Popular images of wolves have always been of slavering, drooling hounds from hell intent on killing you, ripping you to shreds and devouring your carcass, unstoppable, insatiable, ravenous and very, very aggressive predators whose sole purpose seems to be a never ending search for fresh meat, especially humans…
From Little Red Riding Hood on, traditional literature abounds with tales of isolated travelers stuck in the wilderness, assailed by a pack of wolves around some lonely campfire and having to desperately fight them off as they leap at you across the campfire, snarling and vicious, hungry for their human prey….
Wolves have been a part of people’s lives, at least in the subconscious realm, for thousands of years, and their image, the very thought of wolves, conjures up mostly a deeply imbedded, primeval source of fear and a clear sign of danger and imminent destruction….
Because they hunt in packs, the wolves always seem to have you outnumbered when you may confront them, on a camping trip or a nature hike….Plus their scary, eerie howling in the night has been a sound that has struck fear into humanity since the earliest days of the caveman….
But is this scary mythology really true? According to my Google sources, a fact check finds that a person is more likely to be killed by lightning, ATVs, dogs, cows, and even elevators than by a wolf. Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center, told Discovery News said that in the 21st century, only two known human deaths have been attributed to wild wolves in all of North America: one in Alaska and the other in Canada. Howell said that while wolves are predators, “Most are very shy and elusive around people.”
Suzanne Stone, senior northwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife, agrees. She has tracked down wild wolf packs for research projects and, as she said, “never felt at risk or afraid.”Nevertheless, the myth that wolves pose a major threat to people persists, and at a time when their future is uncertain.
Wolves used to be abundant in the United States from coast to coast, but unregulated hunting and habitat loss dramatically reduced their numbers. In 1974, the gray wolf became officially protected by the Endangered Species Act, which rescued the carnivores from the brink of extinction. It seems the wolf has gotten a bad rap, mostly these days from farmers and ranchers…Some popular wolf myths include:their danger to livestock and prey species….
Wolves are not a significant threat to ranching
Here’s why: wolves in the Northern Rockies and Mexican wolves in the Southwest have not been a major threat to livestock. In 2010, all carnivores combined and domestic dogs killed less than ¼ of 1% (0.23%) of cattle in the US.
In the Northern Rocky Mountains in 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service verified a total of 188 cattle and 245 sheep killed in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, which represent less than one percent of the cattle and sheep inventories in those states. Nationwide, carnivores were responsible for killing less than 4% of U.S. sheep in 2009. Just 0.39% of all sheep deaths were caused by wolves. In most cases, the ranchers were compensated for their losses by the federal government.
Wolves are crucial for healthy ecosystems
Here’s why: wolves return balance to native ecosystems. With reintroduction to the Yellowstone ecosystem, native flora and fauna are flourishing. That’s because wolves, being the opportunists they are, tend to target the most abundant prey species, such as elk. They not only influence the numbers of elk, they influence where elk are found and how they behave.
When Yellowstone was wolf-less, elk negatively affected aspen, cottonwoods, and willow. When wolves returned, aspen and willow stands flourished, providing habitat to beavers and songbirds and resulting in flourishing biodiversity. Wolves also reduce populations of smaller predators, thus benefiting the prey of those “meso-predators” and provide carrion for a wide range of species, large and small. In Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming reports all reported too many elk.
MYTH: There are plenty of gray wolves in America…over 100,000.
FACT: There are likely fewer than 7,000 gray wolves left in the entire lower 48 states. Rough population estimates by state, as of May 2013, are: Minnesota 3,000, Michigan 650, Wisconsin 750-800, Montana 650, Idaho 750, Wyoming 325, Oregon 46, Washington 30.
The gray wolf’s long-term survival is at stake. It has barely begun to recover from being endangered, and is still absent from significant portions of its former range, where substantial suitable habitat remains. A growing body of scientific literature shows that top predators, like the wolf, play critical roles in maintaining a diversity of other wildlife species.
So it seems that the wolf has indeed gotten a bad rap, from ancient fairy tales to modern Hollywood movies, the wolf always seems to be destined to wear the black hat, to be portrayed as the “bad guy.” One notable Hollywood exception was the Kevin Costner smash hit, “Dances with Wolves”…
But make no mistake, wolves are not dogs, they are wild animals who cannot truly ever be or should be domesticated, although it is likely that our modern day dogs are descendants of wolves….The truth is the wolves are themselves facing near extinction from fear, prejudice and residual animosity, especially from ranchers…..
What people need to realize is that we need wolves, that the entire ecosystem is a delicate balance between predators and prey, and that the clumsy attempts at people to upset the balance of nature is ineffective and counter productive….We need to learn to step back and not allow our fears and prejudice against the wolf to influence policy set on destroying the wolf as a species, there is already too much of that going on…
Wolves are a natural and necessary part of the chain of life, and we as enlightened human beings need to see, recognize and honor this natural system of checks and balances for what it is: Nature’s way of preserving the environment as a whole…
We as humans need to be the caretakers of our planet, not the ignorant bully boys who always seem to know what is best for others, not only other people, but other species as well…Sometimes things, especially natural things, should best be left alone…The eco system is a fragile, totally interconnected entity that we all depend on for our very existence…
In other words, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”….