Attitudes on Wolf Reintroduction

Added 26 February 1997, Revised 1 November 2005

This page deals with a select number of opinions expressed during the public evaluation portion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park. For the record, although I do present opinions from both sides of the debate, my own opinions certainly shine through.

(NOTE: All quotes have been taken from The Reintroduction of Gray Wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho Final Environmental Impact Statement. The FEIS did not ascribe the quotes to the individual who said them, so I cannot give you the names of those who said them either. Page numbers for the quotes are in parentheses after each quote.)

The main issue for ranchers, of course, is that of wolves killing livestock. Ranchers fear large losses of income due to wolf predation. "Very few people visiting Yellowstone Park would ever get to see a free-roaming wolf, while landowners and ranchers would be continually subjected to livestock losses and harassment by wolves." (5-94) While it is true that livestock losses are likely to occur, this issue is often over-rated amongst ranchers. In other areas where wolves live in proximity to agriculture and livestock, livestock depredation is very low. Defenders of Wildlife has also set up a fund to compensate ranchers for verified occurrences of wolf predation. (As verified by Fish & Wildlife Service employees.) Defenders of Wildlife has a similar program set up in the Minnesota area, and they have paid immediately upon verification each time. (Last I heard, there have only been three verified instances of wolf predation on livestock in Minnesota.) There are wolf proponents who don't believe in compensation though. "If ranchers do not properly herd and manage their animals, it's not the fault of the predator nor the responsibility of the taxpayer to remunerate him for his losses." (5-95) That comment was based on the false assumption that the compensation fund was federal, not private. The Defenders of Wildlife fund is of course, a private fund. Also, "problem wolves" will either be removed from the area, or killed, as necessary.

A secondary issue is that of who "owns" public lands. Cattle ranchers are certainly not the only users of public lands, and they should not be the only ones who control what happens on public lands. A majority of Americans want to see wolves returned to at least some of their former range, namely the Yellowstone area. "Public land is for everybody and wildlife are included, so wolves should be put back into YNP." (5-95)

Another issue is that of control. It is my personal opinion that ranchers do not like wolves because ranchers cannot directly control wolves. Ranchers like to be able to control nature, which is one natural response to the type of life they lead. At the heart of the wolf reintroduction debate, is the issue of control, and fear of not being in control. The control issue goes beyond wolves as well. The issue often becomes one of 'us against them'. "I wholeheartedly believe that a lot of the support behind these efforts are coming from these radicals and that their ultimate goal is to abolish most forms of outdoor activity such as hunting, trapping, fishing, possibly even trail riding, and camping in our wilderness areas. Other goals they seek to attain are the elimination of livestock use of public lands, and further crippling of the timber industry." (5-97) Environmentalists from around the country believe (rightfully) that all public lands belong to every U.S. resident, while ranchers believe that outsiders (those living outside the area of reintroduction) should have little or no say in what happens on local public lands. " . . . For too long western ranchers have grazed on Federal land at the expense of the tax payers and wildlife of this Country . . . Since we taxpayers are subsidizing the livestock industry, we should have the right to demand that wolves be part of the natural landscape." (5-97)

The economy is another issue. Wolves (in the Yellowstone area) will increase tourism, and thus add more money to local economies. With the Defenders of Wildlife livestock compensation in place, the economic losses to ranchers are offset as well. There are other potential sources of economic decline, but all were found to be negligible by the FWS and other cooperating agencies. "According to the survey, only 3.5 percent of the Yellowstone National Park area economy is due to livestock. Whereas 39.5 percent is due to services, much stemming from tourism. Just considering the number of people who benefit from this ecologically whole proposal . . . wolf reintroduction is clearly a superior act." (5-98)

Human safety is another major issue. Many people opposed to wolf reintroduction simply fear wolves. "Nobody has the right to endanger my life or my children's lives by introducing predators that kill for a living." (5-102) Forgive me for my frankness here, but the person who said this is an idiot. To begin with, HE/SHE IS A PREDATOR TOO!!!! What the hell does he/she do for food? Eat nuts and twigs? I seriously doubt it! And if the person is a cattle rancher, he/she gets paid to kill for a living, making the person at best, a mercenary by their own logic. After doing a little more research (2005), I think it is safe to say that there are accounts of healthy wolves attacking humans. When put in perspective, attacks are extremely rare, however. A report by The Wolf Trust documented 80 encounters, some of which were provoked (like wolves caught in traps, wolves shot by darts for research, etc.), and only 16 of them resulted in human injuries. Even this number of cases means your chances of getting attacked (not killed, but just attacked) by a wolf are about the same as being struck by lightning.

Wolves are frightened of humans (and rightfully so), and will avoid contact with humans if at all possible. Researchers in Minnesota who go out looking for wolves often have a hard time finding them because wolves know where humans are before humans know where wolves are, and the wolves will move away.