Alaskan Wolf Hunting
An argumentative essay.
The wolf; origin of the haunting howl at moonlight and derivation of childhood nightmares, he has been an object of fear ever since humanity existed, before America was discovered, before Ireland was founded, even before Jesus Christ was born – mentioned in the Bible multiple times as bringers of destruction or pillage (New Testament Bible, John 10:12, Jeremiah 5:6, Mathew 7:15). This fear is terribly unfounded. Why, the household dog holds a more dangerous position than does a wolf. But fear nevertheless reigned over much of the populace not so very long ago. One might ask themselves where this dread of wolves originally came from, but to answer that we would have to look deep inside the human mind to explain why we fear anything and all of that which we do not know. Chief Dan George once said, “What you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.” (qtd. in McIntyre 1995)
Coversely, fear of wolves in more recent years has dissipated slightly, but unfortunately due to advancing intelligence and technology it has evolved into something even worse; absence of importance. Because of this public indifference, those few persons who still seek to vanquish the entire population of wolves have full custody of nearly every location where wolves still run un-endangered. It is the problem that is happening in Alaska this very day.
Why do we strive to hunt the wolf to near extinction, and then, after succeeding in the lower 48, continue to search out their families in Alaska and persist towards their slow decrease? Once again to answer that one would ask why we kill at all. Why do we feel the need to dominate all that we see, to destroy and control and build to create our own immaculate existence that we now live in today? Is the wolf really a problem or is he just another speed bump on our massacring road of obliteration? The wolf had once lived peacefully with humans many years ago, why has it changed now? Perhaps it us that has changed, or perhaps we have just forgotten what the wolf is.
In 1758 the Swedish scientist Carl von Linne first classified the wolf. They are a member of the Carnivora order and the Canidae family, which means that they are wild, carnivorous dogs. Canis lupus is their proper scientific name, meaning ‘wolf dog’ or ‘gray wolf’ in Greek.
Wolves have large pointed ears that stand erect, and thick furry coats that keep them warm and insulated during the cold temperate. They have one of the widest ranges of coat color of any mammal in the world, varying from pure black to pure white, natural red to a mottled yellow. They have long muzzles and extremely powerful jaws that are capable of generating 1,500 psi, ideal for crushing bones and grinding meat.
Wolves are community creatures with strong societal ranks based on rules and family. They live in packs that vary drastically in number, from as little as three to as many as thirty, all working together to insure survival and peace within pact. They are not very unlike people in the way that they share “such characteristics as pair-bonding, extended family clans, group cooperation to achieve goals, communal care and training of young, group ceremonies, leadership hierarchies, and perhaps most notably, the sense of kinship that causes individuals to share food with others.” (McIntyre 18, 1996) Like a human family with a father and a mother there is an alpha pair, the highest-ranking male and female who each take care of various tasks within the pack and keep everyone else safe and in line. They are the leaders, the guiders, and caretakers of their family. Without them the pack would falter and die for lack of direction.
In the wolf pack the raising and caring of pups seems to be what each member lives for. Birth is a festive occasion and wolves recognize it, just as humans do. Soon the pups grow into young adults, fully integrated into the packs system and working together in order to survive and assist survival of the family. Without the cooperation of each member the pack would surely fail. They stay together, play, howl and live together, and, when they are hungry, they kill together.
Wolves are carnivorous animals, and as such they need to kill to live. Their diet consists mainly of ungulates such as deer, caribou, elk or moose, but they can, and typically do, eat anything that they can get their jaws around. Fish, frogs, birds, rabbits and porcupines, they have even been known to munch on insects, shellfish and berries.
Their long legs are like spring-loaded stilts, propelling them swiftly over open terrain and allowing them advanced maneuvering within heavily forested areas. According to an old Russian saying, the wolf is kept fed by it’s feet, and as such they are very quick on their paws, which are twice the size of a normal dog’s. These paws are not only useful during snowfall – when they are used to distribute their weight out equally like snowshoes – but they also allow larger claws, which are used for traction, like cleats, to dig into the earth and further assist their running speed. It is this very speed and amazing endurance that the wolf uses to chase down prey, tiring a young calf or an old bull to exhaustion.
