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
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
wolveslistening to their howls at dawn and dusk. We were fascinatednot
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
concernclaiming 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 scapegoatand 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
Suzanne Laverty is the southern Rockies representative of Defenders