speak ill of them, but some of the conservation groups that were working on the Mexican wolf plan and criticizing it, they were saying that it was because of the Trump administration. Well the reality is a lot of the dawdling had been happening under the Obama administration. So I think it’s safe to say that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are looking out for the best interests of wildlife.

DJ: Yes. So now let’s go on with some of the problems of the plan.

JS: Sure. Well, you mentioned that sometimes there are some good folks who are in these agencies, and I think that’s true. There are a lot of well-meaning folks. There is a fellow named David Parsons, and he’s the former Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service from 1990 to 1999. And he was a part of what was called the Science and Planning Subgroup of that recovery team. So in 2011 they had recommended a minimum of 750 wolves in the U.S. and 100 in Mexico. And that would be like three separate populations of 200-300 wolves before delisting. So keep in mind that the current plan, the plan that was put out there, says just 320 wolves when scientists said “No, there needs to be 750 wolves.” So that’s one of the main issues that conservation groups and scientists are pointing out with the current, the final Mexican wolf recovery plan, is that those numbers are actually too low.

And there’s a bit of a story on how it’s theorized that this came about. In theory, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service was considering these numbers. That was its own scientific group that it put in place to make those recommendations. But what happened was when those numbers were released back in 2011 – and I have all the documents to this, it’s all in my article on EnviroNews, which you can check out.

(Also this just out)

What Parsons said, this former Fish and Wildlife Services fellow, was that when these numbers came out in the meeting with stakeholders, all sorts of stakeholders were involved with it, including ranchers. Well, the ranchers, his quote was “they went ballistic.” So they were not happy with those numbers because in their minds wolves are a threat to the livestock industry. Sometimes there’s depredation but actually it’s pretty infrequent and they’re usually compensated for that, but still there is a lot of animosity from hunters and ranchers.

DJ: I want to put a little asterisk in there on “they’re compensated,” because this is something I’ve been working on for decades and it pisses me off. Oftentimes they are not only compensated but they are compensated at multiple times market value, so that if they have a cow that they could sell for, I don’t know what a cow goes for, but say they can sell the cow on the market for $800, they often get like double value if a wolf kills it. Which means if I were a rancher I would want the wolves to kill, because I’m getting twice the money. But leave that aside.

JS: That’s a really good point. The livestock industry is not hurting because of the existence of wolves. Nevertheless, politically they’re opposed to it and those numbers were supposed to be kept internal, but they were leaked right after that meeting and pro-ranching, pro-hunting voices like U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah, he put out some media and opinion pieces against the plan with these numbers that were supposed to be secret at the time. And it got all over the media, and in response, the Fish and Wildlife Service cancelled the next meeting of that subgroup of independent scientists and they never held another one.

So that’s one component, the numbers component, which is really important. And then the other aspect, which the scientific group was advocating for, was habitat. So we talked a little bit about the historic range, that being Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico. Even though that’s debated, let’s just assume for the sake of argument that that’s true. So the scientists were saying that if all of that land was still intact that would be fine, but it’s not. Obviously humans live everywhere and the landscape has been despoiled and there’s a lot of human encroachment, which means that the historic range is no longer suitable. There are various studies demonstrating that fact. There was a 2015 study in Biological Conservation and it said that most of the Mexican wolf’s historic range in Mexico is unsuitable due to human activity and that the chances were the wolves would be killed if there were more of them in that area.

So basically the idea of that historic range is no longer applied. What they needed was to have a big chunk of land in Arizona and New Mexico as well as the Grand Canyon region, northern Arizona and southern Utah and the southern Rockies region in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. So that’s what the scientists recommended. What the historic range has been arbitrarily put at was below Interstate 40, which is the interstate that runs east-west across northern New Mexico and Arizona.

So the final plan did include limiting that range below that, so basically just keeping them in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. No wolves would be protected in Utah and Colorado. And what my article was about was if you look back and you find what the states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona have been advocating for years, it’s that the wolves would not be allowed outside of their historic range, which means zero wolves in Colorado, zero wolves in Utah, and none in northern New Mexico and Arizona. So despite the scientists inside the Fish and Wildlife Service saying “No, we need to expand the range,” it just so happened that the final plan for the Fish and Wildlife Service accorded exactly to what the states had been demanding.

And I can go into some specific examples of what the states were demanding over the years.