Yet even with all the predatory equipment the wolf must search high and low for a suitable prey specimen, and it has been estimated by wolf biologists that only about 4% to 10% of a wolf pack's attempts to catch prey are successful. (Mech 34, 1988) Wolves, just as all wild animals, are opportunists. They take the most convenient way and do not push themselves beyond their limits if there is an easier method. They target the youngest, the oldest, or the sickest prey available, weeding out the inadequate specimens and leaving only the strongest and healthiest animals to continue reproducing. Yet even a feeble caribou can run faster than a wolf, and is ferocious in close contact. A well-aimed kick from such an ungulate could crack a wolf’s skull. To make a successful kill wolves must pursue prey for often many hours, or even days. Wolves have been observed chasing prey for over thirteen miles, and other times attacking them for over thirty hours before finally coming out victorious. It is only by working together in a functioning group that wolves are ever successful on a hunt. Without the cooperation of each member the pack would surely fail.
Throughout all the seasons the pack assists one another, through the anxiety and the happiness, through hard times and good. When a pack member is injured they do not leave him behind, but instead wait for him to catch up with them on their romps, and when a mother wolf is incapable of exiting the den to hunt, the pack brings her food. Whether some may leave or some may die, a pack is like a family, and like a family they stick together to continue the generations and legacy that is the wolf.
Because of their humanistic characteristic of togetherness, determination, and family affection, there was a period of time when wolves were recognized by humans as friendly, wise, and admirable, and the relationship they held with them was different than what it is today. Many years ago, dating as far back as the quote-unquote “Ice Age”, man and Nature were just getting acquainted, and each recognized that both needed to kill to survive. They were equals in this sense, both striving to live together in a delicate balance. Humans, their skills not instinctive like most of the wolf’s, began to learn from these creatures, watching them as they hunted and stalked. Native Americans, valuing the knowledge of Nature, would dress themselves in the skins of wolves and stalk prey on all fours sometimes so as to conceal their true identity (see Figure 1). A strong deer would only pay a real wolf a passing glance, and so the hunters were able to get close enough to prey without them aware of a human presence.
A member of the Shoshone tribe explained how his ancestors would “…hunt antelope by emulating the wolf, the master hunter of the plains.” (Baldes 3) He went on to clarify that the hunters would watch and use the same tactics that a wolf did when crawling up to antelope, attracting the curious creatures towards them by waving pieces of cloth or fur, just as wolves would wag their tails. The wolf became a Native American symbol of cunning, strength, knowledge and camaraderie, and they respected the wolf just as they respected their own people.
Even in Europe wolves and man were not always enemies. Ancient Roman cultures revered the wolf for his strength and astuteness, generating such legends as Romulus and Remus where two young brothers were raised by a she-wolf (see Figure 2). Carveth Read of the University of London once published a book that stated the early humans so much akin to the wolf that they should be given the scientific name Lycopithecus, which is Greek for ‘wolven-ape’. “Man is so more like a wolf…than he is like any other animal.” In fact, so close grew humans with the wild dogs that they began to raise personal bonds and establish intimate relationships with them. Some wolves also grew close to humans, finding it more comfortable to live with them than the winters alone and were easily domesticated over time. Humans used them to hunt, and protect, and for companionship.
However, this harmony did not last forever, and tension between species grew clearer first in Europe than anywhere else on earth. Through the domestication of the wolf into the family dog, humans began to realize that they could tame other animals around them and use them to their own benefit.
This led to agriculture, which led to permanent dwellings, and eventually urbanization. People started laying claim to the land and all that lived upon it. Some people started raising sheep and cattle while others continued to hunt for meat. The problem was that other predators did not discriminate between wild prey and domestic prey. This in turn led to the greedy choice that if predators such as the Wolf were wiped out, the farmer would have an easier time keeping his produce and the hunter would have more wild ungulates all to himself. This is how humanity betrayed a friend and teacher.” (Lupus)
Humans, after having taken what they needed from their relationship with the wolf, then cast them aside and treated them as nothing but insignificant pests. They forgot the ways of the wild and of animals, and began to practice killing anyone who remained a lover of nature, claiming them witches and pagans. Many people were burned at the stake simply for loving life, and then the attention turned to wolves.
