This is the dirty fact I’ve come to recognize: we humans won’t allow wolves to live on our planet. We won’t stop until the last one of them is gone.
If you don’t believe me, look at what’s happening in our own country. Then, look around the world.
For the second time in four years, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is exterminating a wolf pack to protect privately owned cattle grazing on publicly owned lands.
But Washington isn’t the only place declaring a war on wolves. From Alaska to Canada to Norway, we are systematically wiping them out; and this time, I fear, it could really be for forever.
In Washington state
In mid July 2016, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that wolves in the Profanity Peak pack had killed or injured six cattle and, perhaps, five others. Because of that, the agency announced it would exterminate the whole pack. As of September 29, 2016, state wildlife biologists had lethally removed seven of the pack’s 11 wolves.
However, the facts show that the wolves may have been baited. According to Robert Wielgus, the director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University, the livestock operator who claimed the depredation had put his cattle directly on top of the wolves’ den site, creating an irresistible opportunity for the carnivores.
By the 1930s, wolves in Washington were believed to have been hunted to extinction. In the early 2000s, however, Idaho and British Columbia wolves started to move back in. Today, the state is home to about 90 wolves. Killing the 11 members of the Profanity Peak pack amounts to eliminating 12 per cent of the population; a figure conservationists say is inconsistent with wolf recovery. Not only that, but according to the Center for Biological Diversity, science shows that “killing a breeding animal can sometimes cause a wolf pack to split into several packs or dissolve altogether, disrupting their social order and even spurring additional conflicts with wildlife.”
The sad news out of Washington state comes on top of similar news from Alaska in August 2016. The National Park Service (NPS) was forced to end a two-decades-old study that had monitored the wolf packs in Alaska’s Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. So many of the collared predators had been killed by the state’s Department of Fish and Game that it was no longer feasible to continue the research.
When the wolves wandered outside the boundaries of the federal preserve, the state shot them, in order to increase populations of moose and caribou for human hunters. Alaska’s “intensive management” program has resulted in the killing of 90 park-resident wolves, including 13 that were NPS radio-collared for research purposes. Each of the preserve’s nine wolf packs has lost members, and three packs have been entirely eliminated. Another five packs have been reduced to a single wolf each.
The story repeats itself in Alaska’s Denali National Park. The park has been home to the longest ongoing study of a wolf pack in the world: the East Fork pack, also known as the Toklat pack. They were first observed in the 1930s. But years of hunting, trapping—mostly to improve the stock of caribou for human hunters—and habitat disturbance reduced numbers to just one known female, a male and two pups earlier this year. It’s now believed they may all have perished.
In Canada and Norway
About 68 wolves remain in the wilderness areas of Norway. Just about a week ago, it was announced that as many as 47 of them may soon be shot. And why? For two reasons:
1) Norway is a large sheep-farming nation. It lets most of its two million sheep roam free all summer without herding, fencing or much supervision. Every year, it’s estimated that 20,000 sheep are lost to predators, such as bears, golden eagles, lynx, wolverines and wolves. Research shows that wolves account for a probable 8 percent of the kills.
2) Hunting is a popular sport in Norway. Last year, more than 11,000 hunters applied for licenses to shoot 16 wolves, a ratio of more than 700 applicants for each available license. The government justified the cull by citing the harm done to sheep flocks by predators. According to environmental groups, the number of wolves the government plans to kill this year is greater than in any year since 1911.
In Canada, wolves have been fed strychnine and shot from helicopters in order to protect tar sands developments that feed our addiction to fossil fuels.
In the House of Representatives
On September 21, 2016, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing to discuss the status of the federal government’s management of wolves. While ranchers testified that the impacts of wolf predation on livestock are vast, Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) reminded those in attendance “we slaughter 5,000 cows for every one that is killed by a gray wolf.”
I find it extremely odd that we welcome the wolves’ closest relative, dogs, into our homes as “our best friends.” Yet, we can’t seem to coexist with their wild cousins. Is it because of unkind myths and the lack of knowledge about the wolf’s true nature? Is it because the wolf is a far more intelligent and sustainably minded hunter than we are? Is it just because wolves eat the same meat we like to consume?
Whatever the reason, in Washington and around the world, we are still killing wolves.
And it’s clear we won’t stop.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,