The historic paradigm of humans and cows vs. wildlife in the American West creates a complicated theater in which to find emotions of gratitude. The culture, infrastructure, cruel tools, and unscientific policies that have hunted, harassed, persecuted, and extirpated native species (especially carnivores but also critical ecosystem architects like beavers and prairie dogs) are still among us. And, given the immensities of the challenges that wildlife face as the West sees the extreme impacts of climate crisis, I often find myself in a grim mindset.
But that mindset is offset by flurries of optimism. The resilience of our world can be spectacular. I recently spent some time in a desert badlands landscape and was amazed by the diversity of life among the windswept rocks and dried washes. Our advocacy for the Wild is justified by the urgency of our situation. And at the same time, plants and animals are tough. Every tiny example of that durability and hardiness—whether in the form of a runt sagebrush clinging to a sandy crevasse or a stunning scene in a David Attenborough film—brings me the quenching sensation of hope.
A Diné person in the environmental movement once told me that his people see the current crises through the knowledge that they have survived prior apocalypses.
We are facing but another obstacle. The challenges we are encountering are shared by the wild neighbors with whom we share the Earth. These times will change us, but in so doing they will also harden us for the next set of obstacles we are destined to face.
And the natural, incredible resilience of fragile ecosystems is being buoyed by change. Attitudes towards wildlife are shifting toward an ethic of coexistence. That is a data-backed fact. And the movement to protect and respect species previously seen as nuisances, threats, and commodities is growing in people and in power.
Earlier this year, that movement ended trapping on public lands in New Mexico. But that’s just one small step in our long collective journey to right some of the wrongs of the past several hundred years. Today I’m immensely grateful to be a part of that journey and am feeling the gratitude of being part of a movement of fierce, steadfast, resilient Guardians.