Wolves no longer became a symbol of freedom and magnificence, but of horror and slaughter. With their natural prey numbers lessening, wolves had nowhere to turn to but the domesticated and slow-witted sheep and cattle that humans now cultivated. Pictures of the bloody animal carcasses fixed themselves in human minds and caused them to seek revenge for their lost crops. During the Bubonic plague fears rose even higher as wolves were spotted eating the carcasses of previously killed townsfolk. (Benson 146) Countless scores of people died during the disease and their numbers were growing too numerous for the remaining townsfolk to bury. “Many bodies were interred in mass graves, overflowing with dead, or dumped into nearby rivers. Domesticated cats and dogs, along with wolves, dug dead out of shallow graves…” (Benson 147) This occurrence was one of the first that sparked the infamous rumors of wolves attacking humans and preying on small children. Tales such as Little Red Riding Hood depict the wolf as a sexual predator and a representation of a spoiler of all that is pure.
Soon an all-out battle against wolves was in motion, yet it was more than a battle or a war, it was a killing-spree. A crusade. Nearly every country in Europe sought to exterminate the wolf, and set up bounties as reward for killing them. The Scottish king Dorvadilla stated that an ox be payment to anyone who killed a wolf. In the thirteenth century Henry III gave grants to any ship if they promised they would eradicate the wolf wherever they sailed. (McIntyre 41, 1995)
Wolves were the perfect symbol for all that humanity hated, of all things that were not refined or controlled. They was something men felt they needed to kill in order to protect their family. In Europe, the nations had already destroyed much of the wild wolf’s homeland, burning the forests and scouring the wilderness for any sign of uprising of feral audacity. When the pilgrims migrated to America they brought the fear with them. Native Americans, at peace with the life and wildness that surrounded them, had successfully lived with wolves for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the pilgrims, but these new colonists could not change who they were. They could not co-exist with the natural world; and were horrified by the suggestion. “Europeans brought with them Old World attitudes and ethics towards wildlife and wilderness. Wild areas and wild animals had to be controlled and dominated before the New World would be safe for settlement.” (McIntyre 16, 1996)
Here is where even more violent crimes against wolves were committed. Wolves were destroyed by any and every means possible. “Never before has one species declared such total war on a fellow species. Hamstrung wolves were thrown alive to packs of dogs. Pups were yanked from their dens with baited fishhooks. One community even used gray wolf carcasses to pave a road.” (McIntyre preface, 1995). Wolves were not even hunted because they killed livestock anymore; they were killed because they were wolves. Trappers, who in 1850 when the beaver industry crashed, turned to wolf pelts for their money. Buffalo hunters in the 1870s soon found themselves with less profit as soon as buffalo numbers began to decrease in rapid succession, and they also turned to ‘wolfing’.
Hired assassins, called ‘Wolfers’, were paid off to go out and kill as many wolves as they could. Historian Edward Curnow, in his study of the Montana wolf extermination, estimated that Wolfers killed 100,000 wolves annually in the territory during the 1870 to 1877 period alone. Their barbaric and often sloppily completed methods only increased the rate at which they killed. The purposefully cruel methods in which they killed wolves was appalling. They would take week-old puppies, hang them from trees, and use them as bait to capture the mothers who ran to save them (see Figure 3). They would tie ropes around a wolf’s neck, attach them to two different saddles, and then run two horses in opposite directions so that the wolf was torn apart. Wolves were often dragged to death while tied to the saddles of horses (see Figure 4), were torn apart by teams of dogs, and were poisoned cruelly by the thousands with Compound 1080 (see Figure 5). For a time Strychnine was used wantonly and without regulation, killing thousands of untargeted animals in the process as cowboys and Wolfers lined any carcass they could find with the poison in hopes that wolves would prey on it and die.
This incessant slaughter continued well on through the 1900s, when U.S Fish and Wildlife Services destroyed over 69,786 wolves. That does not include the wolves that were killed and never registered, or the wolves culled by the U.S Forest Service or even the National Park Service. It was the last major cull of wolves in the United States as the first half of the twentieth century arrived. In 1973 the Endangered Species Act enacted protection of the wolf, finally listing it as an endangered species and giving it the safeguard it needed in order to survive on earth.