DJ: Yeah, I would love for you to do that. But before you do that, I want to talk for just a moment about the notion of historic range, which you have mentioned, but especially – just yesterday I was interviewing somebody about the harmful effects of the solar power generation facilities in the desert, and they were talking about the mortality of birds associated with them. This is going to have a point. The point is that one of the birds that has been killed there was a blue-footed boobie, who typically live in the Galapagos. My point is that when we talk about a historic range, the wolves did not stay south of the land that would someday become I-40. Wolves are especially known for moving. There are packs of wolves that have moved into Idaho and people in northern California are really either excited or angry, depending on who you are, because there are wolves who just in the normal state of things have made their way down to California.

And one more thing before I’ll shut up, which is that I was talking to a grizzly bear expert a few months ago, who said grizzly bears actually expand their range fairly slowly, because the daughters will basically want to hang out kind of near the mothers, but they’ll expand it a few miles in one generation. As opposed to wolves. They can go a couple hundred miles in one generation, or further.

So I just wanted to throw all that out. So before you go into the other stuff, can you talk for a moment about the stuff I was just sort of rambling about?

JS: I think that’s completely accurate. Of course, the idea that the wolves stayed below Interstate 40 when it didn’t exist is stupid. They drew some arbitrary demarcation. It may well be that over recent centuries they lived below a certain limit most of the time. It’s really hard to say. David Parsons, the guy who used to work with Fish and Wildlife Service; now, I should say, he’s actually a strong wolf advocate and joins these conservation groups to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service. He’s the one who pointed out that wolves were once distributed from Mexico City up to the Yukon, as the gray wolf, and then the subspecies separated. So it’s kind of dumb to say no, we know that these creatures didn’t move beyond this limit. But it’s going to be hard to prove one way or another.

What is important, however, and I think that’s where the attention should be focused, is what sort of range do the wolves need to survive? And what sort of landbase do they need to perpetuate the species? And the science shows almost unequivocally that they need to expand beyond what was the arbitrary “historic range” anyway. So that’s no longer even relevant.

DJ: I want to say one more thing about this, which is if – let’s pretend that the limit was I-40. What was probably the limiting factor at that point was not a lack of habitat, but was the presence of the non-Mexican gray wolves. That was probably the limit. There were wolves in southern Colorado. The question is whether they were Canis lupus or Canis lupus baileyi.

JS: Right. Exactly. That’s a good point.

DJ: I don’t want to distract from your very good main point but the important thing is the science on what they need to survive. That’s actually crucial.

JS. Yes, I think so. That’s a really interesting point, though, that you’ve made. It’s probably true that the gray wolf itself was dominating those other habitats and the Mexican wolf was staying down where it was.

But regardless, the scientists say that it needs more range. But the thing is the states of Colorado and Utah have stated that they do not want wolves in their states. The same with Arizona and New Mexico. So the most damning information – and none of this is secret, this is all out there and I have links to all this in my article – so there was a joint letter sent by the governors of those four states to, it was the Secretary of the Interior and the head of the Fish and Wildlife Service at the time. And basically they said in the letter that they did not want the Mexican wolves to go above that arbitrary I-40 boundary, so stating very clearly, on the record, that means no Mexican wolves in Colorado and no Mexican wolves in Utah whatsoever. And then when you take a look at some of the other documents and statements that have been made over the years by these different states in regards to wolves, you find that they’ve been very hostile to the reintroduction of wolves. They stated that they do support the Mexican wolf recovery plan and they’re actually fans of the current plan, because it just so happens to do exactly the things that they want to do. So they’re okay with the wolves existing below those boundaries in New Mexico and Arizona.

But, for instance, in 2016 the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission passed a resolution that would oppose the release of any wolf subspecies into the state. So there would not be any captive wolves released into Colorado as of now. And they did state in that they wanted also for the Mexican wolf to stay in its historic range. They made clear statements about that in the past. And in 2016 the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish sued the Fish and Wildlife Service to stop the release of captive wolves into the state. That’s still going on. The injunction was granted and then it was overturned, so that’s in federal court right now so stay tuned about that. I’ll probably be reporting on that in the future.

