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Pepe Lepew On March - 9 - 2010


I will never quite understand the emotional reaction toward wolves.

There are people in the West who hate wolves. And I do mean hate. Pathological hate. It simply defies logic and reason.

There are people in the Rockies who believe — with all of their heart and soul — that wolves are quite literally evil.

Wolves are a huge controversy in the Rocky Mountains. Honestly, if you don’t live here, you have no idea how vitriolic it really is. It is something that runs deep in the Mountain Time Zone, psyche, and while I love Montana, this is something about the state I simply don’t understand … and probably never will. The wolf represents something totemic.

It reminds me of when I was a kid, people thought Killer whales were actually evil. They were killers, they ate people. When people learned more about them, they realized they are NOT evil (well, at least not the wild ones), and now killer whales are just about the most beloved animal in the Pacific Northwest. I have literally seen people burst into tears at the site of an orca.

National Geographic did an article this month that touched on the issue relatively well. I hope everyone checks it out. Though I think that article just kind of scraped the tip of the iceberg of the emotionalism (and lack of rationalism sometimes) in the West when it comes to wolves.

Personally, I love wolves. I think they’re cool. I think they’re beautiful. My first experience with wolves was when I was a little kid. We were fishing on Lac La Ronge in northern Saskatchewan and putt-putting past an island late in the evening near dusk. (It never gets completely dark in midsummer in northern Saskatchewan). On an island was a pack of wolves, all howling. To be perfectly honest, it terrified me. I was scared to death of those wolves, staring at us going by with their gleaming yellow eyes. There does seem to be something visceral there. Something buried deep within our DNA. Maybe it’s their yellow eyes. Something not rational. It was just wolves howling, nothing more. Maybe that explains the illogical hate that still goes on.

My second experience with a wolf was about 10 years ago. I was driving through central Oregon on one of the most empty highways on the planet between John Day and Burns, and a wolf ran across the road in front of me. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought it must have been a big German shepherd, way out in the Strawberry Range in the middle of nowhere, but its legs had been much too long. A German shepherd would not be 30 miles from the nearest town running around on stilts. It was definitely a wolf. There weren’t supposed to be any wolves yet in Oregon, but in the next few months, I started reading about wolf sightings in eastern Oregon, then finally I read about wolf sightings near Burns. I was one of the first people to ever spot a wolf in Oregon!

Wolves were removed from the Endangered Species List last year except in Wyoming — because Wyoming refuses to impose a valid wolf management plan. When wolves were briefly removed from the ESA protected list in Wyoming a year or two ago, Wyoming’s “management plan” turned out to be, “shoot all wolves on sight — NOW.” I am quite literally not exaggerating.

Montana’s system is more sane, though I believe hunters are being allowed to harvest too many wolves.
What isn’t sane is the rhetoric you see in the letters to the editor. Here are a few examples:

I recently received e-mails from friends showing mother cows with their rectums and female organs torn from their bodies by the wolves. These cows were lying down and the blood and raw meat trailed down on their legs. You could tell they were in awful pain. I am sure hundreds of our deer and elk are suffering the same way.
All you wolf lovers should take a good look at these pictures and share them with your families and your children, show them what these savage animals are really all about. Anyone that supports these evil acts are evil themselves. Society would not allow a domestic dog or a human to do these tortuous acts with out punishment.

“The only way is to get rid of them. We’re complaining about a ‘land piranha’ that was dumped on us and kills everything.”

At nights when I let my small dogs and cats out to do their business, I hear the howl of the packs from east and west. It scares the hell out my dogs and cats but generates true fear in me; what have we become, a sacrifice zone?

