Balance the needs


Most Americans today have a very benign and romantic view of wolves; in good part because they have been spared negative experiences. The reason is simple: an armed population. Wolves threatening livestock or persons met, invariably, a person with a firearm, who without fanfare or publicity, killed them. If that failed, trappers or predator controllers were brought in. That is still the case in Alaska and rural Canada.

Wolves in North America are historically shy and careful for good reasons. Even in the earliest historical times, they always met well-armed natives. Travelers a century and one half ago noted that the numerous Buffalo Wolves on the prairies kept well beyond arrow range. Having lived and traveled in the West, I have seen that myself. In brief, wolves were severely and effectively persecuted, which kept them rare and shy.

However, with the urban population’s estrangement from nature, the rise of environmentalism and protectionist sentiment, and a “let it be” philosophy, a distorted vision of wildlife is the logical outcome. These attitudes changed the dynamic of man’s relationship with animals. Thus, we have “habituated wolves” who show no fear of people, enter small towns to prey on pets, occasionally kill livestock, and, while rare, attack humans.

Nevertheless, the important lesson is that wolves are no problem to anybody; provided that they are scarce relative to their prey. A few wolves surrounded by multitudes of caribou, elk, deer and moose, show virtually no interest in ranches, farms or people. It helps greatly that they experience being hunted. We have sound biological reasons to understand why large predators such as wolves and bears are petrified at being stalked by brazen human beings. Inefficient hunting, liberally applied, keeps them in fear, out of trouble and very much alive.

Consequently, hunting confers on society an unpaid good; the freedom of the woods. It allows non-hunters to camp, hike and picnic without fear of being confronted by a dangerous predator. Even children are utterly safe and able to enjoy the outdoors. That peace of mind is priceless.

Our DNR wildlife experts need to remember this. It is imperative to balance the needs of society with the desire to have this symbol of wilderness, but we don’t need the tail wagging the dog.

John Hongisto