Little Red Riding Hood would have no trouble making it through the woods in Illinois -- gray wolves are one of the many species on the Illinois Endangered Animal List
Illinois is known for its vast prairies and as the Land of Lincoln. Alaska, half a continent away, is often thought of for its unusual weather and cold-weather species, such as the gray wolf. What many people don't know is that the gray wolf was originally found in all the lower 48 states. Today, the species is predominantly found in the northern Rockies area, Alaska and Canada. Instead of always associating gray wolves with northern states and countries, it would be nice if the animal could be recognized once again in the great lakes area.
By the 1930s, the gray wolf was killed off in many of the lower 48 states, according to the Defenders of Wildlife website
. At one point there may have been up to 2 million wolves within the United States; now, there are an estimated 7,000 to 11,200 wolves in Alaska and about 5,000 or more in the lower 48 states, according to the Defenders of Wildlife. Many states and wildlife associations have tried to reintroduce the animal into their prior natural habitats.
"Thanks to the reintroduction of wolves in 1995, Yellowstone National Park is one of the most favored places to see and hear wolves in the native habitat," said Defenders of Wildlife.
But what is so shocking about this majestic, dog-like creature -- it continues to be hunted in places like Alaska regardless of its endangered status in other states.
Wolves have been hunted for many years because of their threat to livestock, or their perceived threat to people. In Alaska and the northern Rockies, wolves are allowed to be hunted because of their "over population" in the area. States may set quotas and open hunting season for the animal. Do these states forget that they are a natural part of that habitat and endangered just a state away? The largest problem results from people believing that if the wolf population is not controlled they will be dangerous and overbearing.
"Overall, the greatest threat to wolves is people's fear and misunderstanding about the species," said Defenders of Wildlife. "Many fairy tales and myths tend to misrepresent wolves as villainous, dangerous creatures."
It is precisely this misrepresentation that has led to the aerial hunting of wolves in Alaska. Although legislation was passed in 1971 under the Aerial Hunting Act, Alaska has allowed for this type of hunting to resume. In Alaska the practice is done to boost other animal populations by controlling another. The practice allows for hunters to chase wolves in a plane until they become exhausted and then they are shot.
While this is not happening in Illinois, it will continue to affect the overall population of gray wolves. As conservation groups and defenders continue to work on legislation and protection acts, you should help, too.
How to help
• Sign any and all petitions to ban legislation or acts that would allow for aerial hunting or lax laws on protection.
• Keep your eye out for current or updated news articles on ways you can help or on changing endangered status.
• Let animal groups within your area now about the struggle wolves are going through.
Wolves are natural predators and key animal within the food chain. Gray wolves typically live seven to eight years and this is a precious lifespan we should be willing and fighting to protect.