What about the ranch near Dillon, where last July wolves killed 26 domestic sheep in one night? In August they returned to “surplus kill” another 122 head. Since they didn’t eat them, we must assume they “honed” their instincts pretty well on those two occasions. Because we are now told they don’t kill for fun, must we assume that the wolves didn’t enjoy these killing rampages?
The uninformed may buy some of their poppycock, but the facts are that wolves are intelligent, capable killing machines that seem to enjoy doing what they do best – kill. Sometimes they even eat what they kill!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually have some sympathy for the ranchers who lose sheep or calves to wolves. Their losses are legitimate. There are legitimate questions about what is the “right” number of wolves in the Rocky Mountains and how well that coincides with ranching. Remember, some of these people have had their farms and ranches for over 100 years and I’m not looking to drive ranchers out of business. Truth be told, though, ranchers probably still lose more head to mountain lions, coyotes and loose dogs than they do to wolves.

I don’t have as much sympathy for hunters bitching about wolves taking elk. Big deal, when you buy a hunting license, that doesn’t give you a “right” to a kill. It gives you a right to “try.” Most biologists will tell you there are actually too many elk in the Rockies (there are definitely too many deer), but the bitchy hunters just want to make an easy kill while sitting in their backs of their pickups. Geez, they might actually have to hike a mile or two to bag an elk. And they might not bag one at all. Tough. I’m OK with hunting and hunters, but not whiny hunters bitching about wolves that are taking the elk they seem to think they’re entitled to.

But, it’s the rhetoric that wolves are somehow quite literally “evil,” that bugs me. The rhetoric that they’re completely obliterating the elk and deer (Oh, how did the elk and deer ever manage to survive for millennia around those devious wolves?); that wolves kill purely for pleasure; that they gonna start breaking into homes and eating babies next. And I am serious. I have actually heard things like that said.
Wolves are animals. Nothing more. They are predators. They eat meat. They don’t kill for pleasure. Killing is their job; it’s their niche. They’re very good at it. They’ve had about 500,000 years of evolution to learn how to do it.

Wolves are way down the list for most dangerous animals. A dog runnng loose in the neighbourhood represents more danger to you than a wolf. Wolves quite simply don’t kill people. It’s not in their DNA.

One person in recorded history has been killed by wolves (In northern Saskatchewan about 10 years ago, a guy was killed by a pack of wolves.) One. In recorded history. In the past 150 years. Meanwhile, hundreds of people have been killed by mountain lions and bears. In that time span, thousands of people have been killed by domestic dogs. Probably hundreds have been killed by horses. The only animals I am afraid of when I go into the backcountry are mountain lions and grizzlies. Black bears are essentially wimps and don’t scare me too much, unless you get a sow and a cub, and wolves, I don’t have the slightest fear of. I really hope I have another experience with a wolf in the backcountry before my time is done.

67 Responses so far.

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  1. PepeLepew says:

    Update on wolves.

    Wolves might’ve killed a woman jogging in Alaska.

    That makes two — maybe — in the last 110 years.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35823039/ns/us_news-life/

    • Chernynkaya says:

      From the article:

      Attacks by wolves on humans are extremely rare.

      A worldwidestudy by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in 2002 found that that there were between 20 and 30 attacks in all of North America in the 20th century. Of these, three were fatal, all because of rabies. For comparison, during the 20th century there have been 71 fatal grizzly (brown) bear attacks in North America, according to Yellowstone Insider, a weekly newsletter on Yellowstone National Park.

      So this is quite a coincidence that you just wrote this article! And also, the autopsy seems to be inconclusive.

    • bitohistory says:

      Wow, Pepe! there with lightning strike deaths and shark attack deaths in the US. What are the odds?

  2. Tweety says:

    Hiya Pepe!

    This is my very first comment ever on PlanetPOV!
    Another great article my friend!

  3. BigDogMom says:

    Pepe, wonderful article, I have issues with hunters that sit in their pickups and wait for the prey to come to them, or have the herd or flock driven to them to pick off. How lazy and egotistical can you get, to me that’s not “hunting”.

    I find wolves and coyotes a fascinating part of nature, all animals have a purpose here on earth and we humans have interfered with that natural process of predator and prey. Thus creating the unbalance that we have now, the explosion of the deer population being just one symptom of the cause.

