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Little Red Riding Hood and Other Wolf Myths
Reality: Humans are a threat to wolves
Here’s why: wolves generally shy away from humans, while people have persecuted and, in many places, eliminated wolves. Would Real Wolves Act Like the Wolves of the movie ‘The Grey’? In the U.S. from 1900-2000, no healthy wolf killed a human being. In 2005, wolves killed a man in Saskatchewan, but this was a very rare event. The truth is that wolves pose far less of a threat to humans than lightning strikes. However, wolves are wild carnivores, and we should use common-sense precautions when in wolf country, much as we do in cougar, black bear, or grizzly terrain.
Myth #2: Wolves will drive ranchers out of business
Reality: Wolves are not a significant threat to ranching
Here’s why: wolves in the Northern Rockies and Mexican wolves in the Southwest have not been a major threat to livestock. In 2010, all carnivores combined and domestic dogs killed less than ¼ of 1% (0.23%) of cattle in the US. In the Northern Rocky Mountains in 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service verified a total of 188 cattle and 245 sheep killed in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, which represent less than one percent of the cattle and sheep inventories in those states. Nationwide, carnivores were responsible for killing less than 4% of U.S. sheep in 2009. Just 0.39% of all sheep deaths were caused by wolves. In most cases, the ranchers were compensated for their loss. A much bigger problem for ranchers is the fundamental problem that ranching is neither economically nor ecologically sustainable in the western U.S.. Predation of livestock by wolves should be the rancher’s last concern. Despite the very small number of livestock killed by wolves, many in the livestock industry have been crying wolf all along by opposing any forward steps for this crucial carnivore. (See NRM Wolf Report, pages 20-24.)
Reality: Wolves are crucial for healthy ecosystems
Here’s why: wolves return balance to native ecosystems. With reintroduction to the Yellowstone ecosystem, native flora and fauna are flourishing. That’s because wolves, being the opportunists they are, tend to target the most abundant prey species, such as elk. They not only influence the numbers of elk, they influence where elk are found and how they behave. When Yellowstone was wolf-less, elk negatively affected aspen, cottonwoods, and willow. When wolves returned, aspen and willow stands flourished, providing habitat to beavers and songbirds and resulting in flourishing biodiversity. Wolves also reduce populations of smaller predators, thus benefiting the prey of those “meso-predators” and provide carrion for a wide range of species, large and small. In Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming all reported too many elk. To learn more about wolf predation on elk read NRM Wolf Report pages 24-27; to learn more about wolves’ trophic cascade work, read pages 31 to 32.
Myth #4: No one will miss wolves when they’re gone
Reality: Most people support wolf protection and recovery
Here’s why: most Americans support endangered species protection and protection of wolves in particular. The livestock industry, and the politicians that work at their behest, are fundamentally out of step with the majority of the American public. Upwards of 80% of Americans support a strong Endangered Species Act. Wolves are a top tourism draw to Yellowstone ecosystem, bringing in approximately $36 million in annual revenue to local communities of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. There has been strong public support for wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies and the Southwest, which cuts across party lines and demographics. In the Southern Rockies, public opinion favors wolf reintroduction by over 70%, crossing party and gender lines, and includes hunters. But the federal government has refused to bring this missing carnivore back to the Southern Rockies, timidly deferring to the livestock industry.