And this is just an abbreviated list of the things the states have done to push back wolf recovery. In 2011 the New Mexico Game Commission backed out of the wolf recovery program altogether. They didn’t want to have anything to do with it. That’s the state agency of New Mexico. In 2010, Arizona Game and Fish Department contacted Congress and they said they wanted the gray wolf and the Mexican wolf to be delisted from the Endangered Species Act. And Utah in 2010 had a bill that would require its Division of Wildlife Resources, so that’s their state wildlife agency, to get rid of any wolves found inside of state lines. And they threatened to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service if the Mexican wolf plan expanded the range into the state. That’s been years of them being pretty obviously opposed to wolf recovery and specifically Mexican wolf recovery.

And the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, based on its own scientific recommendations, was considering more numbers and expanding the range, and then after the state pushback they ended up doing exactly what the states wanted. So the contention from conservation groups, and I think it’s pretty much fact, is that the states didn’t want an expansion of the range, they didn’t want more numbers for the Mexican gray wolves. The federal government was considering more numbers and greater range and they decided not to because they didn’t want to have to contend with the states. So basically the states wrote this plan and a lot of the states are thought to be influenced by the pro-hunter and pro-ranching special interests.

And so the conservation groups are suing on this. Whether that will come to any fruition is hard to say.

DJ: So let’s be explicit. What is wrong with a state government attempting to influence a recovery plan?

JS: Well, they’re stakeholders. So for any federal recovery plan the state’s warden should have a say. But the Endangered Species Act is supposed to be guided almost exclusively by the best science. So the best science says these are the numbers that we need and this is the range that we need. And it’s not supposed to be based on political reasons. And actually there was a document – I have to dig that up – that stated explicitly that the Fish and Wildlife Service was making this decision for sociopolitical reasons. I have to pull that up. But there are notes from a meeting that happened down in Mexico that stated that they were going to make this decision because of political reasons, i.e., the states were opposed to that.

So technically that is not what the Endangered Species Act allows for. And it’s my understanding that that’s what the conservation groups will be suing on. So the Fish and Wildlife Service has already sort of admitted that’s why they made the decision.

DJ: Two things. One is: Here is one quote from your article. Fish and Wildlife, in their biological report for the Mexican wolf, determined that wolf numbers wouldn’t be based on science alone, but also what is “socially acceptable in light of the ongoing issues around livestock depredation and other forms of wolf/human conflict.”

JS: Right. Good point. The other quote is from – I have the notes of this. It’s an April 2016 Mexican Wolf Recovery Planning workshop in Mexico City. And they specifically state that they left out those other regions in the plan, the Grand Canyon and southern Rockies, because of “geopolitical reasons.” So they have that in their own notes. So that’s fact.

DJ: And so one of the reasons I wanted to interview you about this particular subject, apart from a love for the wild and Mexican wolves, is that the Endangered Species Act – and you said this before – but the Endangered Species Act, one of the beauties of that law was that it was supposed to be based explicitly and pretty much solely on science and on what is good for the creature. And the introduction of having a creature be saved, or brought back, recovered, based on terms of “social acceptability” – that is, I don’t know if I want to use the term “blasphemy.” But that is – we can say without using hyperbole, that that is grotesquely counter to the intent of the law.

JS: Well, it seems as if it would be, and that’s what the courts would decide, that’s what the lawsuit would be on. So it’s technically potentially illegal. But there is another point to make about social acceptability, and this was made by David Parsons. So let’s just say that social opinion does play into this when it’s not really supposed to. According to the many polls that have been done of citizens of the four states, people want the wolves to come back. The vast majority, around 70% of folks in each of the states want wolves to come back. So it’s actually a small percentage that don’t want wolves to come back, but again, it’s the powerful special interests that have the ear of a lot of the politicians and the agencies. So even on social reasons alone, we would be reintroducing, or allowing at least, the spread of the wolves.

DJ: There is this phrase, “other forms of wolf/human conflict.” And I just want to say explicitly that there has never been a human killed by a wolf in the United States. So when they talk about wolf/human conflict, what they’re really talking about is they’re just repeating the same thing they just said, livestock depredation.

JS: Right. Yeah. And the fear of the wolves, of course, that’s a deep-seated fear and it’s not been backed up by fact or evidence.

DJ: So what is the current state – I think you’ve said this, but I’m a little unclear. What is the current state of the conflict over these rulings?

JS: At the end of November, pretty much after the final Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan was released, EarthJustice and several conservation groups filed their 60 day notice to sue on the violation of the Endangered Species Act in the plan. So they basically say that the shortcomings in the numbers and the allowable range is going to prevent the wolf recovery. If the recovery plan does not allow for a recovery, there’s something wrong.

