Once considered a modern scourge, wolves are now under protection efforts by national societies aiming to reintroduce them to their normal ranges and preserve their numbers. Human encroachment on their habitats is a big problem now, and hunting them has become in vogue.
But wolves are a hugely important part of our natural ecosystem, not to mention the fact that they are a beautiful creature that deserves to be protected.
Under legal protection, wolf numbers in northeastern Minnesota began to increase. At the same time, the wolf began to reoccupy other parts of its former range. Wolves are now present in all areas of presumed suitable habitat in Minnesota and are extending into areas previously thought unsuitable. They are now resident in about the one-third of the State. Additionally, wolves have moved back into Wisconsin and Michigan, and occasional dispersing wolves are detected in both North and South Dakota.
In addition to providing protection, the ESA required that a recovery plan be developed. The goal of the plan was to identify conservation actions needed to establish a viable wolf population that would no longer need ESA protection. The development of the plan was a significant strategy in itself because it focused time, money, and energy on the most important conservation actions. Critical tasks identified in the recovery plan included increasing public education programs on wolf ecology and restoration; monitoring wolf populations, habitat conditions, and prey base; maintaining suitable habitat and prey populations; and minimizing losses of domestic animals from wolf predation.
Research and monitoring were high priority recovery actions because an understanding of wolf ecology, population dynamics, and factors affecting range restriction and mortality were necessary to develop management strategies and to determine if they are working. During the monitoring studies, scientists documented the population increase and range expansion that occurred after 1973. They also observed responses to population changes in the wolf’s prey base (principally deer). Additionally, researchers once thought that road density was a major factor in regulating population size and range, but monitoring showed that it is not as important as once believed. Researchers have also been surprised that the wolf has expanded into areas more populated and developed than many biologists would have expected. Thus, the wolf has shown that it is not strictly a wilderness species. This information is obviously necessary to formulate sound management plans, but it is also useful for the next important strategy: public education.
A strong public education program was identified as an important recovery action, and it is easy to see why. Many people have strong emotional feelings about wolves but lack an ecological understanding of this animal. Groups representing each side in the wolf debate disseminate a great deal of information about wolves, much of it misleading or false. The recovery plan recognized that a factual public education program to explain wolf ecology and management was important so that the public could understand the role of the wolf in its ecosystem, the wolf restoration process, and wolf management options.
As part of a wolf public education program, the FWS funded the Science Museum of Minnesota’s “Wolves and Humans” exhibit that was displayed across the country and is now permanently housed at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. The center itself, designed to house the exhibit and other wolf education activities, also publishes and distributes its own magazine, International Wolf Additionally, the FWS purchased “wolf trunks,” or containers that include teaching curricula and props such as a wolf pelt, skulls of carnivores and herbivores, and casts of animal tracks. Workshops were held to instruct teachers on how to use the trunks to educate school children about wolf ecology. The trunks have been in wide circulation in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The FWS has also prepared wolf fact sheets and submitted educational articles to magazines such as Ranger Rick and National Wildlife.
Mitchell, Kim. “The Act of Saving the Wolf.” Endangered Species Bulletin, Mar. 1998, p. 14.
I’ve long been a fan of wolves, if you couldn’t tell by my choice of jewelry (my favorite wolf necklace is something I wear almost daily) and clothing. I think that they are spectacular and majestic creatures that deserve our respect. They are mythologized well enough and I think that even things like Twilight and the enamor people have with werewolves is only going to help them.