Discussing America's wilderness, the environment, wildlife, conservation, sled dogs and a little bit of politics
Sunday, May 15, 2016
The Gray Wolf: Myth vs. Fact
Myth: Wolves are extremely dangerous to human beings.
Fact: According to Yellowstone wolf biologist Doug Smith, the danger to humans from wolves is vastly overestimated. Smith said that, whereas a bear or a mountain lion will attack a human on first contact, wolves are naturally fearful of humans and pose very little danger unless they are conditioned to overcome this natural fear.
Myth: Wolves kill livestock “for the fun of it.”
Fact: According to Smith, the large majority of wolf hunts are unsuccessful, and because they take large prey, such as elk, deer and moose, they are risking their lives with each attempt. Smith said many wolves are seriously injured or killed in their attempts to bring down large prey.
Myth: Wolves kill large numbers of cattle and sheep.
Fact: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 6 million head of cattle live in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the three states where the majority of wolves in the West live. For those states in 2014, wolves killed 136 head of cattle, or 1 cow out of every 44,853. In the same three states, where 820,000 sheep live, reports show wolves killed 114 sheep, or 1 in every 7,193, in 2014. However, because these losses are unevenly distributed, they can take a toll on a single producer.
Myth: The wolves that were reintroduced to Yellowstone and central Idaho in the mid 1990s were non-native Canadian wolves.
Fact: While some of the wolves released into Yellowstone and central Idaho did originate in Canada, the wolves that historically ranged much of North America are of the same species, Canis lupus, as “Canadian” wolves.
Myth: Reintroduced wolves are killing all the elk and deer.
Fact: In Montana, one of the largest wolf recovery areas in the nation, the elk population, while variable, has, on the average, held steady through the 20 years since reintroduction. And while some elk herds in Wyoming have experienced decline, the reintroduction of wolves is likely only part of the reason. A three-year study conducted by the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming, which concluded in 2013, found evidence that the Wyoming elk decline was based on a complex set of variables, including habitat, weather, hunting, bears and wolves.