    As a dog lover it amazes me to watch my own dogs interact in a “pack” like their cousins the wolf and coyote. The social hierarchy and how they behave around each other is fascinating to watch. You can really see this in action when you introduce a puppy into a group of dogs, a “pack”, that socializes everyday.

    I love my dogs, but understand that they are “animals”, not human and have issues with people who treat their pets like they are one of their kids. Yeah, I baby mine once in a while, but it is only at select times, chosen to mimic what would be done in an actual “pack” during down time.

    When you train a dog for field competition,(or hunting), like I did, you learn to step away from the humanization of your dog(s) and create the pack hierarchy within your family, hence my name, BigDogMom.

    I became the alpha bitch, “she who must be obeyed”, using the same techniques the puppies mother would use to train them, sight, sound, touch and attitude. Cesar Milan has made millions on promoting this type of training.

    If left to his own devises, Fluffy and his dog friends can track, encircle and kill a small animal in a matter of minutes, I’ve seen it happen at the dog park where I go. All it takes is one untrained alpha male to set the scene in motion, and the packs natural instincts take over.

    And to see the dog owner’s who are horrified that their “baby” is capable of doing this brutal deed, forgetting the basic fact that they are an animal, and “dog” is their species….

    • Chernynkaya says:

      BDM I couldn’t agree more! As you know, I am a “BDM” myself. And I am grateful to Cesar Milan for his respect for the dog species. If one loves dogs, one should love them for what they are-- wonderful animals! I feel so sorry for small dogs especially, because they seem to be the most “humanized” of pets. (Yeah, I put a raincoat on Zorro but only so I don’t have to dry him off so much after our outings.)

      I read a really interesting article a while ago about how dogs have actually changed in their brain-wiring after millennia of human association. I need to find that-- I want to write about it.

      • PepeLepew says:

        That’s why I think it should be illegal to breed dogs and wolves. You’re screwing up their brain-wiring. You’ve now created a dog you can never trust.

        • boomer1949 says:

          My father bought one, although I never found out from where. He also raised Siberian Huskies for a number of years and some of them were a few kibbles short of a bag of dog chow. :roll:

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Me too Pepe, and I think it is illegal in some states. “A dog you can never trust.” Yep, now that’s a big advance, right? :roll:

          In fact, the whole issue of dog breeds makes me somewhat unhappy. We breed dogs in some cases with characteristics that are unhealthy for them. Give me a mutt any day!

          • PepeLepew says:

            Same with cats. People have ruined Persians through breeding. They’ve created a sickly, ugly cat with breathing and asthma problems.

    • HITO says:

      I had a Siberian Husky for 14 years. We had no experience with the breed, we were citidiots. She was the reason we left NYC and moved north to farmland when she was 2.

      During her first year in our Forest Hills apartment downstate, we knew we bit off more than we could chew. While at work she gnawed off a section of the floor moldings (pre WWII building too)and threw her marble water bowl around like a rag, there were actually teeth marks on the edges. We brought her to a wolf trainer out on Long Island for 10 days. He educated us in the pack mentality that she came from. He modified her, or us, and gave us some techniques to help her adjust to her environment. He didn’t break her spirit, I don’t think anyone could have.

      She was always in charge of me and the kids. I was the one she’d come to if hurt or hungry, but my husband was the one she respected and listened to. She was the alpha bitch and she tolerated me.

      I never had a dog who behaved like Miko. The collies my parents had were lap dogs compared to her independent ways. What most impressed me about her was her complete confidence in herself. She appeared to need no one, sought no companionship, and didn’t need to be pet or cuddled. The secret of success with living with a pack animal is accepting them for what they are.

      We’d let her run around outside on the weekends. She always stayed close. But one afternoon she caught the scent of deer and took off, and endurance was her middle name. She didn’t come back for hours and when she did she was covered in brambles and a mess. But I swear she was smiling.

