The Big Bad Wolf may be the subject of a children’s fairy tale, but fear and hatred of these canine ancestors of your Rover, sleeping so peacefully on the couch, are as real today as they were yesterday. Thus the hunting season now under way in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where wolf predation on livestock and pets has led to a decision to reduce their number.
But not without protests and demonstrations from wolf lovers. A group called the Keep Wolves Protected has begged the governor to cancel the hunt, which is designed to reduce the wolf population by 43 in areas where predation has been a problem. Once close to extinction in Michigan, the state now has an estimated 658 wolves today.
Wolves have stirred the imagination of humans seemingly forever, more often than not striking fear into human hearts and spawning all kinds of tales. Remember Wolfman, the various werewolf legends, and Jack Nicholson’s maniacal face in the movie Wolf. You don’t hear many stories where the wolves are the good guys, unless, that is, you count the one St. Francis charmed into a sweetheart. But of course we don’t have many St. Francis types around these days.
It helps to get the full story when you are thinking about the wolf population in the Upper Peninsula. I’ve been hearing for years about the risk to your dog when hunting grouse in the UP. In fact, although I may yet go, I’ve been wary of letting my dog loose in the UP to look for pats (as ruffed grouse are known). Tales of fine bird dogs ripped up by their canine relatives are scary.
A recent Wood and Waters Magazine article described how almost a whole pack of bear hounds was killed by wolves in the UP. When the hunters reached the scene they found their dogs butchered, with the survivors scattered all over the woods. Returning the next day with a DNR officer to retrieve valuable collars, the hunters found that the wolves had picked the carcasses almost clean, leaving only bloody skeletons. A similar story was told of a pack of beagles, also decimated. Beagles are such little guys you have to believe they would serve only as appetizers for an 80-pound wolf, maybe just as a warm up for the entrée, a fat calf or even a grown cow.
I will be the first to admit that the hatred of wolves that led to their near extinction over the lower 48 states bordered on the irrational. The cattle interests in the West hired full-time wolf hunters who trapped, shot, and poisoned the wolves there almost out of existence. The only good wolf was dead wolf.
Year ago I became fascinated with the wolf’s story and read widely of their history. I was cheered to learn of their return to Yellowstone. I suppose I was so interested in wolves because they –and not coyotes or foxes—are the forebears of our dogs. In fact, just recently I saw an article that said scientists now believe that dogs originated in Europe rather than Africa or the Mideast as so often thought.
One can sympathize with the protesters while at the same time calling upon them to understand that the survival of wolves in the UP and elsewhere depends on the careful balancing of interests. If wolf predation gets out of hand, Yoopers could take things in their own hands. God help the wolves if that happens.
The risk that wolves pose for humans has been much disputed. I have often read that there has never been a human killed in North America by a wolf. First of all, that statement should include the word “documented,” which, I suppose means verified by biologists, police, DNR, and medical examiners, which in times past pay have been difficult to get. It may have been true at one time that there were no documented cases of such fatalities, but in recent years there have been at least two documented cases of people killed by wolves, one in Canada and one in Alaska.
Nevertheless, it appears to be factual to say that wolf attacks on humans are rare, with bear attacks far outnumbering them. Just recently two people were killed by cougars in California, and in Ontario recently a woman was killed by a pack of coyotes (a canine much smaller than a grown wolf).
As wonderful as the return of the wolf to Michigan is—and it is, indeed, wonderful—it makes no sense to risk human lives, especially those of young children, by letting a population grow out of control.
Again, it’s a matter of balancing.