American Wolf Wars

September 25, 2016 Posted by: David Kopshever

A grey wolf
A grey wolf observed in Amalik Bay. NPS Photo/D. Kopshever. 

The wolf is perhaps the most misunderstood and polarizing animal species ever encountered by human-kind. Fear, hatred, and demonization of the wolf have deep roots in Western culture. Looking back at American history with the wolf shows why human concepts of morality and ethics should never be imposed upon wild animals. In the wolf’s case, the results have been catastrophic. 

Just a few hundred years ago, the wolf was one of the most widespread and successful land mammals of North America. After what one researcher has called “the most relentless and ruthless persecution one species has ever waged against another,” the wolf has been exterminated from more than 90% of its original range. Alaska is the last significant refuge for the American grey wolf. National Parks like Katmai protect wolves from their sole predator - humans.

A map depicts past, current and potential future wolf habitiat
Map courtesy of Curt Bradley/Center for Biological Diversity.

For many people today, the wolf represents wildness, strength, and intelligence - but this is a newly found respect for the wolf among Americans, and it is not all encompassing. Some, particularly those who live in the few areas with present wolf populations, feel threatened by the wolf and are compelled to perpetuate an all out war against the world’s most misunderstood creature. 

A grey wolf in Amalik Bay
A grey wolf in Amalik Bay. NPS Photo/D. Kopshever.

The wolf’s greatest downfall has been the fact that it relies on the same food sources as modern humans. North America was once home to as many as 57 million hoofed animals - bison, antelope, deer, elk, and bighorn sheep - today less than 8% of that number exist, mostly composed of deer. As European settlers moved through the continent, the American grasslands were extirpated of big game and replaced by sprawling farmlands. As a result, some wolves survived by preying on the domesticated animals that humans brought in their wake of destruction. Soon, a relationship of coexistence was deemed impossible by the people who’s livelihood depended on livestock.

A man stands atop a mountain of skulls
Two men stand with a mountain of Bison Skulls. Photo courtesy of Burton Historical Society.

By the beginning of the 19th century, wolves were hunted and trapped by ranchers and professional bounty hunters alike. State sponsored bounties on wolf carcasses made wolf hunting a lucrative business in some places. These bounties remained in some states as late as 1965. Even today, bounties exist for the wolf’s cousin - the coyote. Many states, including Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, will pay hunters as much as $50 per coyote pelt. Like the wolf, the coyote is being killed in masse because of a misapplication of ethics upon wild animals. 

The widespread view of the wolf as an evil, revolting creature has resulted in the destruction of thousands of wolves and often brutal torture of the animal. The luckier recipients of man’s wrath were poisoned or shot. Others were burned alive or scalped; some had their mouths wired shut or their eyes scorched by branding irons, then were released back into the woods to slowly starve to death. 

A dead wolf lies in the dirt
A dead wolf, later collected for bounty. Photo courtesy of A.R. Harding.

Such are the possibilities when wild animals are confined to the rules of human kind. A wolf is not evil for being a wolf - for doing what it needs to survive. Nor is any other animal. This idea is beginning to take hold with people across the country. Work has begun to restore the wolf as a valuable part of our natural ecosystems, but the battle to redress what has been done is just beginning, and is not without opposition. Fear and hatred of the wolf - born from the imposition of human ethics upon these wild animals - is still present with some Americans. Alaska’s wolf population is not endangered or threatened. As a result, America’s last frontier is also one of the last places where wolf hunting is permitted on a significant scale.

A grey wolf in Amalik Bay
A grey wolf in Amalik Bay. NPS Photo/D. Kopshever.

Katmai is one of the few remaining sanctuaries where wolves can thrive with relatively little contact from humans. Protected places like Katmai are extremely important for the wolf’s survival. More wilderness areas, free of human settlement, roads, and livestock are needed for the wolf to survive as it once did. But that is only one part of a solution. People and wild animals can coexist together, if the right attitudes and behaviors are embraced. 

The wolf in these photographs was observed in Amalik Bay, on the Katmai coast. 

A grey wolf in Amalik Bay
A grey wolf in Amalik Bay. NPS Photo/D. Kopshever. 

Wolf, wilderness, Coexistence, Amalik Bay, Katmai's Coast




15 Comments Comments icon

  1. Deb
    July 19, 2018 at 05:13
     

    Yet another reason to love and admire Katmai....

     
  2. toby
    April 19, 2018 at 09:17
     

    wolfs are amazing

     
  3. September 27, 2016 at 09:52
     

    Such a fabulous article! The intelligence of the wolf and its pack as a family make it one of the most incredible predators. The wolf has been proven to be the crucial species to maintain a viable ecosystem, without it there is an imbalance. Humans have been the entire problem through the centuries for the magnificent wolf, humans must now find a way to coexist with this species which was here long before mankind showed its face. Why so we think we have the right to kill and conquer anything that isn't a part of our plan?!?!?

     
  4. Jim
    September 27, 2016 at 07:35
     

    A very perceptive and informatative, well written article! Thank you so much for sharing. We have Coyotes and they are in nearly the same predicament here! Farmers and hunters seem to hate them for existing ! Thank you again! Jim in Vermont (An Old Farmer who happens to love animals in the wild)

     
  5. Jim
    September 27, 2016 at 07:35
     

    A very perceptive and informatative, well written article! Thank you so much for sharing. We have Coyotes and they are in nearly the same predicament here! Farmers and hunters seem to hate them for existing ! Thank you again! Jim in Vermont (An Old Farmer who happens to love animals in the wild)

     
  6. Jim
    September 27, 2016 at 07:35
     

    A very perceptive and informatative, well written article! Thank you so much for sharing. We have Coyotes and they are in nearly the same predicament here! Farmers and hunters seem to hate them for existing ! Thank you again! Jim in Vermont (An Old Farmer who happens to love animals in the wild)

     
  7. September 27, 2016 at 12:56
     

    Wonderful and well written article...the photos are incredible. We have finally brought the wolf back to Oregon and Washington, and now they (Fish and Wildlife as well as Washington State) are sanctioning the killing of them. This has to stop.

