It is an ancient hatred, at odds with modern science and findings. Some people simply hate wolves and will destroy them any way they can.
The latest example comes from Washington. Six wolves from the “Wedge” pack have been poisoned in Stevens County in northeastern Washington. According to the Washington Times rewards for capture of the killers totaling over $50,000 have been offered by conservation groups.
Wolves were eliminated from the state in the 1930’s but began a tenuous comeback in the 1990’s. Washington wolves have come down from Canada and over from Idaho, following efforts to reintroduce the animals in Yellowstone National Park.
Wolves in neighboring Oregon have also been poisoned. Large rewards have been offered, but so far no arrests appear to have been made. Why are wolves singled out for destruction?
The most commonly cited reason is livestock depradation. There is some truth to this. Wolves are opportunist predators and do attack and kill livestock. We reported on one incident where wolves panicked a flock of sheep resulting in 143 crushing themselves. But study after study shows the actual provable losses are small. One problem appears to be cumbersome reimbursement programs and the difficulty of proving a wolf kill. A pack can kill and eat a prey animal and leave very little behind. One has to have proof for reimbursement. Another problem is that although the total numbers of livestock killed may be a relatively small number, the impact is not evenly distributed. Ask the rancher who lost 143 sheep about “low losses.” Nevertheless, Department of Agriculture statistics show wolves are responsible for about 5 percent of total annual livestock losses. Many causes, even attacks by domestic dogs, kill more.
But something else is going on. Wolves are attacked in a frenzy as soon as protection are lifted. Why the intensity of the hatred?
Discover Magazine gives two answers. The first is that wolves are deeply symbolic of many human fears. Werewolves, witches, wolves and other ghastly night creatures are still alive in our psyches. Discover doesn’t say so, but our relationship with dogs hasn’t been the best either. We abandon them, use them in war and drown (or eat) excess puppies. We frequently use them for value and discard them. The news is constantly filled with stories of abuse of dogs. It may be that human attitude to wolves is just an extreme form of our attitude to dogs. Some people love wolves, some hate them. some are kind to dogs, some are vicious in the extreme. Should we really be surprised about cruelty to wolves? The current war in Ukraine is full of stories of animal cruelty toward dogs.
The other answer Discover gives is in line with our current political divide. Some people see any laws protecting wildlife, especially wolves as an unwarranted intrusion into their personal freedom and they respond with violence.
The battle is ongoing as environmentalists, government agencies and many Americans want wolves returned to the western United States. A determined number wants them dead.
We have yet to find it.