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The Fate of America's Gray Wolf

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The Fate of America's Gray Wolf

By Dr. Michael W. Fox
June 2013

Imagine living in a world or time when the authorities condoned the random killing of your family members and relatives. They called it a ‘recreational sport’, made money selling licenses to kill, and number-crunching experts called it a ‘sustainable harvest’ that was a ‘science-based decision’.

Consider how you would you feel, unable to defend your loved ones from an annual slaughter by those who know nothing about how you grieve over the loss of loved ones. Nor do they know or care that you might barely survive the hardships of shattered family and community ties when members are crippled and killed and all who survive begin to live in fear.

This is how it is for the Gray wolf residents of the United States of America whose annual shooting, trapping and snaring amounts to a kind of death tax for the privilege of being allowed to exist rather than being exterminated, which many people have devoutly wished and sought to accomplish for centuries. Now the U.S. federal government is proposing to remove all legal protection of these wolves by removing them from the endangered species list.

Those many other people who are not incapable of putting themselves in the wolf’s place, along with those wolf biologists and other scientists who value the wolf primarily as a species playing a vital role in maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems, sought to put an end to this extermination by having the federal government put the Gray wolf on the endangered species list in 1974. But the government is now bowing to pressure from various states, vested interest groups such as cattle ranchers and deer hunters, and swayed by state and federal number-crunching wolf biologists and trappers like Minnesota’s David Mech, PhD, who speak the distancing and sentience- denying language of “harvesting” sustainably managed wolf populations. These authorities contend that the Gray wolf has ‘recovered’, with an estimated population of some 6,100, and no longer needs to be protected as an endangered species.

From my perspective as a veterinarian, wolf biologist and conservationist who lectured and lobbied widely in the early 1970s to get the wolf put on the endangered species protection list, the Endangered Species Act, though well intended, is as scientifically flawed as it is a political minefield. Individual species should not be singled out for protection without first considering the entire ecosystem and all its essential components, both animal and plant, and adverse human influences which may call for immediate intervention.

The numbers game plays in to the outmoded and unscientific federal and state wildlife management paradigm of favored species such as White tailed deer, elk, turkey and fur-bearers such as red fox and bobcat for recreational/commercial purposes. This is a form of wildlife farming, rather than seeking to maximize species diversity for optimal ecosystem integrity and health. Wildlife agencies contend that the best way to protect the wolf is to manage it as a trophy species and valuable fur-bearer with strictly enforced annual kill quotas.

But there is no scientifically valid reason for not continuing to prohibit all such killing for the good of the ecosystems where wolves once flourished across much of the country and are now in dire need of CPR - conservation, protection and restoration - with wolves fulfilling their biological purpose. From this latter perspective, the Western and Eastern Gray wolf populations in North America have certainly not recovered, a far greater number being needed to help maximize species diversity and the restoration and recovery of ecosystem integrity and health: And our health as a species endowed with compassion and reason, qualities much needed in these times of increasing disconnectedness from the natural world and the escalating catastrophic environmental consequences of life out of balance.

Laid bare of the prejudices generated by folktales and mythology imbued with fear and ignorance, the wolf is more akin to the human species, emotionally, socially and ecologically, than the human species is to its closets genetic cousin, the chimpanzee. Some anthropologists believe that wolves helped make us human, a view shared by native American Indians, through their ‘lessons’ of pack loyalty, strategic cooperation in hunting, food-sharing, communal care of young, documented care of injured family members and living in balance under the constraints of natural law.

Our humanity is as endangered today as the wolf and the last of the wild. Selective killing as a money-making and job-creating management tool, and killing wolves as a recreational, “sporting challenge” must become something of the past if we are to evolve as a species and put compassion and ethics, along with sound science and governance, in place of continued harm and destruction of all that is wild and free.

There will be a 90-day comment period on the American government’s intention to remove all protection for the Gray wolf. Information and notices will be posted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services website the week of June 10th 2013. Make your concerns known and go through the motions regardless of the evident resistance to democratic process and environmental justice that prevails in this society today.


Dr. Michael W. Fox is a well-known veterinarian, former vice president of The Humane Society of the United States, former vice president of Humane Society International and the author of more than 40 adult and children’s books on animal care, animal behavior and bioethics. He is also a graduate veterinarian from the Royal Veterinary College, London, whose research lead to a PhD (Medicine) and a DSc (ethology/animal behavior) from the University of London, England.