I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way. The Peninsula Daily News reports that a public meeting last year was packed with wolf supporters:
SEQUIM – A crowd of North Olympic Peninsula residents told state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials that gray wolves belong in Washington state – maybe even on the Peninsula.
“I want a bumper sticker that says ‘Wolves NOW,'” said Dennis Murray of Sequim, one of some 85 people who attended Fish and Wildlife’s Tuesday night “public scoping meeting” in Sequim on the drafting of a gray wolf management plan for Washington.
This is surely an excellent sign, especially in light of the fact that it was largely public opposition that ended a reintroduction effort in the 1990s.
I don’t have any public opinion research at my disposal, but I’ve been following this issue for a while it sure seems like something has changed. Maybe it’s the fact that the Rocky Mountain wolf reintroduction was such a success, generating strong public support and netting real economic returns. And while there have certainly been conflicts with livestock owners, the fears of wolf-human conflicts have pretty well been put to rest now.
Wolves are present in large numbers in seven states (and in small numbers in many more) and the fact is that wolves simply don’t harm people. In fact, anyone care to guess where the largest number of U.S. wolves live outside of Alaska?
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It’s Minnesota by a landslide. About twice as many wolves live in the land of Prairie Home Companion as in all of the western states combined. And in addition to Minnesota’s 3,000 wolves, another 500-plus live in Wisconsin and another 500-plus in Michigan. You just don’t hear many stories about Midwesterners being gobbled up by wolves.
The 1,500-ish wolves in the Montana-Idaho-Wyoming region have been similarly wary of people. I think it’s finally sunk in on some level. So as wolves have made their way back into Oregon and Washington, the public response has been encouragingly temperate. That’s a good thing because few topics in conservation can stir stronger emotions than wolves. And now that wolves are returning to the Northwest on their own initiative, it’s time for us to have a candid and reasoned conversation about their place.
In Washington, state officials are already drafting a Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. (The section on the history of wolves in Washington is especially fascinating.) The plan is undergoing scientific peer review now and will be available for public comment in early 2009. We expect that the plan will develop a management scheme for wolves that have returned to the state on their own; it likely won’t have provisions for actively reintroducing them, not even into hard to reach places like Olympic National Park where they would surely thrive. I think that’s a shame—but the public comment period will be an excellent opportunity to offer corrections to the state’s plan. Stay tuned.
Photo credit: Gary Kramer, US Fish and Wildlife Service.