Saving wolves

I realize this isn’t a California thing but I’m sure it’s still a topic of interest.

They’ve got this petition thing going about a Michigan bill threatening the survival of local wolves.

You know what? Let’s be fair and look at this step-by-step.

Why would anybody shoot a wolf?

Profit or fear. Or both. If it’s not for wolf pelts, it’s for the threat they pose to livestock. Doing it for profit is stupid. I admit that I love the feel of fur but that’s why we have super awesome synthetic fur that even experts can’t tell apart from real fur without taking it apart. Fear is something that I can understand. I don’t agree that shooting wolves is the solution, but I understand that when people are trying to make a living off of something vulnerable to attack by wild predators, they can feel very antagonistic to wolves.

Step one. Let us not demonize people who have legitimate reasons to dislike wolves. They are not bloodthirsty if they’re not shooting wolves for the sake of killing. They are doing something that I call Looking Out For Their Interests and we all do it. Also, wolves and dogs are different, so forget about that shooting-the-dog analogy. Those who insist on slandering strangers should at least attempt to sound intelligent—not brainwashed—and take it easy on English grammar (eliminating excess phrasing such as “could potentially” might help but not much). Instead of flying off into picket-and-sign world, let us take a moment and remember that there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed.

Step two. Let us fill out a bit of background for the problem. It is not healthy for wolves to be hunted, obviously, but it is also not healthy for them to switch from wild prey to domestic prey. The whole wolf-in-the-flock thing is not good for the flock owners and it is not good for the wolves. It is a LOSE-LOSE situation and so far, I only see people coming up with one-way solutions. Good to see people putting their higher intelligence to work. [sarcasm here]

Step three. Let us determine the real problems.

Poachers are theoretically much easier to deal with: crack down on real fur and replace it with quality synthetic fur. Ranchers are more difficult. The problem is that wolves, like many wild animals, are opportunistic feeders. Out of all the things from which they can derive nutrients, they will pick the easiest one to catch.

We’re dealing with animal behavior, wildlife management, public lands management, encroachment on territory, economics, et cetera. We hear about people getting their houses foreclosed and being unable to find somewhere else to go: it probably isn’t much easier to relocate people with herds of livestock, which need lots of grazing area to keep happy. The wolves were there first, and then the people settled there before anyone knew enough to realize what a bad idea that would be. Maybe there isn’t really a better place to go, anyway.

Wild animals don’t understand things like borders. Wolves have territories that they enforce but unless the climate in a certain place is completely uninhabitable for wolves, they’re not going to understand that rancher land is No Wolf’s Land. That’s the problem. We have people raising large herds of ideal prey (domesticated and unfit for survival on their own) right next to wolves’ native lands. It’s not possible to not get problems. The government can uproot a people and reassign their territory but animals don’t use contracts and deeds.

Step four. We need a working solution. All we’ve got right now is sticking “problem” wolves in a zoo and hoping the others don’t learn to do the same. The situation is set up so that there is no way that a wolf that knew a thing about livestock being accessible would choose not to go for it. Wolves are smart. At the same time, it’s not good for the wolf population to habitually go for such easy prey. We like our wolves healthy, right?

I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe we should play the natural selection game and breed domestic livestock that are also fit to defend themselves from wolves. Wolves keep elk herds healthy by culling them so maybe we could let them do the same for us. The thing is that people are so absorbed in numbers that it freaks them out when there’s a wild card messing with their head count. Plus, livestock has been bred to be so manageable that if ranchers just sat back and ate their losses, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost everything in a few years.

As a founder of CAW, I really want to emphasize that animal welfare is not as simple as “We can’t risk any hurt to nonhumans.” I’m not saying that the picture isn’t black and white. Shooting the wolves is not fair for them but telling ranchers to suck it up is not fair for them, either. I believe that there is no gray area between right and wrong but I also believe that a win-win solution isn’t always feasible. Make no mistake: whatever the best solution is, it’s not going to be invented in an hour by a young blogger. This is kind of an odd post in that I’m not telling you to do this or to do that, but to think for yourself and not sign everything if the only reason is that it has fiery language.


Fladry, or the practice of hanging little flags strung up in a line at wolf eye-level to create a visual barrier has historically been very effective in Eastern Europe, although it’s not established how well it would work on wolves in North America and how long it would last before wolves figure out that it’s easy to get past. It would probably be best combined with periodic patrols (a.k.a. an actual barrier instead of a psychological one) to reinforce it. Just my two cents.