The Call of The Wild

Friday the front page news here in the Valley was that wolves had attacked and killed a dog in Burke.

WALLACE — Domestic dogs were attacked by four wolves around 6 p.m. Wednesday night on the 600 block of Burke Road, just outside of Wallace.

One dog died and another sustained a facial bite, said Shoshone County Sheriff Mitch Alexander, and there were many wolf tracks in the area.

Idaho Fish and Game notified residents in the area and informed them that it is legal to shoot the wolf pack.

Mullan resident Barry Sadler didn’t just have his dogs attacked by wolves a few years ago — they chased his daughter into the front door and came right up on his porch.

“They just can’t coexist with people,” he said. “It’s impossible … as long as they run wild, they’ll continue to kill everything until there’s nothing left.”

Sadler shot and killed one of the offending wolves. His wife, who was inside at the time watching out the window, said that while he was lying on his stomach shooting, one was watching him from about 25 feet away.

He said wolves just chew animals up a lot of the time without eating them, and called them “treacherous and filthy.” The percentage of what they kill versus what they eat is less than 10 percent, Sadler said.

Regarding Wednesday’s attack, he said people don’t realize that wolves would rather eat dogs than any other animal.

“They hate each other,” he said. “They’ll kill dogs any chance they get.”

And his dogs have killed wolves themselves — they’ll come up to the porch covered in blood, he said.

Sadler said he’s not a hunter, and at first, the thought of hunting wolves made him sad because they reminded him of dogs. But then he saw what they’re capable of.

“I know God doesn’t make mistakes,” he said, “but I tell you what — the fly, the mosquito and the wolf … I don’t know what He was thinking when He made those three.”

Calls made to Idaho Fish and Game official Josh Stanley about the attack weren’t immediately returned.

Kelsey Saintz, Shoshone News Press, January 13, 2012

At 4:28pm last night Spokane news station KHQ posted news was that there was another wolf attack on a chained dog in the same area. By 5:20pm they had revised the report to state it was “wild dogs.” Apparently Idaho Fish and Game had showed up and said there were lots of tracks in the area but no wolf tracks.

Saturday morning the front page had a correction: no wolves were involved in either attack.

The residents of Shoshone County, for the most part, seem to be staunchly against wolf reintroduction for three main reasons.

“Wolves Are Dangerous”

The fear of wolf attacks is highly overblown—the only two wolf attack death in the lower 48 I can find record of since 1950 are two children killed in Minnesota and Michigan…by pet wolves. Add in one in Alaska in 2010, one in 1910 (Iowa), two in 1888 (North Dakota), one in 1830 (Kentucky), and one account in 1833 of 13 people being killed by a rabid wolf. Discounting the wolves in captivity and the rabid wolf that leaves five people ever killed by wolves in the United States? And none killed in the Northern Rockies since wolves were reintroduced. No one is advocating killing all bears and they kill people at a very high frequency compared to wolves. (List of fatal bear attacks, North America) Domestic dogs are more likely to kill you than a wolf…

Peter and The Wolf, 1946

As far as wolf attacks on dogs is concerned, first, many attacks are highly suspect (such as those that “occurred” this week in Shoshone County). Second, dogs killed by wolves are often allowed to roam free by rural landowners; living in a rural area one must accept the risks associated with your location including risks to your pets.

“These Aren’t The Same Wolves We Had, These Are Canadian Wolves”

Yeah, they were, sort of.  It is frequently argued that the wolves introduced into Idaho and Montana are “non-native.” It’s as if people have forgotten that wolves were in fact reintroduced. This was wolf habitat.

Historic wolf habitat

The argument usually runs that the wolves reintroduced here are a “different species.” The species reintroduced was canis lupus which was certainly the species that lived here before. Interestingly enough, there is a member of canis lupus sleeping on my feet at this moment. Canis lupus encompasses thirty-nine subspecies including canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog.

Vicious Canis lupus familiaris

The wolves native to Northern Idaho and Yellowstone were Northern Rocky Mountain wolves (canis lupus irremotus). The Northern Rocky Mountain wolf was not a recognized subspecies at the time of the Yellowstone and Idaho wolf reintroduction program that began in 1995 so the Mackenzie Valley wolf (canis lupus occidentalis) was introduced.

The wolves are not quite the same but they are similarly sized. And identifying subspecies of wolves is a matter often up for debate by taxonomists. The bottom line is that a similarly sized subspecies of canis lupus was native to this area and is part of a healthy functioning ecosystem. Which takes us to the final argument…

“Wolves are killing our elk.”

Uh, yeah, they are. But they’re not “our” elk. (I had an eight-year-old refer to elk as “ours” I asked him if they really were “ours.” He had to think awhile.)

Statistics about elk population responses to wolves throughout the west are hotly contested. Calf mortality is up in many locations. Yellowstone’s elk population is down about 40%. Population in Wyoming is up overall. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation reports that elk populations in 20 of 29 game units is at or above objectives and that overall state population grew by 2,000 animals from 2010 to 2011.

Ultimately, however, drops in population in protected areas such as Yellowstone represent a rebalancing of population and a movement towards healthier herd. After such a long period without a healthy wolf population it seems only natural that it might take some time before both the balance would even itself out.

In the end, one can only hope that governmental leaders can stand behind their decision to partially restore a healthy ecosystem and local residents will have to adapt.

3 thoughts on “The Call of The Wild”

  1. for some reason, my screen isn’t showing the rest of what you wrote, but wolves are such a controversial in the West. That article is totally riduculous

    A major argument against wolves in New Mexico is that they kill livestock. Is that an issue where you are?

    and i love that photo of your vicious canas lupis familiaris – he’s so cute!

    1. No, there really isn’t any livestock to speak of in this area of Idaho (although there are plenty of mad ranchers elsewhere in the state.)

      And sadly, that’s not even the worst of the articles our local paper has had. The fear mongering! In the newspapers!

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