Protecting Wolves
November 1, 2010

 photo courtsey of J. Koutrakis

When my kids and Comet were little, we would spend hours each night after dinner reading until bedtime. There were stories about Lowly Worm and the adventures of the Berenstain Bears. There were endless books on cars and trucks, and books on elephants and dogs and sheep and every other type of animal. I must say I took liberties now and then, adding my opinion, tweaking the tales as I thought necessary. Two of these folktales are Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Pigs. I not only had a problem with Little Red Riding Hood  walking all alone through the dark woods, but I never felt right about her blaming the Big Bad Wolf for so much wrong. I even had a problem with calling him “big” and “bad,” instead of “misunderstood.” And in the story of The Three Little Pigs—why did those cute little pigs taunt the wolf outside their homes?  People have had a complicated love-hate relationship with wolves for centuries, but today, wolves are in trouble, and they need our help and understanding more than ever before.

Powerful and majestic animals, wolves are ancestors of our own companion dogs. But unlike our best friends, wolves have never been domesticated. People have always had some difficulty coexisting with wolves. You see, as people settled in America and moved west, they developed vast areas of land for farming and ranching. Animals in the path of this development were forced to look elsewhere for new homes and food sources. But with so much human expansion, some animals were squeezed out of the amount of space they needed to live and roam. Food sources, both plants and prey animals, became affected by the human encroachment. In other words, the actions of people resulted in an upset of the natural ecosystem and food chain.

Wolves began to move into space also occupied and worked by people. Wolves are carnivores, or meat-eaters, who will eat a variety of animals, including larger mammals such as deer and elk. But, cattle and sheep also fit the bill and make easy targets for wolves who are hungry and need to feed their pups. This behavior obviously didn’t sit well with ranchers trying to make a living, so people began to kill off the wolves---and, unfortunately, they were successful. By the 1930s wolves were hunted almost to the brink of extinction.

Over the years, many people began to realize that eradicating wolves was a terrible mistake. Some thought that killing off any species was morally wrong. Instead, they believed that people needed to learn how to coexist with all animals. Others recognized that wolves played a vital role in keeping other populations in the ecosystem in check, such as elk herds. Additionally, many believed wolves were interwoven with America’s heritage and deserved respect. Finally, in 1973, both gray and red wolves were given protection under the newly enacted federal Endangered Species Act. This regulation was invoked to help protect animals on the brink of extinction and restore them to healthy populations.

Happily, since the enactment of federal protection, some wolf populations, mostly in the West have begun to make comebacks. However, once again, people, especially ranchers and farmers, are having trouble coexisting with wolves.  There is much help available from wildlife biologists and conservation groups, who understand that people and wolves need to coexist. There are many different methods being tried out to help ranchers—some with great success—to see that both people and wolves can live side-by-side. But some people would like to see wolves de-listed as an endangered species, offering them less protection. Some people think the best way to deal with wolves is to shoot them, even from an airplane or helicopter, or to poison pup dens. The best way to deal with wolves is to learn to live with them, protect them, and offer them the respect that all wildlife deserves.

Three Things You Can Do:

READ! There is a lot of information available about wolves. Read books, magazines, conservation society websites, and newspapers. The more you know, the more you can share. If we educate ourselves and others about wolves we can find solutions.

WRITE! Write letters to newspapers and TV stations asking them to shine a light on the wolf situation by reporting current events involving wolves. Since the interactions between people and wolves don’t occur frequently in our part of the country, many people are unaware of the plight wolves now face. Also, write to our U.S. senators and representatives and ask them to support any legislation that protects wolves and also keeps wolves on the Endangered Species List.

HOST A WOLF FUNDRAISER! Support conservation groups that work tirelessly to help wolves. Be creative! Hand out home-made wolf bookmarks or throw a party where everyone invited brings a picture of a wolf they made, or a modified fairytale they write. Have fun while doing something good for the wolves.

Read More:

The Endangered Species Act

Facts about Wolves


Ideas to help Wolves

National Geographic