Over at Tidepool, Colorado ecologist Gary Wockner suggests that those debating environmentalism’s death get over their movement-level myopia and get serious — and hopeful — about what’s going on in rural America, instead.

Resolution in this debate remains elusive; the only certainty is that environmentalism’s death is as questionable as Elvis’ but lacks his celebrity appeal.

At the same time that environmentalism supposedly died, however, one of the greatest environmental success stories in history was playing out on the landscapes of the rural West. Typical of doom-and-gloom environmentalists, many of us ignored this extraordinary success and focused on other failures. In-so-doing, we missed two things we need most: 1) the lessons our movement’s celebrities — wolves — can teach us, and 2) hope.

What can wolves teach us? “Wolves cross all sorts of political boundaries — especially public/private, and therefore left/right — and require new thinking,” says Wockner.

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In the Northern Rockies, tolerance for wolves has grown among rural landowners, and the predator’s numbers are growing, despite the transition from the wolf-friendly Clinton/Babbitt years to the more hostile Bush/Norton era. And Wockner thinks residents of the South Rockies want to find new ways to coexist with wolves as well.

It’s a major success story of American environmentalism that the movement as a whole has overlooked. How did this come about? First, the Endangered Species Act provided the foundation for building wolf restoration programs. Then enviro groups, like big green Defenders of Wildlife and more focused Predator Conservation Alliance, rethought and restructured their approaches and programs to dialogue with ranchers, acknowledge their needs, and find compromises that work for both sides, like economic compensation for livestock lost to wolves. Land trusts and conservancies have multiplied to create vital wildlife corridors for wolves. There’s even a growing urban consumer market for “predator-friendly” meats and wool from ecologically sound rural ranches.

“Throughout history in the rural West, the wolf has been on the wrong end of the stick, as have myriad other species and the process of speciation itself,” Wockner writes. “But now, instead of doom and gloom, we have hope.”

Wockner argues that both sides in the Death debate have overlooked the concerns of rural Americans (perhaps the oblique corollary to Adrienne Maree Brown’s critique from the urban, people-of-color POV) and “the environmental stories playing out on rural landscapes.” The debate’s tilt — on both sides — toward urban-left-progressive politics rather than “rural political reality” ignores the on-the-ground successes of wolf restoration in the Rockies — lessons activists should be using in other preservation and restoration efforts.

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