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For the week of Oct. 27, 1999 through Nov. 2, 1999

Setting the record straight on wolves

Commentary by SUZANNE LAVERTY


There's been a lot of bad information circulating about wolves lately. I've worked with wolves for more than a decade and would like to clarify some of these misconceptions.

Let's start with the facts: Wolves don't harm people. Millions of people camp and hike in wolf country every year without incident. There isn't even one documented case of a wild wolf killing a human in North American history

My 7-year-old daughter and I have often camped near wolves—listening to their howls at dawn and dusk. We were fascinated—not terrified—-as we understand that wild wolves pose virtually no risk to us.

Reportedly, parents in Salmon are worried that their children are in danger at bus stops now that wolves are living nearby. Kids are at much greater risk of being struck by lightning or attacked by a cow than being hurt by wild wolves. Much of the recent propaganda aimed at wolves implies these parents have a reason for concern—claiming Little Red Riding Hood was more than a fairy tale.

Fact No. 2: Idaho has lost less than 100 livestock due to wolves this year. So far, these numbers are about what was expected. Thousands of sheep and cattle die every year from numerous causes. Wolves account for less than 1 percent of these losses.

Defenders of Wildlife has reimbursed ranchers for confirmed (and even probable) wolf kills since wolves returned to Idaho in 1995. Defenders is looking for ways to help keep wolves away from livestock by using scent aversion methods, alarm systems, and collars that trigger other deterrents to keep wolves from preying on livestock. Defenders has bought livestock protection dogs for ranchers and hay when it was needed to help keep some distance between wolves and cows. We're also working directly with ranchers to help determine better methods to detect, prevent and approximate livestock losses to wolves or other causes. Wildlife services records show most cattle losses are disease-related and most sheep losses are due to coyotes.

Fact No. 3: Wolves do not destroy big game herds. Blaming wolves for all the ills of hunting and ranching provides an easy scapegoat—and a distraction from taking preventative action against overgrazing and habitat loss. There isn't one biologist or hunter who can explain how less than 200 wolves can impact elk and deer when thousands of mountain lions and bear have been living in the area and have not caused a decline in populations. Idaho has a lot of predators where elk and deer populations are high. Predators are a vital part of wild ecosystems.

Perhaps the best advice comes from one of the fathers of modern wildlife management, Aldo Leopold: "I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows."

In basic fundamental ecology, we learn predators and prey have co-evolved in a mutual co-dependent relationship. Wolves serve an important role in Idaho and deserve better understanding and tolerance in an age when most understand "Little Red Riding Hood" was a child's story based on myth rather than fact. So also was the "Three Little Pigs" unless anyone can prove pigs can actually build brick houses.

Suzanne Laverty is the southern Rockies representative of Defenders of Wildlife

 

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