      • PepeLepew says:

        Oh, huskies are *extremely* high maintenance. I had one as a kid. Just like Jack Russells, only with 60 pounds of bulk.

        My malamute is much more mellow and laid back.

        • HITO says:

          We actually thought about bringing her to a shelter. That was the night she chased me up on top of the couch and was snapping at my feet. I called my husband at work and made him come home.

          Then there was the time she broke into our stash and ate 1/2 oz of pot. That was an interesting trip to the vet.

          Bottom line though, she was ours, we picked her and we needed to work through it. Haven’t had a dog since, btw. Think I’m still recovering.

          • PepeLepew says:

            I had a cat who ate all my dope years ago. I came home and he was crashed out and didn’t wake up for about 18 hours.

          • Chernynkaya says:

            Hito, was the dog acting stoned? I’ve often wondered if I should… Oh, hehe, never mind.

            • HITO says:

              She couldn’t walk, she was wasted. She had also eaten a tube of Grumbacher royal blue acrylic paint. So when they pumped her stomach, everything came out very blue.

              Think they kept her overnight to watch her.

              Maybe it wasn’t very good weed. She made it though.

              Miko the pot head husky.

              She also loved raw kale.

            • PepeLepew says:

              A little TMI!

            • Chernynkaya says:

              :-) I know the feeling. And I once ate a bunch of beets and thought my colon was bleeding!

  4. Khirad says:

    I was trying to remember, there was a show I watched, where they were actually herding wolves or coyotes or something on snowmobiles into the Montana part of Yellowstone. Despicable.

    I was not aware of this. I gasped! (that, and that you were between John day and Burns).

    In the first two letters, I was wondering if they were talking about wolves, or humans. After all, homo homini lupus. The other letters, reminded me of Colbert’s fixation of Bears as “killing machines” -- little did I get that he was actually lampooning a real phenomenon.

    Wolves are fascinating. I’ve seen my share of Discovery Channel on them and, quite frankly I always though it was a little ‘faddish’ to like them.

    I don’t know where this fear starts. It really must be their similarity to us which breeds contempt. As to German Shepherds, no I see coyotes up close not uncommonly, and they are slightly bigger German Shepherds. I know how you feel about that double take. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like for an actual wolf! Like your mind doesn’t immediately process what you are seeing.

    And yes, we love our Orcas. Anyone who has been on a ferry in the Puget Sound with any frequency has seen someone cry at a sighting. (by the way, before the Olympics, I’d forgotten about the Canadian pronunciation of Juan de Fuca -- though I’ve been on a BC Ferry in the Strait of Georgia).

    As to ranchers and hunters, agreed. Take the words right out of my mouth. There’s a balance to be found, not based on hysteria.

  5. PatsyT says:

    Thanks for this Pepe
    The National Geographic article is great too.
    The pics are wonderful
    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/03/wolf-wars/moyer-photography

  6. KQuark says:

    Very interesting post. I wonder if it’s about many people’s obsession with control. Many people who feel like they can’t control something displace their fear, anger and hatred on it.

    To think we almost got a VP that supports shooting wolves out of helicopters. Talk about exemplifying people’s need to control their environment.

    • escribacat says:

      Hence the legend of werewolves.

      • Khirad says:

        Considering the lycanthropic hysteria, I always thought ergot laden bread was an interesting theory.

        But you’re right, I know of similar legends from India. It’s less about the animal and more about the apex predator of the area.

        Me? There have been Jaguar sightings in Arizona. While a Mountain Lion would do me in just as easily, that’s what really scares me -- though statistically, I’m not likely to ever even be near one.

        • escribacat says:

          Khirad, We have mountain lions in my area. They show up in people’s yards in Boulder every once in awhile. I’ve never seen one hiking but one day I saw the hind quarter of a deer stashed up in a tree.

          • Chernynkaya says:

            E’cat, That haunch in the tree must have been kinda shocking! I live near a bird sanctuary and even though it’s in the city, it’s pretty wild. (I saw a golden eagle eating a rodent on the trail last summer!) There are several coyotes and at dusk I see them frequently. Gorgeous and bigger than I thought!

