Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Frozen" - Disney's Portrayal of Wolves

     Disney recently made a new animated musical movie called "Frozen."

     This movie is wildly popular among all ages (#1 in the country, in fact); probably more than 75% of my friends and classmates have seen it and they all are crazy about it. They've all been trying to convince me to go see it. In passing, one of my friends mentioned that there are wolves in the movie. I looked it up on the internet and this is what I found:
     The vicious wolves, of course, are trying to eat the heroes. My friends say it's no big deal, that people don't even remember the wolf scene; but I think it's solidly reinforcing the Little Red Riding Hood mentality that young (and old) people have of wolves. What do you think is the impression of wolves that people are left with after seeing this? If you didn't know, what would you think about wolves? 

     Wolves do not attack and eat people. The fear of wolves is drilled into our heads starting with fairy tales in our infancy. We don't think to question them, and the idea that wolves are killers is reinforced throughout our lives, from phrases like "thrown to the wolves" to short scenes in movies like Frozen to whole movies like The Grey. Only people who take the time to actually research wolves will know that they are any different than what the media shows them to be. Society will only want to protect something they love, and they won't love something they fear - and they fear wolves. How can anyone be blamed for not knowing that wolves don't kill people? That's all they've been told, and we see wolves demonized at every turn. Why are wolves always the villain? I suppose it's just part of our culture - a part we need to work to change.
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Photo of Jesse at Wolf Haven International.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Killer Wolves?

       This is something I hear, in some form, somewhat frequently (this exact comment was left on the National Wolfwatcher Coalition Facebook page): "I suggest killing every wolf outside of a zoo or very remote areas. If you are offended, please have a loved one take a walk in the woods of Idaho unarmed." 
I have, in fact, "walked in the woods of Idaho (as well as Wyoming, Montana, and Washington wolf country) unarmed," and I have yet to be threatened, much less attacked, by wild wolves. I have spent time with no protection but a backpack or a tent, tracking, hearing and seeing wolves, and have never once felt in danger. But don't take my word for it: Americans take between 16 and 35 million trips to wilderness each year; only 2 people have been killed by healthy wolves in North America in the last 100 years (neither of which were in the lower 48 states). By comparison, cattle kill more than 20 people every year; that's about 1000 times more than wolves. Wolves generally avoid humans.

       All wild animals are dangerous, but wolves aren't any more dangerous than other wildlife. 

Photo of wolf tracks in Washington State. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Sacramento Wolf Hearing

On November 22nd, 2013, I flew to Sacramento, California to attend a hearing concerning the nationwide delisting of gray wolves. Hundreds of people showed up to voice their opinions. A rally was held before the official hearing,Displaying photo 1.JPG and several people spoke about wolves, including myself. Partway through the speeches, some anti-wolf folks starting showing up. They held up signs like "Farmers, NOT Wolves" and "Save the endangered species: homo sapiens." Displaying photo 5.JPG
       They eventually left. They seemed discouraged after predator-friendly rancher K. Hendricks stood in front of them holding a sign that read "Ranchers for Wolves." Read an amazing article by her about coexisting with predators:
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       The rally ended, and the hearing was going to start soon. We all lined up outside the hotel where the hearing was to be held. In the parking lot of the hotel, we saw things like this; a van with a photo of children in a cage - a reference to a school bus stop in Catron County, New Mexico, where people felt it necessary for kids to have to wait for the school bus in a cage because they were afraid that the critically endangered Mexican Gray Wolf was going to eat their children (though there has never been a case of a Mexican gray wolf attacking a human). The back of the van read "DELIST KILLER WOLVES." 