DJ: And something illegal. I mean, that violates the Endangered Species Act.

JS: Yes, that is the contention. And it’s up to the courts right now, and the courts don’t necessarily always create just outcomes, but that is the hope.

DJ: We’re about 30 minutes in, so we have about 15 minutes left. I want to start going in the direction of: If people care about this, what can they do? I know that we still have a fair amount of time left, but let’s go with that for a second. What can people do to support these lawsuits, and/or in any way help with the wolf recovery?

JS: Definitely becoming knowledgeable about what’s going on. I think a lot of people aren’t quite aware of the situation of the wolf. I don’t think people are aware that there is a separate subspecies, and how that’s all been delineated. And there are a lot of lawsuits to keep track of and it can be kind of confusing. But folks should, number one, just pay attention to what is going on, and keep track of that. You can go to EnviroNews. I’ve been writing several articles for them. They’ve been doing some of the best work in doing investigative deep-dive reporting on this issue. So that’s at . Otherwise, if you do want to support the groups that are moving forward with the lawsuits, that’s EarthJustice and Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Endangered Wolf Center, Wolf Conservation Center. So those are the several groups that are working on that lawsuit.

I find some interesting stuff, and I just wanted to mention this. It’s a little bit tangential. But I had been on Facebook, right? And it was a group about wolves. I’m a member of several of those. Sometimes I’ll post the article or ask questions or whatever. And I posted my article in one of these groups that’s very popular, about wolves, and they post a lot of pictures, beautiful pictures of wolves. And the administrator told me that he was going to delete my article because he didn’t want anything political posted in the group. And I just thought that was really interesting, because the question is whether or not members of the group would agree with that, but maybe some of them would. So a lot of folks just aesthetically think the wolf is beautiful, they’re inspired by them, the mythology and the symbolism. But then when it comes to getting into the nitty gritty of “Here’s what’s actually going on and here’s what you can do,” maybe people aren’t as interested in that. But I just thought that was a telling and, I have to say depressing incident where somebody who created a group all about looking at how beautiful the wolf is, and then an article saying “Hey, it might not exist in the future,” and then they’re like “We don’t want to talk about that.”

DJ: Well, even moreso, because your article itself is not a polemic. Your article is, I think, straight investigative journalism. I freely acknowledge that the work I do is polemic. I’m sort of trying to beat people over the head with a perspective. And I didn’t feel, from your article, that you were beating people over the head with a perspective. You were simply reporting facts.

JS: I was just based on the documents and just quoting what the states had done. But I think they just didn’t like the idea that that discussion was happening at all, and I don’t even know what to make of that. That’s my cynical response to “How can people get involved?” But of course the folks who are listening to your show do want to get involved, and I hope that they do.

DJ: There’s another issue I want to talk about. We’ve hit this, but the issue of de-sciencizing the Endangered Species Act. This is not the only time this has happened. This has been one of the ways that the ESA has been eroded, ever since almost the beginning. I’m sure that listeners know about the God Squad, if you recall that. The God Squad has been convened a couple of times to overrule the Endangered Species Act. There was once, for a dam that was being built in I believe Tennessee.

I don’t know what I’m trying to get at, but I think that that is one of the stories here, the story you’ve told, and another story is the increasing politicization, which has been happening all along, but the increasing politicization of the Endangered Species Act. And I don’t know if you want to go to the larger direction of increasing politicization of science itself.

JS: Well, there’s certainly that, but if we do get into that, let me first just touch on this other aspect of the Endangered Species Act. So I actually wrote an article a couple of weeks ago for EnviroNews. It’s based on a report that came out called “Suppressed: How Politics Drowned Out Science For Ten Endangered Species,” and that was put out by the Endangered Species Coalition. So my article’s up on EnviroNews about that. And basically what that report talks about is how there are certain animal species and plant species that have been left off the Endangered Species Act because of political stuff. There’s the greater sage grouse, which gets a little bit more complicated but that’s a wild bird and they have a lot of sensitivity to oil and gas development, but they’ve been kept off the Endangered Species List because of course an Endangered Species listing means more protections, and that means that some of the extraction can’t happen. But a point that I want to make that I think is pretty important is that sometimes people get a false sense of security from even the Endangered Species Act. So obviously those who want to protect wildlife should be advocating for the Endangered Species Act. However, in this report, it shows that even the species that are protected under the ESA are not necessarily even that well protected. So just because they’re listed it doesn’t mean that they’re doing all the things that they need to do to ensure that they survive. And so in this report, and then in my article, it mentions these various species that are protected under the ESA but still aren’t getting their due protection, and that includes the ocelot. There are only 53 of those wild cats left in Texas and a few in Arizona. So Trump’s proposed border wall, whether that would even be built or not, if that were to be built, that would imperil this species’ connectivity with populations in Mexico. So that’s one aspect of it. Of course the Mexican wolf is protected under the Endangered Species Act but they’re still not giving them the numbers that the scientists say they need.

