February 25, 2013
Tom Myrick, Communications Director
(763) 560-7374 (ext. 225)
Polarized parties on both sides of the wolf-management controversy continue to battle each other over strategy as the International Wolf Center searches for new ways to advance wolf survival-including the establishment of a wolf sanctuary.
“Extreme pro- and anti-wolf voices are the loudest in public debate, often disseminating inaccurate information and drowning out moderate and alternative views,” explains Rob Schutlz, executive director of the International Wolf Center. “However, the role of the International Wolf Center is quite different from the agendas of these other groups. Our role is to be a voice of reason and calm, advocating for wolves by providing the public with science-based information that’s without bias.”
That is why the Center recently interviewed board member and wolf expert Dr. L. David Mech to explore a possible new compromise between lethal wolf control and total protection, Schultz explains. Mech is a senior research biologist with the U. S. Department of the Interior and has studied wolves and wolf management for the last 55 years.
International Wolf Center: Some background will be very helpful here. Can you give us a short recap?
Mech: Sure. Wolves have always been controversial. That’s a given. Some people love them, and some hate them. The most recent controversy seems to have resulted from the wolf’s removal from the federal endangered species list in December 2011 and then being publicly hunted and trapped. In Minnesota, the wolf population was biologically recovered in 1978, when there were 1,250 wolves. They were kept on the list until Wisconsin and Michigan populations recovered.
International Wolf Center: I think the big question for many is why some people think the population needs to be hunted and trapped?
Mech: Wolves kill livestock, deer and moose. Thus, some people think wolves compete with human interests, making it necessary to control wolf numbers.
International Wolf Center: How valid is that view?
Mech: Livestock owners do incur losses from wolf predation, and under some conditions wolves can reduce deer and moose numbers. However, public perception as to the degree of these problems is usually exaggerated.
International Wolf Center: Okay, so let’s look at the other side of the controversy. Why do some people think wolves should not be killed, especially by the public?
Mech: Some people think no animal should be intentionally killed, while others can’t fathom the wolf being listed as endangered and then suddenly being hunted like other big game animals. Some people are strongly opposed to killing wolves for sport. There, no doubt, are other reasons, too.
International Wolf Center: I see, but are there any other ways to satisfy those who favor recreational wolf hunting as well as those who oppose it?
Mech: That’s a tough one. State management tries to compromise by limiting the number of wolves killed and by allowing them to be taken only during certain seasons.
International Wolf Center: That was the case in Minnesota in 2012, but that still brought lawsuits and a call for a five-year moratorium on a wolf season. Are there no other options?
Mech: Other than more-stringent regulations on taking, which will bring howls of protest from those in favor of hunting wolves, the only other compromise that has not yet been mentioned is to set aside a certain part of the state where wolves would be protected year-around.
International Wolf Center: A wolf sanctuary? Interesting idea. Where could that be done without jeopardizing livestock?
Mech: Minnesota is fortunate in having the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) many miles from livestock. There, wolves live on deer, moose and beavers. The area encompasses a million acres, or 6 percent of Minnesota’s wolf range.
International Wolf Center: Wouldn’t hunters complain that wolves could hurt deer and moose populations there?
Mech: I don’t think so. The area is only lightly hunted because of its relative inaccessibility during the fall, and wolves have always lived there, even when extirpated from the rest of the 48 states.
International Wolf Center: Are you saying that setting aside a year-around wolf sanctuary would satisfy folks who do not want wolves killed or don’t like the idea of people killing them for sport?
Mech: Certainly it wouldn’t satisfy some of them, but it is the most reasonable and workable compromise I can think of that hasn’t as of yet been tried.
International Wolf Center: Do any other states have wolf sanctuaries?
Mech: Only national parks such as Yellowstone, Glacier, and Isle Royale. Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park harbors wolves, but that park is too small for much of a population that lives only in the park.
International Wolf Center: How many wolves inhabit the BWCAW?
Mech: The numbers vary, but recently about 150 or roughly 20 to 30 packs.
International Wolf Center: That’s a substantial wilderness population!
Mech: Yes. And it’s one that has been studied several times since the late 1930s, starting with Sigurd Olson. In fact, Olson carried out the first scientific studies of wolves in the world there, and I have had studies going on there since 1966.
International Wolf Center: Do you think the Minnesota Legislature would consider setting aside the BWCAW as a wolf sanctuary?
Mech: Someone would have to introduce such a bill and let the democratic process play out.
The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.