Wolves called in the wild

We heard Canada geese, mallards, wigeon, redheads and canvasbacks. A bittern called with a sound like an old-fashioned water pump, oonk-a-choonk, oonk-a-choonk. We heard yellow rails and coots and a pied-billed grebe. Three trumpeter swans flew almost directly over our boat. We heard the winnowing of their wings first, looked up and saw them, great white birds with slowly pumping wings.

Then we heard a sound that sent a chill up and down my back, a long, drawn out wail, the howl of a wolf. A second answered, and a third.

I was thrilled. I felt that I was truly in a wilderness, that all around me was wildness. We were on a lake where we knew there wasn’t another boat. There wasn’t a building or power line or other sign of people in sight. Wild rice and cattails and bulrushes grew in the shallower water, trees beyond the margin of the water. And there were wolves howling, giving the call of the wild.

While I was thrilled at the sound of the wolves, and many other people would also be, many other people would not. The Alaskan legislators who passed the law permitting shooting wolves from airplanes would not nor would the men carrying out the slaughter. The people who opposed the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and the people who now want an open season on wolves around Yellowstone would not. Nor would people who favor poisoning wolves, coyotes and other predators.

A recent article in Audubon magazine, titled, “Kill, Baby, Kill,” opposed pursuing and shooting wolves from planes. The next issue of Audubon had several “Letters from our Readers” relating to the subject. Some of the letter writers agreed with the author of the article. Some, predictably, did not.

One person who disagreed wrote, “Like weeds, wolves need to be killed.” A member of the Division of Wildlife Conservation of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, wrote, “our department’s focused and scientifically based predator management helps provide more moose and caribou for the tables of Alaskans.”

I disagree with both of those writers. I don’t think wolves are anything like weeds. Nor do I consider killing as many wolves as possible “scientifically based predator management.” But the writer who really raised my ire was one who wrote, “It should not be news to informed individuals that wolves, bears, and probably most importantly, coyotes can kill off the food sources in an area before they themselves succumb to starvation and/or migration.”

Wolves, bears and coyotes can kill off the food sources in an area. Think about that. If it was true there would have been no deer, elk, moose, pronghorn, bison or rabbits in North America when the first European settlers came to this continent. There would have been no wolves, bears, coyotes or mountain lions either. The predators would long before have killed off all the animals they preyed on, then succumbed to starvation themselves.

In 1995, when the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone was a controversial issue, the Montana legislature passed a resolution urging the federal government to reintroduce wolves everywhere in the USA, “including Central Park in New York City, The Presidio in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.”

What a thought! Then people in New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., could hear wolves and be thrilled just as I was one beautiful moonlit night at a National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota.

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