There’s the Pacific leatherback sea turtle, and so that’s been dealing with a lot of issues with drift nets, egg harvesting, boats, other pollution. And the pallid sturgeon – again, these are all protected by the Endangered Species Act, supposedly. So there are dams on the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers where this prehistoric sturgeon lives, and that’s really been harming their ability to repopulate. There’s a plant called the San Jacinto Valley crownscale, and that only grows in one spot in the floodplains of Riverside County, California, but there’s been a lot of agricultural and real estate development, and so that hasn’t really been adequately protected. And the North Atlantic right whale, there are only 450 of those left, and because of fishing situations, getting hit by ships, and seismic stuff with military sonar, their numbers are dwindling. So just because something is protected under the Endangered Species Act doesn’t mean that it is going to be prevented from extinction.

DJ: Which is a hugely important point. So what is to be done about that?

JS: (laughing) That is a damned good question and I don’t have an answer to that. My only answer would be: You have to be knowledgeable and aware in order to know that these things are going on, and you have to engage in order to prevent those things from happening. But the political system is such that it doesn’t always operate based on science and justice. So there are concerns with that.

A lot of conservation groups are doing excellent work, but some groups that call themselves that might be doing things in a way that you might not support. I’m not going to be speaking ill specifically of any groups in particular, but I think it’s important for people to know the groups that they’re supporting. So unfortunately, what this all comes down to is people taking it upon themselves to be educated on the issues, educated on what organizations are doing and what they do as their methodology for conservation. And that’s a tall order. I acknowledge that’s a tall order.

What I try to do in my articles is I try to make this science available to people in a way that’s readable. I have a decent ability to understand science but at the same time I’m not a complete egghead. So I can translate that into English and perhaps because I’m not some brilliant scientist, I’m able to just synthesize the basic points that most people would be able to understand. And I also have a really good understanding of the way the conservation group/environmentalist landscape works, so I can lay out there what individual groups are doing and what some groups are not doing. Sometimes that’s controversial. My job isn’t to shit on anyone, but it is to just provide the facts in evidence of what these groups are actually doing, and what they are not.

So my own self-centered answer to that would be: Follow the work that I’m doing, because I’m trying to get people educated, I’m trying to educate activists and other concerned citizens so they can know how to interact.

DJ: And how do we get people from the point of going “Gosh, look at that pretty wolf,” as in that Facebook group, or “Gosh, look at that pretty whale,” or “I heard this beautiful whale song today,” to getting off their butts and actually accepting that the world is more than an aesthetic resource for us to consume in between cat videos? And to do something.

JS: Well, I will give my brief answer and then I’m going to ask you for the answer because that’s been a lot of your life’s work and I think you have some excellent insights on that. I have been trying to figure that out for decades. I think there might be something to do with some people’s personalities are such that they want to dig deep and engage and fight the fight, and others just want to sit back and feel good about stuff. So I don’t know for a fact whether you can change somebody from someone who just likes looking at pictures to wanting to actually do something. But if you could, my guess is it would be done by showing the dire straits of, say, a particular creature, and showing at the same time that it’s not too late, and giving them concrete steps to do. But it’s messy. I mean, one lawsuit isn’t going to save the wolf. So there’s a lot of engagement that needs to happen. But what do you think about that?

DJ: (laughing) I think that, like you, I’ve spent decades trying to understand it, and I have no idea. You said something about personality and I sort of feel the same. It reminds me: I interviewed Judith Herman, who’s one of the world experts on trauma, and also interviewed Robert J Lifton, who is probably the world’s foremost authority on the psychology of genocide. And I asked both of them individually the same question, which is: Why is it that some people will open out from trauma and take on survivor missions and become really good people, and other people will close down from trauma and become horrible?

