Ely, Minn. (March 14, 2013) — In a formal letter to the Minnesota state senators March 14, the International Wolf Center asked lawmakers to reconsider questionable statements about the wolf and the wolf hunt.
The letter, signed by Executive Director Rob Schultz, and longstanding Center board member Nancy Gibson, states:
“We advocate for wolves through education, and it is our policy to refrain from taking positions on wolf issues but rather provide factual information and to sustain a forum for many of the controversial issues surrounding wolves. The present situation is no exception. Nevertheless, of late we have frequently heard a number of questionable statements about the wolf hunt being offered as fact. At the very least, these statements have been regarded as factual by some decision makers and officials. On some occasions, the International Wolf Center has been brought into this discussion when remarks made by certain individuals were incorrectly assumed to be the position of the Center on these matters. Center leadership and staff believe it is important to address this confusion and to provide a factual perspective.”
The Center’s open letter to the state legislature points out five myths or factual misconceptions that have been at the core of heated debates and could make a difference in future decisions about wolf management:
• Myth 1 – Wolves are evil creatures and often kill for sport: Wolves are natural members of an efficiently operating ecosystem that has evolved over millennia. Wolves are an important component of an ecosystem along with other animals and plants that share their habitat.
The wolf has been represented as an evil entity by centuries-old fairy tales, religious allegories and more recently by Hollywood movies. While we cannot explain why these myths have flourished for centuries and continue to do so, it is clear that there are no scientific facts to support these beliefs. Also, the wolf does not kill for sport.
Hunting for prey is one of the most dangerous activities that wolves face to survive-posing significant risk of injury or death. Removing any species from an ecosystem can have far-reaching consequences, which must be considered in managing any wild species.
• Myth 2 – Wolf populations double every year: While scientific research shows that the number of wolves can double when pups are born, this is a transitory situation. Wolf pup mortality varies considerably depending on the overall condition of the pack, the availability of food sources, weather, disease and the security of the den.
Research shows that the number of wolves can double when pups are born in April, but that number is not sustained. The best information over several years indicates that by the time wolf estimates are typically made in winter (when populations are at their lowest), the Minnesota population has usually remained about the same size as the previous year.
• Myth 3 – A regulated hunt acts as a “safety valve” to relieve hatreds and fears about the wolf and thereby reduces illegal killing (poaching): Some have argued that allowing a regulated hunt will reduce poaching since a wolf can be killed legally. However, the penalties for illegally killing a wolf have also been dramatically reduced, so the net effect is unknown.
Due to a lack of data since the wolf was delisted, it is premature to argue that the illegal killing of wolves has been reduced-or increased. Further research is needed to determine these effects.
• Myth 4 – The wolf population is significantly higher or lower than the 3,000 individuals experts have estimated since the 2008 count: Although no studies of the wolf population in Minnesota have been conducted since the often-quoted 2008 wolf census, several indices of annual wolf population change indicate that the population has remained stable at 3,000 or ha been slightly increasing since 2008.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is in the process of conducting a survey of the wolf population. This information will be useful in determining how the state can prudently move forward in managing the interaction of humans and wolves. The International Wolf Center hopes that decision makers carefully consider the results of this survey and that any policy decision be based on science and tempered with an opportunity for public input on social and economic considerations.
• Myth 5 – Wolf hunting and trapping seasons are the most useful strategies to prevent wolves from taking livestock in farming and ranching areas: Most wolves taken by hunters and trappers are not near farms or ranches and pose no threat to livestock.
More effective in protecting livestock is the Minnesota law that allows owners to shoot or destroy wolves that pose an immediate threat to domestic animals on their property. These instances must be reported to a conservation officer within 48 hours.
The letter to legislators concluded by encouraging all individuals and organizations involved in the debate to work together to find a balanced, respectful approach to resolving sharp differences.
“Public perceptions of the vulnerability of the wolf, as a recently recovered endangered species in the Midwest, leave many ordinary citizens questioning how decisions in this manner are being made. We encourage you to weigh the values and emotions of individuals and organizations advocating on each side of this issue with the research and science on hand.”
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.