The lust for the destruction of wolves died down as rising majority of populations began to realize they missed hearing the wolf’s lonely cries echoing through the forests. But they realized this only too late. The only remaining wolves in the United States were stragglers in sparse parts of the Northern states such as Michigan. Even parts of Canada were completely devoid of wolves. And, though some parties would like to think otherwise, it is highly improbable that wolves will ever regain even 50% of their original range. The days of the wolf is long gone, and humans, not so unlike the proverbial virus, have destroyed what once was and taken over, leaving no room for the return of such a wild animal. During all the previously mentioned, Alaska’s wolf population was quite unstinted by the horrors that occurred in the lower 48. Holding approximately 0.1 humans per acre, Alaska held more room than any other state and held less of a chance for humans and wolves to cross paths. This resulted in fewer complaints filed about their ‘dastardly deeds,’ and so the ransack for their destruction was not taken into such vigorous action. Though there was still fur trapping and the occasional ‘revenge kill’ for compensation of lost stock, wolves there were fairly safe from the destruction that their mainland counterparts had to endure. It truly was The Last Frontier.
Nevertheless, as nothing lasts forever, neither did this refuge for wolves. Debates began in Alaska in November of 1992 when the Division of Wildlife Conservation and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game suggested a system to increase the state's caribou and moose populations through means of a wolf cull. Though wolves were stated endangered in the lower 48 states, they were merely threatened in Alaska and in an effort to remove 80% of the wolf population from designated areas, between 350 to 400 wolves were killed annually each year until 1996, upon which the people of Alaska voted against the same day aerial hunting plan. This law was challenged multiple times by sport hunters and their associates, the Alaskan government, and multiple times were they both thrown down by the majority rules. In November 2002 the Alaskan people again voted against measure 6, which was another attempt by the government to restore the practice of aerial wolf hunting. (Deatherage 2005)
But despite the democratic opinions against the act, on November 5 of 2003 the newly elected governor Frank Murkowski finally proclaimed a “biological emergency” and a cull was instantly permitted. Democracy was overturned, and we learned that it matters not what the people as a whole think, but only what the few subjective personages in charge believe.
Due to Frank Murkowski and his personally elected board of sport hunters and extremists, it is now open and acceptable for wolves to be shot by plane (bullet wounds which are never instantly lethal because they are executed so imprecisely), or run down to exhaustion by plane and then shot. Both males and females are adequately being culled, and pups are no exception. The pups who are not intentionally shot down by these snipers are often left alone to starve to death without the shelter of their parents, as hunters are not encouraged to even locate the pack den. All this, for a not even justifiable “biological emergency”.
If there is indeed a biological emergency, one would be curious to ask as to why the wolves, the natural predators that have been preying on moose and caribou for thousands of years without causing an unhealthy decline before, are being punished for it? Would it not be instead a problem caused by the more recent and unnatural mass migration of humans into Alaska? Perhaps we do not comprehend that the world cannot sustain the growing number of humans forever; moose are not perpetually expanding creatures that reproduce every minute like humans. Their numbers will decline in the presence of our pleasure hunting.
There is no founded proof at all conducted by any liable researcher that supports the assumption of wolves being the cause of moose and caribou declination. There is, however, a commissioned report written by Dr. Victor Van Ballenberghe – a moose expert – that was supported by 123 scientists, that states that the aerial gunning down of wolves in Alaska “is scientifically flawed.” (Ballenberghe 9) The Yukon in Canada, when faced with the same problem of dwindling caribou numbers, reacted in the same outrageous way that Alaska is now. Disregarding public outrage, nearly 40% of the wolf population had been destroyed before the Yukon finally came to their senses. They realized predator control was not working, and by scientific rule it would not ever work. The World Wildlife Fund of Canada declared that the only safe conservation route was to stop large-scale wolf-killing programs altogether. They then recalled hunting licenses and barred the practice of sport hunting for a period of time until the caribou population was back to normal. No humans died, no families starved for lack of their precious caribou meat, and wolves no longer suffered unjustly for crimes they did not commit.
