It's tough being a wolf these days. Despite barely having recovered from being indiscriminately hunted to near extinction during the last century, wolves continue to face the rampant persecution and vitriol of yesteryear from legislators, corporations, citizens and even state and federal governments.
Most recently, Utah's Senate has passed a bill that (if enacted) would make it next to impossible for wolves to ever repopulate any of their historic range in Utah. Not that wolves currently pose a problem; only a handful has strayed into Utah in recent years, and none are known to be living there now.
The sponsor of the Utah bill, Senator Allen Christensen (R-North Ogden) described his designs by: "Simply say[ing] any wolf within Utah will be captured and killed. We don't want any of them here."
The "we" he refers to is unclear, as is much of the reasoning behind such an extreme affront against wolves. In fact, a 2004 poll (Bruskotter, J. T., & Schmidt, R. H. 2006) taken of 700 Utah residents - including landowners and rural residents - shows that the majority are receptive to having wolves in their state.
Senator Christensen's bill would, with the stroke of a pen, undo the painstaking and sincere work of the 13-member stakeholder group, including ranchers and sportsmen, who worked for over a year to craft the Utah Wolf Management Plan adopted by the Utah legislature in 2005.
Supplanting the Wolf Working Group's plan, before there is even an opportunity to put it into practice, is a politically motivated act of bad faith by elected officials catering to special interest groups.
Senator Christensen touts the same tired "Little Red Riding Hood" fallacies about wolves in order to generate fear and harness existing economic concerns as motivators to support his extremist agenda. The truth – fully backed by recent scientific studies – is based on biological realities, not childhood storybooks.
Wolves would actually bring marked benefits to Utah's economy and environment. A 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife [PDF] showed that wildlife watchers in the state of Utah outspent hunters by a 2:1 ratio – contributing $556 million to Utah's economy. Recent studies clearly show that ecosystems where wolves have returned after years of absence are better balanced; from stream banks to willows to song birds.
Even elk populations have benefited from wolves. In Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (where wolves currently reside) while some local herds have been impacted, overall elk populations have not only remained steady, but have actually increased by 14 percent since 1995 when wolves were reintroduced. Yellowstone National Park biologists have found that elk herds are healthier than ever since the return of wolves, due to the fact that wolves prey on the sick and the weak. This should come as no surprise, as wolves, elk and deer evolved together and have coexisted throughout history without a problem. Wolves still only account for less than 1% of livestock mortality in the Northern Rockies, and – unlike with any other cause of livestock mortality - ranchers receive compensation for confirmed losses due to wolves.
However, these realities are not getting in the way of Senator Christensen's politically motivated bill, which is being driven by the inaptly named Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (wildlife other than predators, that is). This is the same group behind Idaho's winter "predator derbies," where contestants vied to rack up the most points by shooting wolves and other wildlife.
Major outdoor retailers such as Cabela's and Sportman's Warehouse (who claim to support wildlife conservation) piled on to the anti-wolf hysteria by sponsoring these unsportsmanlike events. Already, over 70,000 citizens from around the country have voiced their outrage over their sponsorship of such extreme and unethical affairs.
Most disturbing of all is the fact that the entry fees for these competitions were funneled to support ongoing litigation and lobbying by wolf opponents. And they'll need all the support they can get, because many biologists agree that wolves in the Northern Rockies were taken off the endangered species list too early. And a federal court considering a legal challenge to the delisting has indicated that conservationists are likely to prevail in their challenge.
So what's a wolf to do? Utah has essentially declared them canidae non grata, and so called conservation-minded corporations are sponsoring events that treat wolves as bullseyes (three points for every dead wolf!). Meanwhile, Idaho has extended its hunt into denning season, turning pregnant females into potential targets, and Wyoming is suing the federal government to allow them to declare 90 percent of the state a "shoot on site" zone for their vulnerable population of gray wolves.
There's so much ill will toward wolves, in fact, that you'd think folks were facing the fairy-tale villain so rife in children's literature. Yet wolves attract wildlife watchers from around the country, benefit the land by keeping deer and elk populations at healthy, sustainable levels, and represent to many the legacy of the Wild West.
It's high time we stopped living out Little Red Riding Hood, and just let wolves be wolves.
Erin McCallum is a communications specialist for Defenders of Wildlife.