In his Nov. 9 Herald column, Andrew Gulliford wonders, “Can we learn to live with wolves again?” The answer is yes – depending on a variety of factors.
He states that the last wolf in Colorado was killed 70 to 80 years ago. That’s long enough for people to forget that wolves sometimes attack or kill livestock, pets and even humans. The damage to livestock is the main reason wolves were hunted, trapped and poisoned to near extinction in the contiguous U.S. and some parts of Canada and Alaska.
Changes in attitudes and regulations mean that many wolf populations are recovering. The result is that some ranchers are dealing with livestock predation after an absence of decades, pets are being killed and, on occasion, people feed or habituate wolves in order to get a close-up photo or have what they consider a spiritual experience. All too often, the wolves get into trouble and are killed.
But it is possible to live with canids. Residents of islands off British Columbia’s rugged west coast have learned to “scare, don’t stare” when wolves are seen in human-use areas and to leash their dogs in wolf country. Livestock producers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Idaho, Italy and other areas are protecting their cattle, sheep and horses with fladry and range riders, as well as portable electric fences, lights and noise makers. Disposing of dead livestock is vital to prevent predators from scavenging.
A major factor in nonlethal predator control for some ranchers is the use of livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). The secret to success seems to be the number and type of LGDs. When predators are near, some breeds remain with the herd and protect the animals while others chase the intruders away and even engage in battle if necessary. The dogs wear large spiked collars to protect their otherwise vulnerable throats.
In the past it was thought wolves needed vast tracts of wilderness in order to survive. The new generations of the species are proving to be perfectly capable of living near humans – if we allow them to. Whether wolves trot into Colorado on their own or are reintroduced, young adults will disperse to seek a mate, form a pack and stake out a territory. Unless fenced, they will not stay in a designated area.
Education is essential to coexisting with wolves. Conservation organizations, along with county, state and federal agencies, need to invest time and resources.
We now know that predators – including wolves – are a valuable component of a healthy ecosystem. Yellowstone National Park is a splendid example of wolves’ impact on a landscape and animals that dwell there.
I hope the twelve Wolf creeks in Colorado are able to slake the thirst of their namesake sometime soon. And that people will learn to live with wolves.
Paula Wild is the author of “Return of the Wolf: Conflict & Coexistence.” She lives in Royston, British Columbia.