Today there was a news story about a new court challenge to the DNR’s planned wolf hunt this fall that got me thinking about the topic of wolves in Minnesota. Both the pro-hunting and protect the wolves groups seem to take a knee jerk reaction to defending their strongly held positions.
The pro-hunting side seems to believe the number one priority is to a) not have competition from wolves for harvesting deer, b) want zero livestock predation or c) react out of fear of the big bad wolf. Of course, nobody ever says things like “the only good wolf is a dead one” but sometimes it almost feels like that is the desire.
The protect the wolves side seems intent on almost personifying the wolves like a Disney character. The whole “they are so cute how can we ever harm a single wolf; let them all live wild and free” emotional appeal.
By now you’ve probably figured out that I struggle with both sides. Obviously, our past history of over hunting wolves brought them to the edge of extinction. In my eyes, clearly not a good thing. And how about, portraying big predators as cute cuddly critters that mean no harm. Some would argue that hasn’t worked out so well the last couple decades in California with mountain lions.
In 1990 California passed a law that made mountain lions a specially protected animal and banned hunting. Long story short mountain lions once had a bounty, then were a game animal and ultimately received special protection. The population is now considered high and human mountain lion issues are expected to continue to increase. Some argue that the law was passed on emotional appeals and has led to population growth with no effective tool for managing the population.
So, where do I stand you ask? I’m glad you asked. My position is more nuanced than either of the two camps you hear about in the media. I love wolves. Ever since I was a little kid they have been my favorite animal. Well, except for that period in my mid 30′s when as a bachelor cougars were my fav. But I digress. They really are something special. In fact, the coolest wildlife encounter I have had involved a wolf on Isle Royale. This wolf allowed me to follow him on the trail for over a quarter-mile and 70-100 yards behind him (pic at the end of the post). Truly a magical experience. I could never hunt that guy.
On the other hand, I have absolutely no problem with hunting. I used to hunt and probably will again. So, the issue to me has nothing to do with hunting itself. That is a debate for another day. This debate is specifically should the wolf be hunted in Minnesota?
Have you seen the billboards on 35W between Minneapolis and Duluth? If one only sees those images and bases their opinion purely on what you see, you will think wolves are the cutest creatures ever and they are going to be brutally slaughtered. Those billboards are such a blatant tug on the heart-strings that it offends my intelligence.
Get to the point you say and voice my opinion? OK. Let the hunt proceed… without me as a participant. It isn’t the predation of livestock that convinces me. It isn’t the number of deer the wolves kill (are you kidding me? deer always have been preyed on by wolves and hopefully always will be). What convinces me is very simple… the protection of wolves under the Endangered Species Act worked. It was a huge success! The wolf population in Minnesota has made an astounding come back. The population has increased from around 500 before being listed as endangered to about 3,000 now.
Has the DNR and the FWS handled the politics of this thorny issue very well? Maybe not, but that doesn’t change the fact that the population is in great shape. So yeah, I say let the hunt go forward and let the debate move into the details. Should trapping be allowed? Should dogs be allowed? Should it coincide with the deer hunt? Should farmers be compensated for their livestock losses?
So, I know this can be a sensitive topic for a lot of people. I was hesitant to even say anything about it at first. I’m curious what do you think?