The Challenge: How Can Wolves be Puzzling?

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*Editor’s Note:* This article was republished on the website of Wolf Education International with permission from the author. This article first appeared in Fall 2014 issue of Range Magazine, pg. 21.

By Dr. Earl Stahl

Conundrum (noun): Any puzzling question or problem (Webster’s New World Dictionary). But how can there be anything puzzling about wolves? Their impact on cattle and sheep ranchers, domestic pets, hunting dogs, horses and other livestock is well documented. Furthermore, outfitters, guides, and businesses have had to cope with diminished game herds due to wolf predation. Some of those affected have gone out of business, resulting in a negative impact on their local economies. Closing a business is not limited to outfitters and guides. A new Mexico cattle producer closed down in 2009 after experiencing two consecutive years of wolf predation. His financial loss for those two years exceeded $130,000.

So the question is repeated: How can there be anything puzzling about wolves? It turns out that livestock producers find themselves coping with mixed rules and signals from animal rights groups such as Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Center for Biological Diversity. The agenda of these groups and their supporters influences the policies and practices of federal agencies that include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On the one hand, the animal rights proponents insist that all animals be treated with respect and that any animal suffering must be minimized.

So far, so good. However, these groups conveniently ignore or rationalize the suffering that wolves inflict on livestock, big game animals, domestic pets and people. Such irrational thinking has been fostered by some FWS and state wildlife biologists who, in the past, have insisted that wolves feed only on cattle carcasses and the weak and sick big game animals. While this has been proven to be untrue, these false beliefs continue to fuel the pro-wolf groups and their money-raising efforts. This in turn presents a formidable challenge to those who understand the necessity of controlling the rapid growth of wolf populations.

The challenge extends beyond the lower 48 states. In Canada, for example, the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) has set rules for sheep producers. In the Jan. 23, 2014, issue of the Western Ag Reporter, Erika Bentsen notes that wolves didn’t read the code.

Another example comes from Italy. In 2007, a flock of sheep was attacks by wolves in Pavia province, south of Milan. The attack resulted in 39 dead or missing sheep in addition to others badly maimed or aborting. The shepherd, who has spent his whole life in breeding ovines, was reported to be considering giving up farming.

Yet another European experience with wolves has impacted France. In 2012, France recorded more than 6,000 wolf attacks on livestock and pets. Wildlife officials arranged a wolf hunt in 2013 to reduce the wolf population by 10 percent. However, no wolves were killed which has led officials to consider bringing in experienced wolf hunters from the United States and Canada.

One segment of the challenge to impacting public beliefs about wolves is the media. Like it or not, the media influences public perceptions. In Wisconsin, where I live, the local media outlets (TV, radio, newspapers) give little attention to the impact of wolves. An exception was a recent front-page article in the Appleton, Wis., Post-Crescent that questioned the state reimbursements to owners of hounds who had lost dogs to or had dogs injured by wolves. The article ignored the root cause of these attacks – that being the overpopulation of wolves in the state.

It is obvious that wolf-control advocates must work to keep educating the public about wolves. Ted Lyon, co-author of “The Real Wolf,” says, “Keep up the fight for the truth.”

Earl Stahl lives in Neenah, Wis.