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.