In an example given by wolf biologist David L. Mech, wolves have a succession rate of 4.6% when hunting moose, making that less than 1 kill to every 20 attempts. (Mech 34, 1988) According to the Alaskan state website there are approximately 144,000-166,000 moose in the entire state, and only 5,900-7,200 wolves. If there are 23 times as many moose as there are wolves then why is this so-called biological emergency being taken out on them? Are they being held responsible for killing 23 moose each, every year? This is absurd, as there are many more factors to plug in before rising to this conclusion. In Minnesota for example, where wolf populations are as healthy as Alaska, 15,000 deer die each year from car-related accidents, and 60,000 die each year from predators that are not wolves. (Mech 181, 1992) Back in Alaska, moose deaths due to bear predation are far more common than deaths due to wolf predation, usually by a factor of 9 to 1. (Bryson) Even a wounded moose could take days for a wolf to pull down, and when one is eventually killed it can feed an entire pack for up to a week. Wolves kill less than 1% percent of their surrounding prey, while humans kill more than 10% every year. Wolves kill because they must, humans kill for trophies. While wolves go after the weakest and sickest prey to keep the continuing generations healthy, humans kill the strongest and most beautiful specimens, leaving the weakest behind to reproduce.
Animal populations of all kinds rise and decline in natural correspondence. If wolf numbers grow too large they subsequently prey on more moose, and moose numbers naturally decline, thus leaving wolves with less food, resulting in their natural decline of numbers. This temporary shortage of wolves allows their prey to replenish their numbers once more, and so continues the infamous ‘circle of life’. This cycle has been efficiently sustained ever since time began, never once has any species fallen to extinction or endangered numbers because of natural predation. While wolves are able to regulate their hunting, humans are not, and they continue to hunt well after species populations are unstable and go even further to blame the obvious declining numbers on anything other than themselves. At any rate, declining numbers in moose and caribou is not even the problem as Alaska has a more than a healthy population of both throughout the entire state. Karen Deatherage, The Alaskan Program Associate for Defenders of Wildlife agrees.
The state is misleading citizens when it claims it needs to rebuild moose and caribou populations to provide food for Alaskans. The facts show the Alaska Board of Game is unnecessarily trying to inflate moose and caribou populations to historical high numbers, which will ultimately re-sult in the same eruptions and subsequent crashes that occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s. There are nearly 175,000 moose and more than 1 million caribou in Alaska. No areas exist where moose or caribou are biologically threatened or endangered.
A “biological emergency” this is not. But, for the sake of argument, if there were a dangerous decline in prey populations, it is highly improbable that wolves were the cause of it. Humans are responsible for all the seriously declining numbers and disappearances of species. Even the Biblical Flood that killed off the dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts could be pinned on humans, for it was their wickedness that made it possible in the first place. Now according to the 2001-2002 Alaska Big Game Harvest Summary, hunters killed 4,197 bear, 6,575 moose, 17,547 deer, and 1,741 wolves. 30% of the wolf population was destroyed during the period without the aid of aerial culling. With the estimated number of 900 wolves intended to die this winter due to the aerial gunning toll, more than one third of Alaska’s entire wolf population will be wiped out. That is a biological emergency; the large scale “surplus killing” of wolves who are in no need to be killed. Karen once again sheds some light on this subject.
The numbers of wolves slaughtered from aircraft will only increase un-less this gross mismanagement of the state’s wildlife resources is kept in check by the Federal Airborne Hunting Act. Already the Alaska Board of Game has tripled the area covered by the aerial killing program in 2005 to a total of 30,000 square miles of land. If not reversed, this decision is a death sentence for nearly 2,500 wolves over the next five years. Slaughter of this magnitude has just one purpose; to radically and illegally alter the ecological balance of large parts of Alaska.
But Alaskan governmental officials refuse to listen to the democratic system, the pleas of ecologists and biologists nationwide, the outrage of their own people, and even their own previously enacted laws. The Federal Airborne Hunting Act was passed by the same Alaskan government in 1971 that prohibited the aerial hunting of wolves. "The Airborne Hunting Act doesn't let you mow down predators from the air just to radically reshape the entire wildlife profile of a whole area," says Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. Basically, the Alaskan government has decided to refuse to listen to reason by finding a loophole in the 1996 laws.
