DEAR READERS: The Biden administration is moving to complete what the Trump administration had set out to do: delist gray wolves from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2011, Congress removed the wolves' Endangered Species Act protections in Montana, Alaska, Idaho and portions of Oregon, Utah and Washington based on the erroneous view that these in-state wolves were a "distinct population segment" -- that is, a different subspecies from the Eastern gray wolf. It is open season for hunting wolves in Alaska, even when mothers are nursing cubs in their dens.
In anticipation of wolves being delisted nationwide, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) solicited public comment on opening a wolf hunting and trapping season. This is a shortened version of my response:
I have studied the behavior, development and communication of wolves -- a highly intelligent, social and empathic species -- and edited and published several books on wild canids. In my professional opinion as a veterinarian and ethologist, the gray wolf, once close to extinction in its North American range, should remain protected under the Endangered Species Act in all states.
The Minnesota DNR's proposed wolf management plan must be considered within a broader One Health framework of ecological restoration/rewilding. This science and bioethics-based ecocentrism is the antithesis of the anthropocentrism of natural resource "management," exploitation and purported sustainable "harvesting" of various plant and animal species.
After centuries of wild habitat destruction, fragmentation and degradation by the timber and mining industries; the criminal ecocide and mass slaughter of bison; the genocide of the Anishinaabe Native Americans; encroachment by livestock keepers and commodity crop farming (and associated agrichemical pollution) on former prairie grasslands and wetlands, primarily to raise feed for livestock and poultry; state and federal wildlife management agencies have a formidable agenda to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats and uphold the rights of indigenous peoples.
An estimated 96% of the world's mammals, by weight, are humans and their livestock; just 4% are wild. One lesson from the ecology of the wolf is that there are too many of us to live as predators with meat as a dietary staple without causing irreparable damage to the environment.
Deforestation and other habitat changes have enabled the proliferation of white-tailed deer to an estimated 1 million in Minnesota, as well as the displacement and near-extinction of elk, moose and caribou. The deer numbers have generated a profitable industry with close to 428,000 deer hunters killing 184,698 deer in 2021. Hunters of small game deposited some 178 tons of lead shot in 2017, according to estimates by the Minnesota DNR. (There is no lead data available for deer hunters, who are "encouraged" not to use lead shot, but are not prohibited from doing so. Some 7% of donated venison is toxic with lead fragments.)
Too many deer hunters and lower deer numbers will mean more wolf predation on livestock, and more wolves being gut shot so they run off, die slowly and are not found on the illegal killers' properties. When deer numbers are low, deer hunters and outfitters call for more wolf kills -- a management practice that is contradictory, since wolves are self-regulating in their numbers. As field research has demonstrated, wolves help maintain the health of deer herds and prevent them from overgrazing and overbrowsing, which facilitates reforestation.
Wolf numbers tend to be self-regulating since a wolf pack that has no prey in one area will move to another, possibly entering the territory of other packs, which increases the probability of conflicts, injuries and death. Most significantly, natural population control in wolves is density-related, and fewer females are born when the population is high. But hunting can disrupt pack stability and viability, and more females are born when people are killing wolves. Many wolves die from hunting injuries, starvation and various diseases, some of which, like distemper and parvovirus, are passed from infected, free-roaming dogs.
To help head off the climate and extinction crises, every state's department of natural resources should rebrand and call themselves departments of nature restoration and protection.
The sympathy and respect for wolves as fellow hunters in our ancestral past, and from whom the domesticated dog became our loyal companion and family member, were supplanted by antipathy, prejudice, persecution and lupophobia. It would demonstrate enlightenment and support for all life systems to restore that sympathy and respect through a more humane and science-based wolf management plan for the good of all species.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)