            Anyway, I was walking with my (big) dog and a man with another big dog was approaching me on the trail. He told me the coyotes had circled his dog, and I should be careful. I really wasn’t worried, but I too am on the lookout for pumas or whatever they might be in my neck of the woods.

            • escribacat says:

              It was very creepy looking, Cher. Gave me the willies! I see coyotes often. I’ve had them do tricks, obviously trying to lure my greyhounds over to them (one bounds up and down in a very silly gait while the other one hides). Luckily my dogs listen to me and stay close when I tell them to! There’s a big controversy here between those who think it’s the human’s responsibility to stay away from coyotes (me) and those who think all the coyotes should be shot (people who should move back to the city IMO).

          • PepeLepew says:

            I have mountain lions in my neighbourhood. One showed up and killed a couple of dogs a 1/4 mile away. I also found a mauled-up deer carcass in the woods in the back of my property last summer.
            That’s why I keep a shotgun by my backdoor. They’re pretty to look at, but mountain lions aren’t wired right, or something. They will attack humans. They’re one of the few predators that actually will.

            • Khirad says:

              Yeah, we had a girl down here who was biking down a hill and, well, didn’t survive.

            • escribacat says:

              Every few years some family goes up to Rocky Mtn National Park with their tiny children and one of the children disappears — probably taken by a mountain lion. Or people in the mountains leave their dogs tied up outside the house while they go to work. Big mistake. Good-bye dog if a lion comes around.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I agree KQ. Control is a fear issue, I strongly believe and such an illusion.

  7. Mightywoof says:

    At the risk of being a ‘me-too’, I have never understood how plain silly people can be trying to ascribe human emotions to animals (although I will argue for hours about how I just know my dog and cat really, really love me). I’ve heard about the controversy when wolves were re-introduced to some parts of the US and, while I have sympathy for ranchers and farmers, I can’t understand such vitriol and fear from the rest of the public! Heck, I live in a midsize city right next door to Toronto and we have to worry about coyotes making off with pets but I don’t hear talk about ‘evil’ and hunting parties wanting to eradicate them!

    I envy you your sighting of wolves Pepe -- one of the best moments of my life was about 30 years ago while on a camping trip with my parents and brother in Algonquin. We went on a wolf howl and, while we didn’t hear any wolves, it was an incredibly emotional experience for us all.

  8. Chernynkaya says:

    Pepe, I am actually shocked that people see wolves as evil. I understand ranchers maybe feeling that way, but the average citizen?! How can anyone see wolves-- who are so closely related to the domestic dog, as evil? Wow. I adore wolves as I do dogs, and although I have never encountered them in the wild, I would not fear them.

    Funny, but I do know people who are actually fearful of house cats! I think that also comes from some old superstition--witches maybe. Perhaps the same superstition is tied to wolves--they are demonized in central Europe. Just pathetic and atavistic. What a bunch of retards.

  9. boomer1949 says:

    Pepe,

    This aired on PBS a few weeks ago. In the Valley of the Wolves, and covers a three year time frame in the lives of the Druids of Yellowstone…

    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/in-the-valley-of-the-wolves/video-full-episode/4678/

    boomer

  10. escribacat says:

    I love wolves too. We don’t have much of that wolf hatred here in Colorado — though probably among the ranchers it’s more common. One reason is probably that there aren’t many wolves in Colorado — they’ve been killed off. Recently people have reported wolf footprints up in Rocky Mountain National Park.

    I truly don’t understand why some humans demonize an animal just for being an animal and doing what is natural. It’s a very primitive way of thinking.

    I think I might have posted this once before, but last summer when I was helping to paint a building at a wildlife sanctuary, we were surrounded by several acres of wolves. Even though it was daytime, every hour or so, the packs would start up a long howl. It sounded incredibly beautiful to me.


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