Once again, the human race sees in the wolf what they chose to ignore in themselves, and since it’s easier to murder a family of animals than it is to think about one’s own tribulations, wolf numbers continue to ebb. We have not even learned from the mistakes we thought we would never repeat in the 1800s. For countless centuries we have pursued the wolf in hopes it would be exterminated; we removed it from Europe, from Mexico, the lower 48 states, and now, in the last place in the United States were wolves have never been afraid, we seek to tear them down again. Will the human mind never be at peace until each and every beast is under its control, until the entire world is void of any wild thing or instance that God ever created? According to Rebecca Postanowicz the wolf used to have the most extensive range of any fur-bearing mammal.
One asks another time why we pursue the wolf in our ongoing, insatiable need to kill? Why do we think we need all the moose and caribou for ourselves? Why do we think we need them at all? Humans over the years have grown progressively more and more intellectual, wielding technology that people years ago would not have even dreamed of. Surely with our innate and God-given power to reflect and manipulate we are able to survive without shooting our own food. We are of higher intelligence than we were twenty years ago, and increasing numbers of beef and domesticated industries insures us that the Unites States will not go to hunger if a few hunters stopped being trigger-happy for a few years. Wolves, however, have no choice but to eat their naturally surrounding prey. They can’t hop in a car and drive to a McDonalds.
The war against the wolf was one of the most successful government programs ever initiated. Frank Murkowski and his hunter buddies are trying to continue this practice in Alaska, and it is not acceptable. They are unnaturally boosting moose and caribou populations for their own pleasurable killing sprees, destroying the one animal, the one creature that we befriended so many years ago in the wild. Before hunters and fanatics strove to eradicate the entire wolf population, they were our friends. If Alaskan officials don’t see what they are doing it may be too late to stop them, and Alaska may find itself just another state that aided in the inevitable extinction of the wolf. The Last Frontier, just as Washington and Texas and Maine and Florida before it, may turn out to be nothing but The Last Lost Hope.
- Alaska’s Virtual Library and Digital Archives. 22 January 2005. FAQ Alaska. 22 January 2005. http://sled.alaska.edu
- Ballenberghe, Victor. Biological Standards and Guidelines for Predator Control in Alaska: Application of the National Research Council's Recommendations. National Research Council, 1997.
- Benson, Ann. The Plague Tales. New York: Delecorte Press, 1997.
- Bruckner, L. Kimberly. Alaskan Wolf Plan Packs Plenty of Controversy. Diss. University of Colorado, 1994. Colorado: Boulder, 1993.
- Bryson, George. Moose Master. 1 August, 2004. http:// www.wolfsongalaska.org/pred_moose_ballenberghe.htm
- Busch, H. Robert. The Wolf Almanac. New York: New York, 1995.
- Deatherage, Karen. “Predator-killing Programs Don’t Work for Alaskans.” Fairbanks Daily News Minor 5 December. 2004: A1+
- Deatherage, Karen. “More Moose or More Wolves?” Fairbanks Daily News Minor 10 February. 2005.
- Lupus, Ebon. Wolf Rivals. 22, January 2005. http://wolfrivals.org/
- Mech, David. The Arctic Wolf: Living With the Pack. Minnesota: Stillwater, 1988.
- Mech, David. Trends and Management of Wolf-livestock Conflicts in Minnesota. U.S Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service Resource Publication, 1992.
- Postanowicz, Rebecca. Lioncrusher’s Domain. 22 January 2005. http:// www.lioncrusher.com/animal.asp?animal=35
- Read, Carveth. Man and His Superstitions. Kessinger Publishing, 1927.
- Rick McIntyre. The War against The Wolf. Minnesota: Stillwater, 1995.
- Rick McIntyre. A Society of Wolves. Minnesota: Stillwater, 1996.
- The New Testament Bible. Humphrey Milford, gen. ed. New York: Oxford University, 1985.
- United States. United States Department of the Interior National Park Service in the Alaska Region. Ecology and Demography of Wolves. Alaska: Charles Rivers National Preserve, 2002.