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Editorial: Science, not spirituality, must govern wolf hunt

"The creator gave us the wolf as a guardian. Our brother needs us to speak for him. The wolf, our brother, is not a separate entity. The wolf, our brother, is inside of us."

So said an elder of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, as part of a meeting in Bemidji of opponents of Minnesota's wolf hunt. And the wise words command respect.

But it's a different kind of respect than is offered to the words that shape public policy. Along those lines, Minnesotans are right to let their policy toward wolves be governed by the following words, which the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources displays on its website:

"The DNR's commitment to a responsible, conservative and science-based management strategy that ensures the long-term survival of wolves in Minnesota recognizes the animal's legacy and Minnesotans' collective interest in and concern for this northwoods icon."

That's something like the DNR's mission statement when it comes to wolf management. It wins out as a policy document because of one key phrase.

The phrase is "science-based management," and it's the foundation of America's broad consensus about how to approach the natural world.

At the meeting in Bemidji, "the foes were identified by speaker after speaker who referred to a hunter-turned-prey as 'brother wolf."

The meeting took place at Bemidji State University's American Indian Resource Center. A number of speakers spoke of their worry that the wolf hunt would push the animals back onto the threatened or endangered species list.

"But the concerns for many in the Ojibwe community are less environmental and more spiritual," the story noted.

And when it comes to making public policy, the fact is that spiritual concerns tend to be given less weight.

The government doesn't single out American Indian spiritual views for this treatment. Devout Christians, Jews and members of other faiths have for decades tried and failed to get elements of their own beliefs enshrined in law.

That's because the first words of the first provision of the Bill of Rights wisely forbids the government from agreeing to any such requests: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Trying to write everyone's beliefs into law would be a recipe for violent chaos, the Founders knew. So they banned such lawmaking entirely; and over time, society settled on a much less divisive standard to use in making policy decisions -- namely, science.

That's the standard the DNR is using to manage Minnesota's wolf population. And it's a proven success, in that the DNR has used scientific principles to successfully manage dozens of wildlife species for many decades.

Currently, the gray wolf is listed as an animal of "special concern" (the least restricted category), and the DNR's proposal basically would take the species off the list entirely.

Everyone's input is welcome. But as Minnesotans know, the perspective that's likely to carry the day is wildlife science -- and in a religiously diverse society, that's the way it should be.