The gray wolf is the legendary predator ruler over a kingdom that expands across Minnesota's forests and prairies. Gray wolves are protectors of the forest's ecosystem, ensuring that other fauna have habitats to live, breed and raise young. They are regulators of the deer populations, ensuring that they are stronger and healthier. They are providers of food from carrion for species such as bald eagles and other scavengers. They have thrived in the Minnesota landscape for centuries, even when the government issued a bounty for wolves for $3 a pelt in 1849 and ended it in 1965 at $35, and all wolves had been extirpated from all of the 48 lower states, except the northern range of the state with 10,000 lakes.
They are rulers of the forest, but not tyrants; they take what they need, and prefer to keep to themselves while the rumors of their bloodthirsty destructive charisma circulate. But as with any environment where two predators co-exist, tensions do arise. In the next several posts I will be confronting the wolf hysteria and myths that have been increasing in Minnesota.
Danger to humans and pets
The first is the fear of wolves attacking people and pets. Wolves are highly social animals, amongst themselves. Though sometimes people try to seek out wolf territory to catch a glimpse of one of Minnesota's population of 3,000, often the only signs humans will find are the large padded footprints left when the animals run swiftly through the woods, or perhaps strolled along a trail solo in the moonlight. Or sometimes we hear their echoing howls in the hours of darkness when they are calling to reunite with each other. They avoid people if possible, and almost never attack humans. There has actually never been a documented case in North America of a healthy wolf killing a person.
However, there have been reports of wolves attacking pets — especially dogs. Wolves are very territorial and will guard their territories from other wolves in packs (coyotes and domesticated dogs). They do not consider someone's canine companion an easy meal, but may deem it an infiltrator looking to kill their young and compete for their resources. In many situations, human presence will deter a wolf from attacking a dog, and attacks on hunting dogs with people nearby are also rare.
In regard to livestock, if an animal is taken, the farmer will be awarded full compensation, or the fair market value, from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (although according to the International Wolf Center, the taking of agricultural animals occurs only on about one to two percent of Minnesota's 8,500 farms). Also, this rate seems to be decreasing regardless of wolf population rise. This may be because farmers are practicing more predator-wise husbandry such as keeping birthing, sick, young and old animals closer to barnyards and properly disposing of carcasses. Another factor may be that wolves are harvesting more of the state's increasing and abundant deer population.
Coming up next: Why deer hunters should be grateful, not hateful.