     
  8. September 27, 2016 at 12:22
     

    A great piece about the wolf, a top predator. Beautiful photos show them in all their magnificence. Unfortunately their lifestyle brings them into huge conflict with humans. As I don't live in the USA or Canada I haven't grown up with a desire to exterminate them to protect my livelihood. It's a difficult line to tread and a lot to ask of people when they feel threatened by the wolf. Perhaps it would be better to make more of your beautiful land into protected reserves where they can roam freely without fear of being shot or poisoned. Maybe if more people reacquainted themselves with the true story about the wolf Lobo, King of the Currumpaw then perhaps people might begin to feel more kindly disposed to this magnificent top predator once more. What a shame we can't make room for them in our world.

     
  9. September 27, 2016 at 07:29
     

    Beautiful photographs David! Keep up the excellent work. We appreciate all your efforts.

     
  10. September 27, 2016 at 06:07
     

    Thank you for this excellent article on these amazing animals. I've been watching the Red Wolf reintroduction here in NC for the last 20 years, and changing people's misconceptions and fears has been such a struggle. It is a thrill to see the beautiful Katmai wolves on the bear cam. Your photographs are "National Geographic" quality - I always look forward to them.

     
  11. September 26, 2016 at 06:54
     

    I know not everyone agrees with me but I see no valid reason to kill anything unless you are so poor that you're faced with starvation. I don't believe I've ever heard of anyone eating wolf meat although I can't personally attest to that. If certain areas feel they have an over-population of a particular animal such as deer, although I won't ever like it, if there's an agreement to process and donate the meat to a homeless shelter or food bank, then I could probably live with that to keep deer populations from starving to death or dying of diseases caused by lack of food source. I just think there have to be other ways to redirect the wolf population away from livestock rather than to kill the wolf.

     
  12. September 26, 2016 at 06:42
     

    Thank you for posting this as I also love wolves.(I also watch live cams of wolves at the Wolf Conservation in NY). I have read about the 2014 of the entire killing of the Lost Creek Wolf pack by another gov't agency and as recently as last month that a Wolf pack (East Fork wolf pack), that has been studied since the 1930's in Denali might all have have perished now because Federal and State gov;t agencies have their own agendas and are at odds with each other. National Geographic Magazine did a beautiful article about the Coastal Wolves in the Great Bear Rainforest and how they are different from interior Wolves, and it reminded me of the differences between the interior Grizzly Bears and the Coastal Bears that I know as Brown Bears. A wolf known as OR-7 created quite a stir (good and bad) on the west coast and as of this year, there is a confirmed Wolf pack in CA and alot of people are not happy about. I do not know about the future of Wolves as I think a lot of it comes down to politics and if Gov't agencies can't not agree, there is only one hope I can see for them on the horizon...learning and educating people about these 'magnificent creatures called Wolves and I thank you so much for posting this blog!!! (I give you my paw: )

     
  13. September 26, 2016 at 06:21
     

    Thank you for posting this as I also love wolves. I have read about the 2014 of the entire killing of the Lost Creek Wolf pack by another gov't agency and as recently as last month that a Wolf pack (East Fork wolf pack), that has been studied since the 1930's in Denali might all have have perished now because Federal and State gov;t agencies have their own agendas and are at odds with each other. National Geographic Magazine did a beautiful article about the Coastal Wolves in the Great Bear Rainforest and how they are different from interior Wolves, and it reminded me of the differences between the interior Grizzly Bears and the Coastal Bears that I know as Brown Bears. A wolf known as OR-7 created quite a stir (good and bad) on the west coast and as of this year, there is a confirmed Wolf pack in CA and alot of people are not happy about. I do not know about the future of Wolves as I think a lot of it comes down to politics and if Gov't agencies can't not agree, there is only one hope I can see for them on the horizon...learning and educating people about these 'magnificent creatures called Wolves and I thank you so much for posting this blog!!! (I give you my paw: )

     
  14. September 26, 2016 at 05:27
     

    I don't believe in hunting wild animals unless it is for food. I always thought that the ranchers were using public land for their cattle or sheep to graze.And if they were killed by a wolf that wolf or wolves were hunted for revenge of loss livestock. I know Minnesota had licenses to kill wolves for hunters which I don't agree with. I believe Wisconsin found out they only had a few wolves left this past year, after a study. I believe the wildlife would even out the population of overproduction of deer, moose, etc. They are smarter than humans give them credit for. There are many diseases out there that affect the predators populations as well. The circle of life.

     
  15. September 26, 2016 at 05:27
     

    I don't believe in hunting wild animals unless it is for food. I always thought that the ranchers were using public land for their cattle or sheep to graze.And if they were killed by a wolf that wolf or wolves were hunted for revenge of loss livestock. I know Minnesota had licenses to kill wolves for hunters which I don't agree with. I believe Wisconsin found out they only had a few wolves left this past year, after a study. I believe the wildlife would even out the population of overproduction of deer, moose, etc. They are smarter than humans give them credit for. There are many diseases out there that affect the predators populations as well. The circle of life.

     
 
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Last updated: September 25, 2016

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