Old Predators in a New World: Reintroduction of Grey Wolves
With the human growth and expansion there is less and less natural wilderness available for wild animals. There have been many species that have become endangered of extinction and through great efforts in education and changing of values their populations have come back from extinction. Many people have found that there is a greater reason to have these species involved with the natural world, that their extinction would have dire consequences on the natural order of things like population control of other animals. Though there are consequences to the reintroduction of natural predators to an unbalanced ecosystem. Humans have to learn to live with these animals that are trying to survive in a world dominated by industry and expansion. These animals are forced to either live by the laws of man or die, but the laws of man have absolutely no bearing on wild animals. There needs to be a compromise and with the advanced technology we have today there may be a solution for grey wolves.
The Birth of Fear
Of all mammals in the United States the grey wolf has been the most feared and misunderstood. Since the migration and settlement of the human population out west the wolf has been under attack. For the past 300 years they have been hunted and killed. However there was a time when they were companions. “Evidence from surviving primitive hunting societies indicates that wolves lived in harmony with early human cultures. Inuits and American plains Indians, for example, had no antipathy toward wolves and even studied them to learn hunting techniques. However, once agriculture and livestock breeding became widespread, ignorance, superstition and the human imagination transformed the wolf into a rapacious, bloodthirsty beast, a competitor instead of a companion, a threat to civilized human society.” Though once people started settling the lands of America the hatred towards wolves came with them and they immediately began killing all the wolves they saw out of fear for their families as well as their livestock. This fear was so widespread that “early in the 20th century the federal government began to fund and even undertake efforts to exterminate wolves, coyotes and other predators, systematically destroying the animals in the lower 48 states.”
“By the 1970s, wolves were absent from all former ranges save a small area in northern Minnesota, where a remnant population survived.” Only about 1000 wolves survived and thanks to the Endangered Species Act of 1973 wolves became the very first on the list. Since then the population has grown but reintroduction to former ranges has not been easy. Most of the areas where the wolves would thrive are owned by livestock ranchers whose sole livelihood depends on the survival of their livestock. The fear with wolves revolves around the fact that at times wolves have been known to kill livestock to survive. However, times have changed and the ranchers have a choice to put up fencing and take precautionary steps in reducing the chances in wolf attacks, but few want to deal with it and take advantage of the options that are available with cattle loss. For example, “to reduce the economic hardship that can result from the occasional instances when wolves kill livestock, Defenders of Wildlife(a wildlife organization), pays full market value to the livestock owner for each verified confirmed loss. Defenders established The Bailey Wildlife Foundation Wolf Compensation Trust in 1987, and to date has paid more than $650,000 to livestock producers, primarily for cattle and sheep losses.”
Reintroducing the Grey Wolf back into the wild wasn’t at all easy. Trying to capture a few wolves from the already few remaining wolves that existed was a hard task in of itself. Whenever the wolves heard the helicopters they of course would run and hide. So biologist captured some from a variety of wolf packs. “Capturing individuals out of different packs also cut down on the chances of inbreeding later on and increased (the) DNA pool right from the start.” “A typical pack of six in the wild will consume on average 800 pounds of meat per month. In Yellowstone, that would average out to two adult elk and maybe a small deer.” Many of the opponents to the reintroduction are big game hunters and livestock ranchers. They see wolves as a nuisance or competitor. The hunters don’t want to compete with a wolf over game and the ranchers don’t want to take the time to ward off potential predators They have become comfortable with not having to care about what they are doing and what effects it will have on the community. However they seem to think that the wolves will all of a sudden increase dramatically in numbers and overrun the deer and elk populations as well as kill off all of the livestock. These fears are completely unfounded. “In spite of ranchers' concerns (as well as hunters), the data thus far indicate that the wolves have remained largely within the reintroduction regions and have chosen to prey primarily on native deer and elk populations.”
A lot of work also goes into the education of locals in how to deal with an encounter with wolves. However, there is still a great deal of work ahead. Since the near extinction of the grey wolf the population has increased to approximately 5,000. There have also been some compromises in helping livestock owners build fencing to protect their livestock from wolves as well as “guard dogs, range riders, livestock relocation, carcass removal and alarm systems.” There is a centuries old technique that is being introduced to the United States which is “a traditional trick in eastern Europe and Russia for bagging wolves (which) has been the use of fladry (eg Musiani 2000). It is an unusual kind of fencing, makeshift and frail, but effective. Fladry, an east European term, is simply a string of closely spaced strips of cloth. The string is hung completely around some unsuspecting wolves and when the hunters are ready they drive the wolves into a bottleneck at one end where waiting guns shoot them. What is remarkable is that wolves never cross the line, even when there is nothing else there but fladry to prevent them; they seem too frightened to cross it, even if they are desperate to get out.”
The Human Impact
The human impact on the environment has had a much greater effect on the other species that have lived in America much longer than settlers have. Due to the inability or unwillingness to understand how each and every animal is part of a much larger organism that is called Earth many species are dying away never to return. We are only now just beginning to understand the roles many species play and how they are all connected. Much like the honey bee which is only now becoming a worry due to the major role it plays in pollination. Without the bee there is no pollination and therefore no plant production. The massive effect that will have on the food population for humans as well as animals is extensive. Or if the bat populations we killed off the mosquito population would grow out of control and diseases would become a very serious problem. If we only had that clear of a view for all of the animals we are killing directly as well as indirectly we would be doing things much different. The wolves played a major role in population control of deer, elk and bison. The wolves killed off the weak and sick which would in turn strengthen the herds. Humans on the other hand kill the biggest and best of the herds which allows for the weakest to survive and pollute the herd. With no natural predators like wolves the herds would be allowed to become increasingly weak and sickly. Ranchers as well as hunters don’t realize what a benefit it is to have the wolves. The wolves have the potential to increase profits as well as meat by killing off the weak and sick. Due to ignorance and unwillingness a species may become extinct.
Humans as a species may never know the extent of the damage done to the Earth and all of the species. Though there are many who are trying to better the world and save some species by bringing awareness to the people and standing up to corporation who are only interested in making money. It would take a great shift in values around the world to make a real difference. Even though that kind of task seems daunting there are people out there trying to make it happen. Our understanding has evolved and so has our ability to see the larger picture. But it is the smaller picture we still don’t understand. The intricacies of how we all fit together and how each species works together and impacts one another, this is what eludes us. It is because of the lack of understanding that we may just end up destroying some of the things that may have been our salvation. These endangered animals are a very small part in a learning process of coexistence and cohabitation.
Places for Wolves: A Blueprint for Restoration and Recovery in the Lower 48 States
Wolves Around The World: The Global Status of the Grey Wolf
Yellowstone Parks Wolf Reintroduction
CRS Report for Congress: Reintroduction of Wolves
Wolf Management: Non-lethal Control