Big, bad wolf myth lives on in TV spot aimed at Wisconsin residents
A new television commercial sponsored by the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, the Wisconsin Cattleman's Association and Wisconsin chapters of Safari Club International warns the state's residents about the "growing danger" of wolf attacks. The...
A new television commercial sponsored by the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, the Wisconsin Cattleman's Association and Wisconsin chapters of Safari Club International warns the state's residents about the "growing danger" of wolf attacks. The commercials maintain that "Little Red Riding Hood was right."
You would think we were a couple of decades beyond that kind of thinking, but the fear of wolves dies hard. It's rekindled by outdoor magazines whose covers occasionally depict a cornered hunter surrounded by a pack of snarling wolves.
Despite generations of us raised on "Little Red Riding Hood," wolves are fascinating animals that almost never attack humans. Yes, they'll follow you at a distance across a frozen lake. They'll kill and eat domestic livestock. They'll kill pets and the loose-running dogs of Wisconsin bear hunters.
It's not inconceivable that a healthy, wild wolf would attack a human being. But the few documented cases of attacks on humans nearly always involved either rabid wolves or those habituated to human contact at campgrounds or garbage dumps. In Minnesota, wolves have had hundreds -- probably thousands -- of chances to attack humans and have not done so.
The only case in Minnesota even resembling a wolf attack occurred many years ago. A man hunting rabbits, wearing a coat well-anointed with buck scent from deer season, was jumped from behind by a wolf. The man fired a shot from his .22-caliber rifle.
"The wolf appeared to come to its senses and fled, leaving the hunter with a long scratch," wrote Minnesota wolf researcher L. David Mech.
Is it unnerving to be in close proximity to a wolf? Sure. I've talked to several people over the past 30 years who have had encounters with wolves, on foot. It is no different from being on the ground near a black bear or a grizzly or a polar bear. Any time you're close to an animal that has the capability to eat you, it gets your attention. You are bound to feel vulnerable.
But the odds of being attacked by a wolf are nearly nonexistent. The chances of being attacked by a domestic dog are much greater.
That doesn't mean wolves need to be regarded as some kind of sacred animal. They belong here as part of the ecosystem. But federal trappers, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are permitted to trap and kill wolves known to be attacking domestic livestock in Minnesota. That program should continue.
Unfortunately, a federal trap-and-kill program for wolves attacking livestock in Wisconsin ended last August when a court decision banned it. As a result, northern Wisconsin farmers are losing more livestock to wolves.
The federal government is expected to soon relinquish its control of the wolf, under the Endangered Species Program, returning management to individual states in the Great Lakes region. Neither Minnesota nor Wisconsin plans to offer public hunting or trapping of wolves. The comeback of wolves in both states -- to about 3,000 in Minnesota and about 500 in Wisconsin -- is a success story on par with that of bald eagles and peregrine falcons.
Most people in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan -- 75 percent in a recent Northland College survey -- believe their states have the right number or even too few wolves.
But the wolf will always have its detractors. Some people still hate wolves. In Wisconsin last fall, nine wolves were found shot dead during deer season.
"Wolves are large carnivores. Like bears, cougars and domestic dogs, they should be regarded as potentially dangerous," Mech wrote in 1998. "This does not mean that wolves should be viewed with an unhealthy fear or that we must return to the days when wolves were regarded as demons. It only means that we should view wolves with the same healthy respect due any potentially dangerous animal."
Unfortunately, these new commercials airing in Wisconsin will fuel popular myths and fears about wolves.
Sam Cook is a News Tribune outdoors writer and columnist. Reach him at (218) 723-5332. Find past columns at www.duluthnewstribune.com .