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Harvest Target

A few years ago, I was escorting the wonderful writer Terry Tempest Williams to a reading in Minneapolis. She had just come from a Bureau of Land Management meeting in Washington, D.C. with the (then) newly-elected Barack Obama. In the elevator at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport, she began talking about the meeting, saying what struck her most deeply was the “impoverished language” our elected officials used to speak of wilderness. The phrase has always stuck with me. And indeed, a few days later, she and I had a wonderful conversation about literature as a possible anecdote to this impoverishment. Yesterday, this conversation flooded my mind as I drove to work and heard this story on the radio: It’s been just over a year since federal officials took the gray wolf off the endangered species list for the western Great Lakes region, prompting talk of a hunting season in Minnesota. Court challenges and protests followed, including graphic billboards that asked Minnesotans to “Stop torture.” Legislators approved the hunt and judges backed them. Now, Minnesota’s first sanctioned wolf hunt has ended as the harvest target for 2014 had been reached. By Wednesday afternoon, the kill count put the overall total just short of 400 wolves killed. Full disclosure aside: I did not support the wolf hunt. I have plenty of things to say about the hunts in general, but I want to address here is this phrase: harvest target. Harvest by familiar definition (noun) means the gathering of crops. The word originates in Old English haerfest “autumn” and the Old Norse “haust” meaning “to gather, pluck,” but it has also been used (since the 14th century) in reference (verb) to a quantity of animals killed for human consumption or use. Minnesota’s DNR have declared wolves a “species in need of management,” but  commissioners did not designate wolves as “suitable for food” as other big game are. That means hunters are not legally obligated to keep the carcass, other than the pelt and skull. It’s illegal to waste any parts of other game animals that are fit for human consumption. Some Minnesota hunters mainly seek wild meat to eat. Some seek trophy animals to display or record. Many fall somewhere in between, which puts wolf hunting in a gray area. If it’s not fit to eat and makes an uncertain trophy, why hunt it? And why not revise our language to reflect the hunt’s overall goal? Not a harvest target, but a body count.