Wolves play an integral role in maintaining the health of wildlife and ecosystems, and indirectly, livestock and public health. Recognition of this role and its ecological ramifications calls for greater respect, protection and increased numbers of wolves in appropriate habitats across North America. Current federal and state government initiatives, backed by diverse vested interests, are poised to reduce the nation's existing wolf population, which is contrary to the directives of sound science, reason and the public interest.
State wildlife management practices directed to maximize deer numbers for recreational hunters, rural Americaâ€™s virtual extermination of the wolf over the past two centuries, coupled with forest management practices and agricultural expansion indirectly providing feed for deer and the encroachment of real estate housing developments with deer-attracting gardens and vegetation in municipal parks, have had unforeseen consequences associated with high White tail deer numbers; and elk in western states. Two of these unforeseen consequences concern public health and potential harm to the livestock industry, which a higher population of wolves across the U.S. would do much to rectify.
According to the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources, "After the young (fawns) are born each spring, there are between 900,000 and 1,000,000 (White tail) deer in Minnesota. The hunting season is important to keep the deer population from getting too large. Each year, Minnesota hunters harvest between 150,000 and 200,000 deer".
Hunters seek out the healthiest deer and trophy antler-bearers in particular. A seasonal hunt eliminating almost one quarter of the deer population means starvation for wolf in deer-hunted zones at the start of winter. This probably increases their predation on livestock. Increasing deer hunting quotas to better regulate deer numbers is not a biologically appropriate response even though it is a multibillion-dollar source of revenue for states and equipment suppliers.
Wolves prey on deer year-round, taking the slower ones weakened by injury and disease, and therefore play a significant role in controlling diseases carried by deer, notably prion-causing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). This disease also affects mule deer, elk and moose and is now spreading across the U.S. and Canada. Wolves are probably immune. But if these prions mutate and cross the species barrier and affect livestock, especially since prions have now been found in plants consumed by deer and also in agricultural crops consumed by livestock and humans, the consequences could have devastating economic consequences for the livestock industry.
Snarling Wolf photo via Shutterstock.