To say the least, wolves receive a lot of bad publicity. Sure, lots of people think they’re pretty interesting but there aren’t many who exactly want them running around in their backyards, livestock ranchers of Western states being the most vocal opposition to reintroduction attempts. The initial problems were overcome by compensating ranchers for lost livestock (such seems to be the management strategy wherever predators and humans share space, regardless of geographic location), but now that the population goals for wolves have been met, some have been desiring to re-open hunting on the animals that were once wiped out in North America. Such is the scene in Wyoming and Idaho, some officials wishing to remove wolves from the Endangered Species list and open hunting after a year-long review process. Although I don’t like the idea, I was not surprised by the proposal, the interaction between predators and people often causing for heated discussion (here in New Jersey it’s all about black bears), but what did disturb me were some of the numbers associated with the proposal.
According to this Helena Independant Record article, state officials would oversee the hunting of the roughly 1,200 strong wolf populations in the area, just so long as there were 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in the state, minimum. How much would it cost to bag your own wolf? Idaho, itchy trigger fingers already starting to flinch, has set the price at $26.50 (purportedly ~$260 for out-of-state hunters, although I have yet to confirm this via news reports), which is less than the documentary Living With Wolves/Wolves at Our Door costs on amazon.com. The e-mail that I intially received on this topic went for the sentimentality approach, saying “I couldn’t put a pricetag on a mother wolf with pup in tow, but the Idaho Fish and Game Commission just did,” showing a picture of a cute wolf pup in the classic “pull at their heartstrings” technique. While the “You shouldn’t shoot cute things” argument doesn’t hold a lot of sway with me (ugly things need help too!), it is important to realize that by shooting an adult wolf you are disrupting pack life and throwing the animals social lives into turmoil, potentially killing pups by depriving them of their mother (although other members of the pack help care for them after the pups are a few weeks old). So, how are Wyoming and Idaho going to determine which wolves can or can’t be killed? Somehow I have the feeling that the responsible management & monitoring is going to take a backseat to “population management,” disrupting various packs. Plus, a drop from 1,200 animals to 100 is drastic, and if a large number of these animals are killed in the first season then there won’t be many more wolves left to hunt the next year while hunters will still be clamoring to go out and hunt wolves once again. I hope the folks in the state like rodents too and coyotes, wolves being a keystone species helping to regulate the populations of prey and competing predators. All in all, it seems like a piss-poor management plan that is only being enacted because livestock farmers are getting upset due to losses which (to the best of my understanding) they’re being compensated for.
It’s also interesting that the method by which wolves can be hunted is not mentioned, but I seriously hope it’s not like the aerial hunts allowed in Alaska. In such hunts wolf packs are chased by heliocopter and when the poor animals are too exhausted to carry on, they’re shot. I had no idea such cruelty to animals was permissable under the law, verifying that we have a long way to go when it comes to ethics regarding animals. Apparently we still consider animals to be unfeeling, unthinking underlings put on earth for our benefit only.
To put it bluntly, the claim that wolves are a major threat the ranchers livlihoods is bull. Wolves largely ignore livestock as long as they can find enough food and the wolves that have come to specialize in livestock hunting can be removed, or in severe cases, eliminated, although there are many ways to deter the wolves from making off with a sheep in the first place. Large guard dogs are one effective method, similar efforts being undertaken by the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Africa where guard dogs will deter the predators without loss of life to either animal. Granted, wolves and cheetahs are different but there are methods to safeguard livestock available and it is not the wolves’ fault if farmers do not want to enact such precautions. I simply will not live in a world where all the large carnivores were hunted to extinction because of unfounded paranoia, but there are many people who would prefer to kill off magnificent animals like wolves so their pocketbooks would be just a little fuller. I guess they don’t quite understand that when you screw around with nature, the house always wins, and eliminating keystone predators ups the chance for rodent explosions and disease among said “vermin.”
If accurate, the Defenders of Wildlife page on wolf predation also puts forth some disturbing data. According to the webpage, coyotes, vultures, and even domestic dogs kill many times more cattle than wolves (disease and other non-fauna problems causing the majority of deaths), a graph showing the causes of death for cattle in 2005 residing here. As can plainly be seen, wolves are the least of ranchers concerns, just above bears in their consumption of livestock. I don’t see ranchers or government officials getting pissed off that those damned bacteria are taking so many cattle, or even for the larger take of cattle by coyotes. Indeed, it seems that wolves have something of a celebrity status and that comes back to hurt them as they are seen as most visible, and I’m sure that there are plenty of cattle kills by dogs and coyotes (and stolen cattle that never return) that get blamed on wolf predation.
Wolves, at least at their present numbers, do not present any considerable threat to livestock in the United States and while it may be appropriate to remove the animals from the endangered species list in some states, open hunting season should not be allowed, especially not to reduce the animals to the level of 100 from an existing population of 1,200. This is just another case of people who know nothing about ecology (politicians, I’m looking at you) pandering to whatever interests are the most vocal and have the most economic sway. There is a peition oppossing the proposals in Idaho and Wyoming which can be found at this website, and I urge you to sign it to ensure that we do not once again lose an animal that was so long absent from North America.