A radio-collared wolf sits in the brush. / Steve Meurett/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
lōT͟HiNG/ noun noun: loathing; plural noun: loathings
1.a feeling of intense dislike or disgust; hatred.
First off, I am and have been a deer hunter, bow and gun for my entire life. I spend about every living minute in our outdoors, if not hunting, then mountain biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and shooting pictures or building trails.
That said, several conversations and recent articles all converged in the past week which got me thinking about wolves.
The 'fear and loathing' of wolves to be specific.
Our own Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com contributor Patrick Durkin wrote of the recent decline in Midwest deer kill numbers and suggested maybe wolves shouldn't take the blame when looking at surrounding states with few or no wolves.
But this piece by Durkin was not a 'wolves-kill-all-the-deer' article. Wolves have a much more vested interest than we do as hunters in keeping deer around - it's for their survival. But we compete for the same resource, so could that be cause for the hate I read?
Kevin Naze of Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com subtly suggested because the wolf hunt closed early, there may be far more animals than the DNR estimates suggests. Adding that Wisconsin's 257 kill, 20-30% of the estimated population, surpassed Minnesota's (with an estimated wolf population of 2,200) and Michigan's. Naze didn't note that Minnesota set a conservative quota of only 220 or 10%.
Naze may have a point, but the majority of wolves were also trapped and trappers tend to be quite skilled in their pursuit and efficient in capturing their prey. It's no easy task to grab a gun, waltz out the door and find a wolf to shoot.
Contrary to bar stool chatter, over the past several years pack numbers and populations appear to have stabilized in Wisconsin's limited suitable habitat. Grey wolves in the midwest tend to have smaller territories and fewer pack members when compared to their western brethren.
But this column by Naze was not a 'Wisconsin-is-getting-run-over-by-wolves' piece either.
What really got me thinking were two replies I received, one on Facebook (I know ... let it go!) and another by a friend via email. Both revolved around the fear of wolves.
Wolves are sadly controversial and in my Facebook reply, I harbored no hope of changing anyone's opinion. I think my insightful friend's e-mail hit the nail on the head, however. “Logic does not carry the day with emotional issues! It struck me today that we, as hunters, have moved from much of the skill-based tradition of the past and now the only thing that seems to unite us with those hunters of yore is the deep-seated fear and loathing of wolves!” he wrote.
Europe has a long tradition of fear of wolves and in doing a little research found that in most cases, attacks were attributed to two things, rabies and/or animals being habituated by man. In North America, wolf attacks are exceedingly rare, even though wolves are large predatory animals and can adapt to living in close proximity to humans, especially in Wisconsin.
The Facebook discussion revolved in part about the fear of stepping into our woods, “afraid to be attacked or eaten alive.” The discussion also touched on the need for carrying a firearm for protection.
When looking at wolf attacks by comparison, there have been 59 people killed by bear (grizzly and black bear) and 11 by cougar since 1990. Annually, domestic dogs kill 20-30 people. Hunters (human) kill nearly 100 and injure around 1,000 in the U.S. and Canada each year. There have been only two cases of a human allegedly killed by wolves documented in North America in the last 100 years!
I'm reminded of a recent All State commercial where a young girls says “Man-eating sharks live in every ocean, but we still swim. Every second lighting strikes somewhere in the world, but we still play in the rain. Poisonous snakes can be found in 49 of the 50 states, but we still go looking for adventure. Because I think deep down, all the bad things that happen in life, can't stop us from making our lives good.”
I believe we shouldn't live in fear of what could happen.
Statistically we are in far greater danger driving to and from our recreational playgrounds than from a wolf attack. Wolves generally stay clear of humans and ones I've been lucky enough to observe had other places to be and things to do within a few seconds of making eye contact.
Wolves in Wisconsin, like many other creatures, have learned to adapt, living in areas that at one time may not have been thought of as suitable habitat. We need to keep in mind that while wild animals can adapt quickly, humans do not and it is we who are moving into their homes and territories. It never made a lot of sense to me why we get mad or upset at wild animal confrontations, when they have been here all along. We encroach on them by our 'progress.' The animal's piece of Mother Nature's pie gets smaller by the day.
Some have called for a return of all out elimination of the wolf (again) because of the perceived danger (deer hunting issues aside). The same was once said of timber rattlers and the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, which both had a bounty in our state as recently as 1975. Because something could hurt us, we should rid our natural landscape of them?
I find it interesting that the wolf seems to be singled out over our much more abundant large carnivore, the black bear. I don't see bumper stickers with “No/Bear” symbols slapped on the back of pick ups.
Competition? Money? Politics? If we eliminate every risk in the outdoors, real or imagined, we end up with pretty much a vanilla outdoor experience. Safe, but vanilla none the less.
As a hunter and outdoorsman, I try to respect every animal I encounter, observe or harvest. Respect is life-enhancing, fear is life-threatening. I'm of the belief that knowing these animals exist and that we share something with them, makes life a richer experience.
The natural world is good, bad and ugly. Who is man to decide which animal is worthy and which ones are not? The Creator seems to have a pretty logical plan set out long before we walked here.
Read more posts from Steve Meurett.
Steve Meurett lives, works and plays in West Central Wisconsin and spends about every free moment outdoors where his passions lie. His outdoor interests take him on and off trail, pursuing mountain biking and skinny skiing, photography and hunting, while keeping an eye on wild mushrooms and the next fruit for craft wine. Steve is the Trail Director at The Levis Mound Trail System and member of the Clark County Trails Advisory Committee. He resides, teaches and is a photographer in Neillsville. Steve can be reached at email@example.com.