I rarely cry at movies. But, when the callous Army troops shot “Two Socks”, the wolf who befriended Lt. Dunbar in Kevin Costner’s Academy Award film “Dances With Wolves”, my throat choked up and I cried. Likewise, when a native Alaskan told me how renegade hunters trespassed on her property and killed an aged wolf who had befriended her dog pups, I really got emotional.
So, I confess to a strong emotional attachment to the wolf and its plight. For me, the wolf symbolizes mankind’s destructive ways as we humans attempt to control Nature. The wolf represents man’s ignorance and lack of consciousness about important connections in Nature.
Recently, I posted a blog concerning the killing of Elk by the USFWS at the Bosque del Apache migrating bird sanctuary near Socorro, New Mexico. Shortly after I published this blog, I was able to visit the sanctuary where I had a wonderful talk with some of the staff.
An important point made by a staff member in a subsequent email is that, had the wolf population not been decimated by man, elk would probably not have stayed in the Rio Grande River floodplain year-around due to wolf predation. This person went on to suggest that the elk population in Yellowstone National Park is in balance because of predation by the protected local wolf population. In short, it seems that the shooting of elk at Bosque del Apache would not be necessary had mankind not tampered with the wolf population in the first place.
This means that by destroying the wolf population, we humans permit the elk population to grow unchecked. This is apparently the case at Bosque del Apache. Everything is connected. Like the coyote, the wolf is an important keystone predator who serves to keep animal populations, like elk and deer, in check. When, through hunting and so-called “wildlife management” by government agencies, the deer and elk populations were reduced, the wolf turned to domestic animals to survive. In turn, mankind has brought the wolf population close to extinction.
The wolf/elk connection is a powerful example of the importance of Nature’s interconnections. In the case of Bosque del Apache, mankind kills the elk with bullets instead of restoring the wolf population.
At the suggestion of the Bosque del Apache staff, I took the time to further explore the relationship between the wolf and the elk. One study reveals that about 75% of the wolf’s diet is elk, 11% of its diet is small mammals, 10% is deer, and only 4% is livestock. With only 4% of the wolf’s predatory diet being domestic livestock, one must wonder why the US government has been so strongly responsive to the arguments of the farmers and ranchers ( who wish to see the extinction of the wolf ) and so reluctant to proceed with strong protection of the wolf in a wider geographic area.
The relationship between Nature and mankind is often defined by the agricultural industry and their powerful influence on government agencies like BLM, the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. A cursory search of the Internet reveals the very loud voice of agriculture calling for the destruction of the wolf. The current fury concerns the protection of the Gray Wolf and the Mexican Gray Wolf. These populations have been decimated by the agriculture industry with full support from our government agencies who are supposed to be stewards of Nature. The rise in the elk population is a strong testament to the fact that our stewards of Nature are either ignorant of or choose to ignore Nature’s connections.
The sad part about all of this is that there are non-lethal ways for the agricultural industry to minimize or prevent predation of their livestock. Big dogs, llamas and predator fences are viable ways to cut livestock losses and negate the practice of killing wolves and their cubs. Take a look at this web site which explains why one local government body has now stopped working with the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services (USDAWS) predator control program. This web page portrays a collaborative effort involving local wildlife protection organizations, ranchers, scientists, and local government officials.
There has been lots of public controversy over the practices of the USDAWS. According to this source, “USDA Wildlife Services is the only federal program that kills native predators at the request of ranchers and state wildlife management agencies. Changing the barbaric, indiscriminate and wasteful predator control methods used by Wildlife Services is a primary focus of our legislative work.” Much of this outcry has come from the efforts of Pulitzer Prize Journalist Tom Knudson’s expose in the Sacramento Bee .
Humanity’s destructive response to our wolf population and the subsequent increase in the elk population is a story of insensitivity and a lack of consciousness regarding connections in Nature. In this case, man destroyed a vital natural connection, the wolf, by using a short term, and short sighted solution – killing the predator. A keystone species was brought to near extinction by mankind without any regard for how the balance within an ecosystem might be affected. The USFWS at Bosque del Apache is now in the position of a one-armed paper hanger trying to juggle the consequences of past actions. But, instead of the USFWS killing the elk, there are good ecological choices that can be made. Some of these choices involve going back to what caused the problem in the first place – mankind’s killing of a keystone species, the wolf.
It is my view that a solution lies through a cooperative effort between three groups:
- Ranchers and farmers
- Government agencies such as the USFWS
- Volunteer groups such as the Friends of Bosque del Apache (in New Mexico) or Friends of the San Pedro River (in Southeastern Arizona).
The tools for creating a non-lethal solution and the ultimate recovery of the wolf population are:
- The installation of non-lethal predator control technology such as fladry (flagged) fences, large dogs, and llama.
- Conservation through education of the ranchers and farmers. Provide information on the benefits of a healthy ecosystem and the use of non-lethal predator control methods.
- Financial compensation of the farmers and ranchers for livestock losses while the wolf reintroduction program is being put in place.
Much of the work can be accomplished with the guidance of the USFWS with the actual work performed by the volunteer groups. This video portrays such a program taking place in the White Mountains of Arizona where there are:
” … volunteer efforts to manage the reintroduction of the Mexican Gray Wolf. The video summarizes the recent history of the wolf, its relationship to the human population, the wolf’s effect on the Rocky Mountain Elk and sheep and the practice of fladry fencing. Included are interviews with volunteers stating their purpose and perspectives as well as an interview with a representative from the Arizona Game and Fish. “
Here are some web sites that offer more information non-lethal predator control:
Ways to Prevent Wolves From Killing Livestock .
This web site makes an interesting point. “The use of lethal force to control wolf populations should be a last resort. If an alpha pair learns to avoid fences and steer clear of the sheep population, they will pass this lesson down for generations. However, if you kill them, new wolves will have to learn themselves, which can cause unnecessary wolf and livestock death.”
“The Mexican wolf is the smallest, southern-most occurring, rarest, and most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America. Once common throughout portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, Mexican wolf populations were all but eliminated from the United States and Mexico by the 1970s as a result of increasing conflicts with livestock operations and other human activities. The Mexican wolf, a subspecies of gray wolf, was listed as endangered in 1976, and the following year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated efforts to conserve the Mexican wolf. A captive breeding program was established to save the species from absolute extinction and to provide animals for future reintroduction to the wild. The Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan was approved by the Service 1982, and in March 1998, Mexican wolves were released to the wild for the first time in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Missing from the landscape for more than 30 years, the howl of the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), can once again be heard in the mountains of the southwestern United States. The Southwest Region of the Service invites you to join us on the historic journey of Mexican wolf recovery. Our Mexican Wolf Recovery Program website provides detailed information on all aspects of the program. Please contact us with any questions, ideas, or concerns you have about Mexican wolf recovery. The Service would like to recognize and thank our Federal, State, and Tribal partners, as well as every member of the public who contributes time, energy, and information to the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. “
Please note that the images of wolves and fences were produced by authors of the web sites noted above. The elk pictures are mine.
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.