The return of gray wolves into what was once their natural territory faces major challenges from humans – hunters, drivers and poisoners. The uneasy relationship between the canines and humans has been difficult for centuries as many humans harbor wolf hatred.
Hunters in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana have followed the hunting rules of their states and killed 24 roaming wolves this winter. The wolves wandered out of the protection of Yellowstone National Park and were shot. Anger at the toll – 15 to 18 killed in Montana, has prompted the state to call an early end to the season, which normally runs through March. The remainder were killed in Idaho and Wyoming.
Meanwhile, drivers take their toll on roaming wolves too. OR-93 was an Oregon gray wolf who traveled from Oregon into Ventura County, California. He died late last year when he was hit by a vehicle in Kern County. Prior to his demise he was a media star as he was the first wolf recorded that far south in California in 100 years.
Finally, Oregon authorities are trying to locate whoever poisoned an entire pack of Oregon wolves. State police are investigating and rewards have been offered.
Wolves were once common throughout much of the United States. They were, however, regarded as vermin and received no legal protection whatsoever until recent decades. The once abundant animals were reduced to remnant populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. A few Mexican gravy wolves have crossed the southern border. Red wolves, a smaller cousin went extinct in the wild in 1967. A number were captured and put into captive breeding programs, which have had some success.
As popular attitudes toward the animals changed, efforts began to reintroduce the animals to suitable habitat. Wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone in the 1990’s and wolves returning to the United States from Canada were not formally persecuted. Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Montana, California and Idaho all have wolf populations now. The populations vary in size and are vulnerable in some of the states. State laws vary as to hunting regulations. Many people still fear and loathe wolves as evidenced by the recent poisonings in Oregon. Others believe that they target livestock and kill too much game. Both of these contentions are contested.