I’ve been going through my archives looking for timely pieces to repost.
This is just as relevant today as it was in 2010, maybe more, considering the challenges wolves and wolf advocates face are so much greater!
Feb 16, 2010
When gray wolves are discussed the inevitable dialog commences concerning their effect on ungulates or livestock, which puts wolf advocates perpetually on defense. We feel compelled to defend the wolf. Many of the posts on this blog are in defensive mode. Wolves are continually portrayed in a bad light, so I feel obligated to defend them, it’s a natural reaction.
I’m an avid football fan and I know a great defense is the backbone of any team but the best defense is a good offense. If we’re constantly talking about deer, elk and livestock then we’re not talking about wolves. I believe this is the strategy of the anti wolf-crowd, to take the focus off wolf issues. It’s a tactic as old as time and it works. If you want to deflect attention from an issue, change the subject.
I challenge wolf advocates to stop playing defense. The motives that drive wolf persecution are political and cultural. It’s not about livestock depredation, elk numbers or “wolf management.”
From Wolves A Cosmopolitan World View:
“Wolves (have) persisted quite well alongside humanity for over a hundred thousand years, all without the “benefit” of wildlife management. It should be clear, then, that humanity’s troubled relationship with wolves has little to do with sound science in the sense of empirical data, quantitative models, or management techniques. Instead, our trouble with wolves is a deeply rooted ethical conflict over whether to coexist with wolves and other large predators. Resolving this conflict is a question of values, not facts and wolf recovery depends on a culture of tolerance for other life forms and their ways-of-life, not a science of wildlife management.”
As for elk and deer, wolves have been coexisting with their prey for thousands of years without the need to be managed. The elk owes it’s fleetness of foot to the wolf. It wasn’t until Europeans set foot on this continent that the wolf suddenly became the enemy. Europe had purged itself of most large carnivores. European farmers and ranchers transplanted that idea to America and the war against the wolf began, almost four hundred years ago. The last hundred years included an aggressive poisoning, trapping and shooting campaign led by the federal government. Not only were wolves mercilessly killed but other predators and animals were targeted. It’s believed more than two million wolves were eradicated from the lower forty-eight, that’s a grim figure.
To learn more about the extermination of wolves in the West and to understand the mindset that believed any wildlife that couldn’t be controlled should be eliminated, I recommend reading Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and The Transformation of the West, by Michael Robinson.
In a Nova Online interview, given ten years ago, Ed Bangs (Wolf Recovery Coordinator, US Fish and Wildlife Service) put it this way:
“Well, we deliberately got rid of them, as a society. A hundred years ago, our society placed very low value on all wildlife. We got rid of all the deer, the elk, the bison, the turkeys, you know, everything, in deference to other social objectives, primarily agriculture and settlement. And you can imagine being a grizzly bear or a black bear or a wolf or a coyote—when there was nothing else to eat but livestock, that’s what you ate. As a consequence settlers really hated wolves, grizzly bears and other predatory animals and they deliberately tried to get rid of them all. The federal government actually sent out trappers who spent years hunting down the last wolf and killing it. The last wolves were actually killed by the U.S. Biological Survey, which is the agency that transformed itself into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that is now responsible for wolf restoration!”
He goes on to describe how wolves were killed:
Poison, and a lot of them were shot. The dens were found, the pups were hit over the head. And then the adults were shot around the den. But poison is probably what did away with most of the wolves. The old stories go that there wasn’t a cowboy in the west worth his salt that wouldn’t see a carcass and lace it with strychnine in the attempt to kill everything, I mean the foxes, the coyotes, the eagles, the wolves, the bears, everything. And this poisoning campaign, surprisingly, went on until the ’70s. There were poison baits placed throughout the western United States—even on public lands by federal agencies.”
This mindset is still prevalent today, especially in the West. Many people holding these views occupy political office, populate state game agencies and have the power to make life and death decisions concerning wolves and other predators. Even though wildlife belongs to all Americans, elected officials and bureaucrats who are grounded in outdated, arcane thinking, exert tremendous control over wildlife “management”. Think of Wildlife Services and the damage they do every year. Yet they continue to operate with abandon.
Did you ever wonder if wolves are blamed for livestock kills committed by another predator, their very close cousins, the dog? There was a recent study done in Basque that addressed this issue:
“Two researchers of the Euskadi Wolf Group at the Doñana Biological Station” examined the feces of wild wolves and dogs, which were identified by their DNA and examined the contents of their scat. Their findings:
When compared the remains of prey identified in both wolf and dog feces, they saw each feces contained only a single prey item. Among the prey items identified in 30 wolf feces (the remains in one wolf fecal sample were unknown), 22 contained wild prey (17 roe deer, three wild boar, one Eurasian badger and one European hare) and eight contained domestic animals (four horses, three cattle and one sheep). Wild species represented 73% of all prey identified in wolf feces and sheep only 3%.
Of the 39 prey items they be able to identify in dog feces, 14 (36%) contained remains of sheep and seven (18%) contained remains of either horses or cattle. Domestic animals represented 54% of all prey identified in dog feces.
