I apologize, dear reader, for my sleight of hand. In writing last week's article, I avoided any talk of the main focus of debate: the wolf. I had to. Column lengths being what they are, I started with the assumption that wolves needed to be conserved and worked backward from there.
So please allow me the chance to remedy that today.
Myths about wolves abound, some vilify, some romanticize, and all falsify. While I wrote last week, I remembered the words of Amaroq Weiss, a consultant on wolf issues whom I had interviewed to get my facts straight: "The wolf is neither God nor Devil; it's a wolf."
Everyone knows the myth of the Devil Wolf, the wolf of "The Three Little Pigs" and "Red Riding Hood," all razor teeth and bloody jowls. This wolf, with all its accompanying myths, has the Rocky Mountain states returning to the wolf-trapping days of yesteryear in order to protect local interests, or so they say.
This leads to the first wolf myth: Wolves are bad for our livelihoods.
According to this myth, wolves ravenously devour livestock, hurting already struggling ranchers and farmers. Yes, wolves do kill livestock; however, they kill in such paltry numbers compared to other predators that the effect on livestock overall should be negligible (and where it is not, wolves can, by law, be moved). The presence of wolves may even drive depredation down since the largest predator of livestock, coyotes, thrive in areas devoid of wolves. In fact, feral dogs kill considerably more livestock than wolves, and the current money being dumped into wolf killing might more effectively go into capturing and finding good homes for these other canines, helping them while at the same time removing a larger threat to ranchers.
Then there is the hunter's myth: Wolves are bad for the environment.
According to this myth, wolves kill far more prey animals than they need out of pure blood sport, ruining natural environments. Yes, again, wolves kill; they are predators and that is what predators do. But they do not slaughter untold numbers of deer for the fun of it. Indeed, it would be hard for them to. Wolves are not the greatest of hunters; wolves only get a single kill for about every five hunts and are sometimes injured by the very animals they hope to eat. Wolves, like other predators, also perform an important regulatory function in the wild. By keeping herbivore populations in check or at least continually moving, they help prevent overgrazing and preserve local flora. In turn, these plants provide nesting grounds for birds, shade for fish, and prevent soil erosion.
Third, the humanitarian's myth: Wolves will kill humans.
Although wolf attacks occurred frequently in Europe and Asia, perhaps due to the higher incidence rate of rabies there, the first travelers to America found the wolves here much more timid. Some biologists say that there have been no true - that is, non-provoked and non-rabid - wolf attacks on humans in North America; some say up to 30 have been documented, citing habituation as the most common cause; but even the most hardened wolf-hater familiar with the literature will admit that one is more likely to be killed by a dog (at 20 deaths per year in the states) than a wolf.
But just as the Devil Wolf does not exist, the same is true for the God Wolf, the wolf found on postcards from Yellowstone, the cute wide-eyed wolf pup or the regal alpha standing atop a hilltop, surveying his demesnes. This Disney-fied image exalts the glory and majesty of the hunt while ignoring its carnivorous end. Where the God Wolf falls into myth, it simply takes the negative of the myths above: Wolves never attack humans even when provoked, wolves never kill livestock and wolves hunt perfectly. I believe I've already disproved those myths above.
In truth, we use the wolf as a scapegoat. Those who see the Devil Wolf want to throw off their insecurities on something that can be shot and killed. Those who see the God Wolf want to believe in an unspoiled perfection they try so desperately to reach themselves.
And the saddest part of it all: The wolf as a wolf is far more beautiful than either God or Devil Wolf. The same alpha who snarls at an omega trying to approach a fresh kill brings food and companionship to the omega when the latter is too sick to hunt. The same wolf who will hunt for miles and miles to earn a single kill will tire of hyperactive pups within the first minute.
Perhaps the truest aspect of the wolf is its humanity.
Or perhaps ours is our wolfery.
By: Joseph Vandehey | Columnist / firstname.lastname@example.org