Who's afraid the big bad wolf. Legislators?

Who's afraid the big bad wolf. Legislators?

by Doyle Ranstrom on Jul 18, 2021

Recently, a friend of mine in Big Sky, Mt was in his back yard and looked up and to his surprise, a wolf walked by. Was he in any danger?  No.  From 1900-2000 there were zero reported deaths to humans in the US by wolves.  By comparison, 30-50 people are killed each year by dogs with a range of 6,000-13,000 people hospitalized annually due to dog bites.  

My friend was very lucky to see a wolf.  This is for two reasons.  One, there are less than 6,000 wolves living in the bottom US 48 states.  Two, wolves were killed to almost their extinction by the early 1990s.  Things began to get better for the wolves beginning in 1973 with the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and subsequent listing of gray wolves on the endangered species list in 1978.  Since then, wolves have been making somewhat of a comeback.  

But they are not out of the woods yet, no pun intended, [ok pun intended].  This is one of the reasons I have changed the stories I tell my grandchildren.  

  • For example, I now tell my grandchildren that while the owner was south for the winter, a wolf wandered into a door left open.  At that time, the lady's granddaughter, who had left the door open previously, stopped in to check on the cabin.  She was wearing her red jacket.  Seeing wolf, she chased him out the door.  That's the PG version.  In reality, she called a local hunter and now the poor wolf is a rug in a nearby lodge.  

  • Or, I now tell my grandchildren, a wolf chased two little pigs out of their straw and then twig houses. Makes sense, wolves have to eat.  The pigs ran to their smarter older brother's stone house which the wolf could not blowdown.  The wolf then made a bad lifestyle choice as he tried to jump down the chimney.  Unfortunately, he landed in a pot of boiling water and is now in a burn unit in a local zoo.  Sadly, due to sustained injuries, the female wolves no longer find him of interest.  

Though research has documented that wolves are an important part of a healthy ecosystem, there continue to be attempts to eradicate them.  Eradicate is a different word for killing them all.  

If you do understand the importance of wolves to a healthy ecosystem, I invite you to watch two short YouTube videos. One is entitled "How Wolves Change Rivers" and the second is entitled "Wolves saved Yellowstone National Park - The Northern Range".  In an interesting informative manner, each video explains and documents how the reintroduction of wolves led to a healthy eco-system in the Park.  They are done in such a manner that even most members of State Legislators should be able to follow along without getting confused. 

But State Legislators and Governors do seem to be confused about wolves and healthy ecosystems.  

  • Earlier this year In Wisconsin, the state had a legal wolf hunt which reduced the wolf population by almost 20% in three days.  

    • By the way, according to Wisconsin state agencies, deer harvests are meeting or exceeding quotas.

  • In Idaho, the Governor just signed a bill enabling 90% of the wolf population to be killed.  Sponsors said it was to protect livestock along with deer and elk populations.  

    • For the record, a May 2021 article in Outside found that from 2018 thru 2020, the three-year average of confirmed wolf kills of cows and sheep in Idaho was 84 per year.  This is out of 2.7 million sheep of cattle and sheep in Idaho or about 0.00428% of the state’s livestock.  By comparison, Idaho loses about 40,000 cattle annually to non-predatory causes like disease, birthing complications, and inclement weather.

    • The same article stated there are more elk in Idaho now than when wolves were introduced in 1997.

  • In Montana, the Governor recently signed legislation that increased the number of wolves that can be killed in a variety of manners and it allows hunters to be reimbursed for kills by private funds.  

    • Note:  According to a March article in the Missoula Current, retired employees of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, former FWP commissioners along with other biologists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent a letter asking the Governor to kill the bill that seeks to increase opportunities to kill, in potentially gruesome ways, wolves and grizzly bears in Montana.  “We find these bills to be based on misinformation about wildlife, misinformation about the effects of predators on prey species, and a lack of understanding about the complexity of natural environments in Montana. Detailed wildlife policy should be science-based and set by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission with the input of the public, not by the legislature,”

All of the above is consistent with a 2010 USDA study which found that with a National cattle inventory of about 94 million, the mortality was almost 4 million.  Of confirmed deaths, deaths from wolves were 8,100 [0.2%].  By comparison, deaths by dogs were 21,800 [0.5%] or well over twice as many.  Both are statistically insignificant compared to non-predatory causes of death.  At the same time, ranchers who share space and land with all types of predatory animals need to be compensated for their losses and perhaps even compensated for being on the front lines of protecting our ecosystem.

So, who is the big bad wolf today?  It’s state legislators and governors who ignore science and scientific research. They will not only decimate the wolf population but also damage a recovering ecosystem.  I would suggest this will ultimately affect tourism numbers and property values.  The reason?  What makes you smile and want to visit.  An elected official trapping and killing a wolf or hearing a story about seeing a wolf walk by. 

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