Friday, January 3, 2014

Of Fear and Loathing of Wolves


“loath·ing ˈlōT͟HiNG/ noun noun: loathing; plural noun: loathings
1.a feeling of intense dislike or disgust; hatred.
First off, I am and have been a deer hunter, bow and gun for my entire life. I spend about every living minute in our outdoors-if not hunting, then mountain biking, cross country skiing,snowshoeing and shooting pictures or building trail. That said, several “conversations” and recent articles all converged in the past week which got me thinking about wolves. The “fear and loathing” of wolves to be specific. Our own Wisconsin Outdoor Fun contributor Patrick Durkin wrote of the recent decline in Midwest deer kill numbers and suggested maybe wolves shouldn't take the blame when looking at surrounding states with few or no wolves. But this is not a “wolves-kill-all-the-deer” piece. Wolves have a much more vested interest than we do as hunters in keeping deer around-it's for their survival and they are very good at self regulating. But we compete for the same resource, so could that be cause for the hate I read?

Kevin Naze of WOF subtly suggested because the wolf hunt closed early, there may be far more animals than DNR estimates suggest. Adding that Wisconsin's 257 kill- 20-30% of the estimated population, surpassed Minnesota (2200 est. wolf population) and Michigan but not noting that Minnesota set a conservative quota of only 220 or 10%. That may be, but the majority were also trapped and trappers tend to be quite skilled in their pursuit and efficient in capturing their prey. It's no easy task to grab a gun, waltz out the door and find a wolf to shoot. Contrary to bar stool chatter, over the past several years pack numbers and populations appear to have stabilized in Wisconsin's limited suitable habitat. Grey wolves in the midwest tend to have smaller territories and fewer pack members when compared to their western brethren. But this is not a “Wisconsin-is-getting-run-over-by-wolves” piece either.

What really got me thinking were two replies I received, one on Facebook (I know..let it go!) and another by a friend via email. Both revolved around the fear of wolves. Wolves are sadly controversial and in my FB reply, I harbored no hope of changing anyones opinion. I think my insightful friends' email hit the nail on the head however- “Logic does not carry the day with emotional issues! It struck me today that we, as hunters, have moved from much of the skill-based tradition of the past and now the only thing that seems to unite us with those hunters of yore is the deep-seated fear and loathing of wolves!”

But why? Europe has a long tradition of fear of wolves and in doing a little research found that in most cases, attacks were attributed to two things, rabies and/or animals being habituated by man. In North America, wolf attacks are exceedingly rare, even though wolves are large predatory animals and can adapt to living in close proximity to humans-especially in Wisconsin. The facebook discussion revolved in part about the fear of stepping into our woods, “afraid to be attacked or eaten alive.” Also the need for carrying a firearm for protection. When looking at wolf attacks by comparison, there have been 59 people killed by bear (Grizzly and black bear) and 11 by cougar since 1990. Annually domestic dogs kill 20-30 people. Hunters (human) kill nearly 100 and injure around 1000 in the US and Canada each year. Only two cases of a human allegedly killed by wolves have been documented in North America in the past 100 years!

I'm reminded of a recent All State commercial where a young girls says “Man-eating sharks live in every ocean, but we still swim. Every second lighting strikes somewhere in the world, but we still play in the rain. Poisonous snakes can be found in 49 of the 50 states, but we still go looking for adventure. Because I think deep down, all the bad things that happen in life, can't stop us from making our lives good.” I believe we shouldn't live in fear of what could happen. Statistically we are in far greater danger driving to and from our recreational playgrounds than from a wolf attack. Wolves generally stay clear of humans and ones I've been lucky enough to observe had other places to be and things to do within a few seconds of making eye contact.

Wolves in Wisconsin have become somewhat adaptable, living in areas that at one time may not have been thought of as suitable habitat, like so many other creatures. We need to keep in mind that while wild animals can adapt quickly, humans do not and it is we who are moving into their homes and territories. It never made a lot of sense to me why we get mad or upset at wild animal confrontations, when they have been here all along. We encroach on them by our “progress.” The animals piece of mother natures pie gets smaller by the day.

Some have called for a return of all out elimination of the wolf (again) because of the perceived danger (deer hunting issues aside). The same was once said of Timber Rattlers and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, which both had a bounty in our state as recently as 1975. Because something could hurt us, we should rid our natural landscape of them? I find it interesting that the wolf seems to be singled out over our much more abundant large carnivore, the Black Bear. I don't see bumper stickers with “No/Bear” symbols slapped on the back of pick ups. Competition? Money? Politics? If we eliminate every risk in the outdoors, real or imagined, we end up with pretty much a vanilla outdoor experience. Safe, but vanilla none the less.

As a hunter and outdoorsman, I try to respect every animal I encounter, observe or harvest. Respect is life-enhancing, fear is life threatening. I'm of the belief that knowing those animals exist, that we share something with them, make life a richer experience. The natural world is good, bad and ugly. Who is man to decide which animal is worthy and which ones are not? The creator seems to have a pretty logical plan set out long before we walked here.
"Seca" 2012, (deceased, victim of "lead poisoning")


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  2. Balanced piece Steve..... Enjoyed it.

    It is interesting/disappointing that the venom managed by many of those who detest a wolf for rightly killing its prey isn't matched by equal fervor to reduce access to assault weapons that wrongly kill many innocents.