Many of us grew up thinking of the wolf as a mythical creature lurking in the woods, ready to pounce on us without notice to consume our flesh. Even as adults the mere mention of a wolf brings us back to that image of an innocent young girl dressed in a red cloak, fighting for her life. Fairytales are fodder for the imagination. They’ve been written throughout the ages to entertain children and adults alike, but their influence on the psyche can sometimes be anything but positive, and childhood stories about the big bad wolf are no exception.
Today the wolf is both loved and loathed. In Minnesota and across the nation laws that once protected the gray wolf have been lifted and people are now lining up to decimate a creature whose very existence captures the essence of all that is beautiful in nature. The wolf is one of the most misunderstood animals to inhabit the planet, and the desire to reduce their numbers in the wild stems from both fear and hatred. Such negative emotions have left no room for reason, and instead the public is being bombarded with misinformation that has no scientific basis.
The wolf is not a blood thirsty animal. The gray wolf (Canis lupus) is a very social animal that lives within a pack composed mostly of family members. The family lives, travels, and hunts together, and its members develop very close relationships with one another. Their bond is so strong that wolves have even been known to sacrifice themselves to protect the family unit. Gray wolves are shy and wary of humans so they tend to be elusive, but like all species they have an innate need to survive. Wolves are carnivores that hunt both small and large game, and to do so they must cover a vast amount of territory on a daily basis. On rare occasions their travels can lead them to farms where the lure of a good meal is just too difficult to pass up. Fortunately livestock depredation is not a serious issue in Minnesota. In 2011, there were only 88 verified wolf livestock complaints in the entire state, and only about 80 out of 7,000 farms in Minnesota experienced wolf depredation of livestock. What most people don’t know is that farmers are reimbursed full market value for their animals. As well, there are many effective non-lethal methods to prevent such incursions, and owners of livestock and pets can now shoot wolves on sight that pose any threat. Problem wolves are trapped by certified private predator controllers—203 wolves were killed in 2011 and over 107 have been killed already this year.
Our wolf numbers are not a cause for concern. Most gray wolf packs number between four and nine. In Minnesota it is estimated that we have about 3,000 wolves and 100 packs, most of which live in the northern part of the state. Since wolves are highly susceptible to starvation and disease, in addition to their ability to control their own numbers due to limited natural habitat, our wolf population has remained stable since 1998—without the need for hunting and trapping.
Without wolves, biodiversity is threatened. Our wolves play a vital role in keeping the ecosystem in balance, and their presence helps maintain habitat for all wildlife in the forest. Wolves keep vegetation along rivers and streams healthy by controlling the movement of animals like deer and elk. Wolves are responsible for culling weakened individuals from prey species such as rabbit, beaver and muskrats, and help to maintain a healthy population of all animals.
Minnesota is home to the only native wolf population in the lower 48 states. In the 20th century wolves were the only mammals deliberately driven to the brink of extinction by humans. Today our attitude towards wildlife has changed; outdoor enthusiasts outnumber hunters 4:1, so the existence of wolves and the possibility of seeing one in the wild is a significant draw for tourists. We need to set an example and show the rest of the nation that as Minnesotans we respect and value our canine friends and they mean more to us than just a skull and pelt.
Please join others who appreciate our wolf population in the quest to stop wolf hunting and trapping this fall. The law passed by the Minnesota Legislature to allow hunting/trapping is a “permissive” law that simply allows the DNR to have a hunt whenever they choose. The DNR does not have to hold the hunt. Contact the DNR and tell them you don’t want our wolves hunted or trapped: Tom.firstname.lastname@example.org (651) 296-5484, 500 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul, MN 55155-4040
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