There are survivors of the holocaust who then became just stunningly wonderful people who fought tirelessly for justice, and there are others who came out and then beat their families, because of trauma. And of course some people do multiple parts of that. But I asked them both the question. Why do some people open out from trauma and some people close down? Why do some people end up fighting injustice and some people don’t?

These are two of the world’s experts on this. And the response by both of them was: In a very friendly fashion, they laughed at me. And they said “God, I wish I knew.” Maybe that’s an interview question for somebody I should interview sometime. How do people start? I know for myself. I knew everything was messed up and I didn’t know what to do. It was all so big and all so overwhelming. And so I didn’t do anything.

And then I realized that I wasn’t paying enough for gas and I started saying “Okay, every time I buy a tank of gas I’m going to give ten dollars to a local environmental organization.” But I didn’t have any money, so I would pay myself five bucks an hour to do activism. And the point is, that got me off my butt to do something. And for me, one of the things that’s really helpful – okay, here, I love this. I love the line by, I think it’s Florence Nightingale. She says “I attribute my success to the fact that I never gave nor took an excuse,” which is “I never gave myself an excuse to keep sitting on my butt.”

So I started, I was so scared when I first started doing activism at all, that I would write letters to the editor under fake names, because I was too scared, and now look at me now. I’m putting my name on books. So it’s like: I know you’re scared, I know it’s overwhelming. But then there’s a line from my great grandmother, which is “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, life’s hard.”

I don’t write books. I don’t know about you with your articles, but I don’t actually write books. What I do is I write one page, because a book’s too big and scary. But I can write a page, and tomorrow I write a page, the day after I write a page, and then what do you know? In a year, I’ve got a book. Are you the same way with articles? A big article on wolves might be scary, so you gotta break it down? I mean, I don’t know.

But so just break it down and do little things. You must love something. Find something you love and then do something about it. Does that answer your question at all?

JS: I think so, and I think that makes a lot of sense. Whether it’s a matter of converting people who might not be disposed to acting; I don’t know if that’s possible. Maybe it is, like you said, the trauma response. Some people fight. Sometimes it’s flight, which is, I would say, a kind of a hedonist escapism, which is extremely prevalent in our culture. And then there’s the freeze, which is like “I don’t know what to do. Should I support the Sierra Club? Should I go out and climb a tree and do a tree sit?” So I think a lot of people are confused as to what to do, and there are so many voices telling them so many different things to do that there tends to be an overload. So I hate that the answer is “Take more time and figure it out for yourself,” but that’s kind of it. And if you’re listening to this interview right now, you’re one of the folks who has the disposition to get out there and do something. So the onus is on folks like that

DJ: Yeah. Yeah. And let’s actually make a challenge, that wherever someone lives, find some local being that you care about, who might be in trouble, and just start learning about that being; that plant, that animal. Like if you’re in southern New Mexico, or, hell, southern Colorado; find out about the wolves and then take whatever baby step. Write a letter to the editor. Even under a fake name. And then do whatever comes next after that. It’s not hard.

You know, I used to go – when I was first starting, I used to go, like – I stood outside Fairchild Air Force Base one time with signs saying, you know, “No militarization.” They gave me a sign. It didn’t accomplish anything but it was really fun and it was really encouraging. There was solidarity in acting with these other people. That’s one of the things that got me started. So go find three other people and stand on a street corner with a sign that says “Yay wolves.” That’s something.

JS: Absolutely. That whole act locally thing. But make sure that it does tie into the larger picture, because you could do something that’s just in your little corner of the world and that doesn’t ripple out, that itself is not enough. One example I want to always give, and this is kind of for people who, maybe they’re tired of the fight and they just want to sit back and just insulate themselves from it, while doing their little good thing. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want to do. There are friends of mine in Oregon and they started up an organic farm in the mountains of Oregon, the coast range. And they said “You know, we fought the fight, we’re just going to be out there, we’re going to grow our vegetables, we’re going to detach from all this crap that’s going on. We’re going to have our minimal impact and that’s that.” So they’re growing their vegetables, raising their family. And then, from out of the sky come the helicopters that are spraying herbicides over all the clearcuts that are owned by the private timber companies all around them. And then they had a kind of reawakening, and there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t separate yourself from that. We’re in the mix of it whether we like it or not, so you’d better do something about it.

DJ: Yes. And that seems like a great note to end on. Thank you so much for your work on both the wolf issue, raising awareness on this, it’s incredibly important. Thank you for your work in general. And I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Josh Schlossberg. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on January 28th — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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