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       I would like to point out again that a Mexican wolf has never attacked a human, and there have been just 2 people killed by their larger relatives, gray wolves, in North America in the past 100 years. By comparison, cows kill more than 20 people every year. Another way you could say it is that cows kill 1,000 times more people than wolves do. Anyway, back to the hearing.
       Many people signed up to speak, some just came to listen. I kept a tally of how many people were pro-delisting vs. anti-delisting. Out of the 71 people who had time to testify, 16 of them were pro-delisting (in favor of removing protection for wolves across the US) and 55 were anti-delisting (in favor of keeping wolves on the federal Endangered Species List, keeping them protected). 23% were pro-delisting, 77% were anti-delisting. This is about consistent with the nationwide wolf statistics.
       Of those who testified in support of wolves, there were scientists, professors, and wildlife enthusiasts, as well as several hunters and ranchers, some of whom live in wolf country and support the presence of wolves in the ecosystem. Several ranchers shared their non-lethal methods of coexisting with wolves and other predators. Several politicians sent spokesmen to speak in support of wolves on their behalf. 
       Many of those who testified against wolves were ranchers or hunters from California. Many expressed concerns about the welfare of their livestock should wolves return to the state. Hunters were concerned about game animal populations should the wolf, an apex predator, be restored to California. Both parties said that they were worried that their children wouldn't be safe going outside. These are the usual concerns of folks in wolf country and potential wolf country. While I don't agree with some of these concerns, namely that there is a supposed danger that wolves pose to humans, I respect that people have these concerns and some of them are valid. Wolves may occasionally attack livestock, and they may impact game herds on a local level. Sadly, many people at the hearing seemed to have no respect whatsoever for the people that disagreed with them. I found that very disappointing. It was actually the wolf supporters who were unbelievably rude and disrespectful toward the ranchers, hunters, and anyone else who disagreed with them. Whenever someone said anything at all against wolves, much of the pro-wolf crowd jeered and laughed. At one point, when a rancher said that "we should be able to shoot wolves on our ranch" someone from the crowd said "we should be able to shoot you." 
       No matter how much you may disagree with someone, behavior like that is completely out of line. The people who disagree with you are still people. Just because their opinions are different from yours DOES NOT mean they matter any less or deserve less respect. Even if you disagree with that, I think it will be harder disagree with this: being laughed at and ridiculed will not make someone more willing to change their views. The ranchers themselves were quiet, attentive, mostly respectful when the wolf supporters spoke. I appreciated this and it made me all the more receptive to their point of view. If the anti-wolf crowd sees the wolf supporters as rude and close-minded, will they really want to take us seriously? To see things from our point of view?  I cannot express how sad and ineffective that is. Personal attacks and bullying will not make people more open-minded and tolerant of wolves. That is the goal, after all. Please try not to resort to elementary school level name-calling and laughing.  Calmly and respectfully use facts, statistics, and SCIENCE to prove your point in any argument instead of emotion. Keep an open mind, and maybe they will too.  It will leave them with the impression that we are reasonable people. Thank you!
All in all, despite the disappointing behavior of some participants, we heard from some very inspiring people studying and learning to live with wolves who understood the importance of their presence across the American landscape for generations to come. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Wolf Watching - Yellowstone National Park December 2013

In the last few days of 2013, I visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA. We saw four packs of wolves: the Eightmile (18 wolves), Junction Butte (9 wolves), and Lamar Canyon (2 wolves) packs, and 755M's group (2 wolves). Winter is a bountiful time for wolves. They are built for snow and cold weather. Their prey, elk, are weaker because it's hard to find vegetation under the snow. They also have a lot of trouble running through deep snow - something wolves are great at. Wolves are fat and happy these months. It is much harder during warm months. We witnessed a kill site from the two Lamar Canyon wolves. They brought down a bull elk overnight, and you could observe the battle between the predators and the prey in the snow. Although they lose more than 80% of the time, the predators won this battle, and the carcass fed the wolves as well as magpies, ravens, golden eagles, and bald eagles when we were there; it will surely feed more species like coyotes and foxes (and grizzly and black bears if they weren't hibernating). As it decomposes, it will add nutrients to the soil that will feed plant species. It was amazing to witness the cycle of life firsthand.

Junction Butte Pack.

Howling member of the Junction Butte Pack

Big Gray and Black Female, alphas of the Lamar Canyon Pack.
Big Gray and Black Female, alphas of the Lamar Canyon Pack.