Wolves are big, not bad


“Almost all of the social tragedies around the world today are caused by ignoring the basic laws of nature…the quicker we humans learn that saving open space and wildlife is critical to our welfare and quality of life, maybe we’ll start doing something about it.” Those are the words of Jim Fowler, co-host of “Wild Kingdom” and frequent guest on other TV shows.
I became acquainted with Jim as a high school senior when he and his family moved to a place in the country near Albany, Ga., where I lived at the time.
He and I prowled in the woods for a brief period before I left to enroll at Auburn and Jim left for Earlham College where, as I recall, he had a football scholarship.
Years later, after Jim had become a world-traveling TV star with Marlin Perkins, I re-visited him in Albany.
He had several animals in captivity that he used in TV shows and other public appearances.
Among the animals he had were two large beautiful timber wolves, the first I’d ever seen up close. They were confined in a high, heavy-weight wire pen. They appeared friendly and Jim gave me permission to pat them.
In subsequent years, I learned more about wolves and the important roles they play in places where they occur, such as Yellowstone National Park and adjacent areas. Prior to 1995 wolves no longer inhabited Yellowstone. Elk were overly abundant, numbering about 20,000 or more.
Their favorite foods were aspen and willow trees, and willows had become so scarce that beavers, which rely on willows for their food and dams, were on the verge of extirpation from some streams in which they were formerly abundant. As writer Emma Maris put it, “Elk and beavers compete for willows. Elk won and beavers lost, with the consequent loss of marshy habitats, and willows can’t recover without beaver dams creating willow-friendly marshy environments.
In 1995 and 1996, 41 wolves from Canada and northwestern Montana were released in Yellowstone, and now there are between 400 and 450 wolves in the park. Elk comprise most of the wolves’ diet, and the number of elk has declined since the wolves were introduced. Some researchers have noticed that willows seem to be recovering from being over-browsed by the large number of elk. Studies are underway to determine the extent to which wolves are contributing to the recovery of willows, and possibly, of beavers.
In the 1900s, Aldo Leopold, an employee of the U. S. Forest Service, was charged with killing wolves in New Mexico. He observed that as wolves died off, the deer population boomed and he stated,”They ate all the plants down to nothing.” In his writing of “Thinking Like a Mountain,” he put forth the idea that “predators control the ecosystem.”
An organization, “Mission:Wolf,” describes itself as a “peaceful sanctuary for captive wolves and wolf-dog crosses. It states that at present there are more than about a quarter of a million wolves in captivity and that fewer than 10,000 exist in the wild.
“Every year,” according to the organization’s mission statement, “we travel the country with our  ‘ambassador wolves’ to teach people about he value of wild wolves and the dangers of trying to keep wild animals as pets. Our goal is to put ourselves out of business. When we educate enough people that there are no longer any captive wolves in need of rescue, we can tear down our fences, turn the wolf sanctuary into a nature center, and listen to the wolves howling in the wild.”
“Mission-Wolf” is, in my opinion, an organization worthy of public support.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.


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