When suspected wolf livestock kills are reported, do you believe after reading the Basque study, that “wildlife managers” sometimes get it wrong? That wolves may be blamed for more than they actually kill? Or wolves may show up after a kill is made by another predator and be blamed for it? This happened to the Mexican gray wolves that were under death warrants if they killed more than three livestock per year, even though cattle made up just 4% of their diet. The three strikes rule was rescinded last year but before SOP 13 (Standard Operating procedure) was rejected, endangered Mexican gray wolves were eliminated for feeding on dead cows even if the cows died of natural causes. The ranchers were not removing dead carcasses, even though it’s their responsiblity to do so as tenants on public land. The outrageous fact is the Mexican gray wolves Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area is all public land. The wolves should have dominion here, not ranchers, who are leasing the land. That land belongs to the American people, yet we have zero input on what happens to the animals that inhabit it.
The Mexican wolves now number just 42 animals, down from 52 wolves counted at the end of 2008. Two Mexican wolves were conclusively shot and the remainder of the deaths are being investigated but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the dead wolves, including four pups, were probably killed by poachers.
The reason I bring up the Basque study and Mexican wolves is they provide two examples of wolves blamed for livestock deaths they may not have committed. It’s akin to the half-truths and outright lies that are repeated about wolves decimating elk. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation declared elk numbers not only stable but rising in 23 states, in their 2009 Spring press release. The elk population grew 44% from 1984 to 2009 yet I’ve actually had hunters write to me asking where I get my numbers on elk, when it’s their own RMEF stats. Unbelievable but it shows what happens when people want to believe myths about wolves. Which brings me back to taking the offense when it comes to wolves. Don’t be sucked into endless discussions about ranching and elk. Wolves need our help. If we waste our time engaging in counter productive arguments defending wolves against rumor and myth, then the anti wolf crowd has won. They want to change the subject. They want to talk about anything but wolves.
Our goal, as I see it, is to emphasize the positives. Wolves and all apex predators improve the health of our ecosystems. We can point out the admirable qualities wolves possess, that we can all aspire to. To quote Ed Bangs once more:
“A wolf’s territory represents the place where their family lives and where they’re safe. If you’re in your pack’s territory, you have a family to help defend you, to care for you, to share food with you. Wolves are the parents, the mothers, the fathers, the brothers and sisters that we always hoped we could be. I mean there’s extreme loyalty among family members, it’s everything to them.”
This is what the world needs to know about wolves.
You won’t see negative comments or arguments about wolves on this blog. I’m not going to perpetuate the same tired dogma that’s been ingrained in the thinking of so many people who should know better. If we can stand against the rumors, myths and prejudice that haunt wolves to this day, we can truly make a difference for them and other top line predators.
Let’s stop playing defense by allowing wolf haters to control the tone and content of the conversation. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to dispel rumors but more of our time could be wisely spent devoted to helping wolves achieve the peace they deserve by spreading the word about the good qualities they possess.
It’s a tough job battling hundreds of years of persecution. Even our language is rife with “bad wolf karma” that we may not be aware of. Phrases such as “Thrown to the wolves”, “Wolves at the door” or “The Big, Bad Wolf”, imparts the idea that wolves are menacing and bad. Or the way in which wolves are portrayed in movies and literature. Werewolves are almost always evil, the idea of a human (usually a man) transformed into a wolf, that kills humans with abandon, conveys the belief wolves are inherently evil, which is so far from the truth.
Wolf advocates it’s time for us to play offense and keep the conversation centered on wolf issues and their welfare. Education is the key, especially for young people, so they don’t grow up believing the same lies and half-truths many seem to hold so dearly. Maybe it’s time to write new fairy tales about wolves, instead of the “The Big Bad Wolf” eating grandma. How about wolves saved aspen and willow trees? Or having wolves on the landscape helps the Pronghorn antelope fawns?
We are their voice, wolves can’t speak for themselves, so it’s our job to speak for them. Speak out for wolves and you control the conversation.
“Perhaps it was the eyes of the wolf, measured, calm, knowing.
Perhaps it was the intense sense of family.
After all, wolves mate for life, are loyal partners, create hunting communities
and demonstrate affectionate patience in pup rearing.
Perhaps it was the rigid hierarchy of the packs.
Each wolf had a place in the whole and yet retained his individual personality.
Perhaps it was their great, romping, ridiculous sense of fun.
Perhaps it was some celestial link with the winter night skies
that prompted the wolf to lay his song on the icy air.
For the native people who lived with the wolves,
and the wolves once ranged from the Arctic to the sub-tropics,
there was much to learn from them.
Is it any wonder that the myths of many tribes characterise the wolves
not as killers but as teachers?”
Wolf Photo: Courtesy SigmaEye Flickr
Posted in: gray wolf/canis lupus, biodiversity, Howling For Justice
Tags: canis lupus, play offense not defense, wolf research, Mexican gray wolves, wolves or livestock