By Marty Essen, Victor
“The wolves, they’re going to kill our children!” “The wolves, they’re a giant, aggressive, Canadian subspecies!” “The wolves, they’re devastating our livestock!” “The wolves, they’re killing all our elk!”
Perhaps now that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has extended the wolf hunting season—due to lack of success—we can stop listening to the wolf fear-mongers and recognize their claims for what they are: exaggerations.
Remember the letters-to-the-editor from fear-mongers, worried that wolves would kill people in Montana? Reintroduction hasn’t resulted in a single death. While most wild animals, including wolves, can be dangerous, here’s a fact: In North America, you have a much better chance of being killed by a vending machine falling on you than by a wolf attack.
Remember the letters-to-the-editor from fear-mongers, claiming that the reintroduced wolves are a larger subspecies than those that roamed the West before our forefathers massacred them? Now we know the facts. According to FWP, the average wolf killed this hunting season is just 88.9 pounds. My Labrador retriever weighs more than that!
What about livestock predation? Sure it happens, but statistically it’s small when compared to all the other ways livestock perish. For instance, according to the USDA, Montana ranchers lost 57,000 total calves to all causes in 2010. Of those loses, 852 were attributed to wolves. To put that figure into perspective, non-wolf predators killed 3,348 calves, and weather was the leading cause of death, claiming 14,308 calves. Clearly, the best way for ranchers limit their losses is to give their animals shelter during calving season. Not only would shelter reduce weather-related losses, it would also reduce predator-related loses.
Are the wolves killing all of “our” elk? The real question here is whether it’s ethical to manage Montana as a giant game farm, favoring one species over another. The facts are that wolves and elk have lived together since long before humans arrived. Any long-term effect wolves have on elk populations is negligible compared the effect humans have on elk. Sure, wolves scatter elk herds—making hunting more difficult—but since when did hunters become entitled to an easy hunt? A true sportsman should relish the challenge of hunting under the most natural conditions possible.
Knowing the above, FWP’s extension of the wolf hunting season is both reckless and unnecessary. The fact that only 106 out of the quota of 220 wolves have been killed so far speaks loudly that wolves aren’t the problem fear-mongers make them out to be. In Ravalli County, the Commissioners are in the midst of a wolf “witch hunt.” Based on comments made by their collaborators alone, the quota should have been filled long ago. After all, how hard can it be to shoot animals that are allegedly so “bold and aggressive”?
Ignored by FWP is the fact that extending the wolf hunting season essentially closes the forest to anyone accompanied by a dog that looks remotely like a wolf. Sorry cross country skiers and hikers! FWP thinks it’s more important to accommodate the fear-mongers than for you to be able to enjoy the outdoors with your faithful companion.
Am I now the one who’s exaggerating? Considering that hunters in America mistakenly shoot humans an average of 100 times fatally and 800 times non-fatally each year, owners of large dogs would be remiss if they didn’t take into account the increased risk to their pet during an extended season, dedicated exclusively to slaying wolves.
Lastly, I wish to directly address the fear-mongers: While this op-ed will undoubtedly anger you, can you cool it with the threats? Not only have I been threatened for speaking up for wolves, but so has Marc Cooke of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition and at least one other person that I know of. Your threats won’t help your position or “shut up” anyone. And if you ever followed through on a threat, the publicity alone would do irreparable harm to your position. We may not agree on much, but can we at least agree to respect each other’s right to free speech?
In Montana, a healthy wolf population is part of what makes nature natural. Let’s move beyond the manufactured fear and cherish what we have!