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Photo Doug Smith, National Park Service Photo Doug Smith, National Park Service

Whiners, nutters and wolves

Everything has the potential to be divisive in today’s partisan atmosphere. And I, for one, am sick of it, particularly when it does not need to be. Case in point: return of the wolves.

Knee-jerkers on the left wail, “No, no there aren’t enough wolves to hunt them.” Nutters on the right spread rumors of health hazards and photos of wolf-mangled carcasses. Where is the middle ground?

I have seen wolves in the wild several times, but the first time, in 1969, is still the most memorable. Our family was living two miles southwest of East Glacier, and there were wagon ruts leading to a deserted homestead that we often walked. My five-year-old son and I were sitting quietly uphill of the ruts, spying on a beaver in the little creek below. The wolf—because no dog or coyote has legs that long—trotted down the track towards us.

The wolf suddenly stopped about 30 feet away. He turned sideways, keeping his face towards us and his tail slowly rose to half-mast. He assessed us. And then he disappeared. Poof, he was gone.

We looked at each other, big-eyed. “That was a wolf,” I whispered. “Were you frightened?”

“No,” the little boy answered, “The wolf was afraid of us.” He hummed the Peter song from Peter and the Wolf “dum, dum, dudda dum” all the way home. He grew up to be a man who understands true danger—the Bering Sea—and is not fooled by pretend fears.

A pretend fear being circulated by the nutters is the health hazard posed by a particular tape worm that preys on wolves. In Minnesota and Michigan where wolves—with the same worm—dogs and people co-exist, humans have not picked up the tape worm. Only nutters would mistake a pile of wolf poop for a can of Copenhagen.

Misinformation about the origin of the wolves in Northwest Montana is being spread. Nutters would have us believe that these grey wolves are not the real grey wolves that used to live here. A grey wolf is a grey wolf is a grey wolf—same species. It could be that not many wolves were here before elk were introduced and habitat improved for whitetail, but what wolves there were, were grey wolves.

Knee-jerkers are no better. In California, one cello player’s knees were jerking so madly that she could not perform in the orchestra’s rendition of Peter and the Wolf because of the indignity to the wolf. Some misguided and misinformed groups are bringing a lawsuit to stop Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks from managing the returning and reintroduced wolves. Sitting in little cramped offices, raising money from know-nothings who live far away ‘to save the wolf,’ a few people have thrown a wrench in the works. They believe that wolves should remain on the federal Endangered Species List.

The majority of environmentalists understand the absolute necessity of balance in the natural world. They celebrate the success of wolf re-population as proof that the Endangered Species Act works. The enormity of this is staggering. In 1936 wolves were all but extinct in Montana, and if seen were shot on sight. In 1974 wolves were placed on the endangered list and could not be shot legally. In 1995/96, 30 breeding pairs were released in Yellowstone and central Idaho. Wolves from British Columbia drifted, unmolested, south into northwest Montana. The success of wolf re-population means that we Americans can save what has been irrevocably lost in Europe. It is a hopeful sign to realize our country is wild enough and its citizens generous enough to support wolves, bears, lions, elk, white and mule deer.

But for the ESA to continue to work, true environmentalists agree that wolf numbers must be managed. Whether you personally want to shoot a wolf isn’t the question. The question is how to meet the goal of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks: to maintain a viable wolf population that is biologically possible, socially acceptable and economically feasible.

Those folks in their small offices with pictures of wolf puppies on the wall, and those other folks spreading wolf fear do not represent any reasonable solution. Most people trust the state of Montana to manage elk, big horn sheep, deer, goat, bear, and lion. It is reasonable to trust FW&P to similarly manage wolves? Most people, if they stop to think about it, are in the reasonable middle.

And if you are not, watch out for my elbows—I’m tired of being squeezed between the emotional whining on the left and the manipulative lying on the right.

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Author info

Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

Tagged as:

wolves, outdoors, wildlife, hunting

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