Since the beginning of time, humankind has hurled themselves into direct competition with the world’s largest predators. From habitat to prey, humans have undoubtedly viewed carnivores as a major threat to their security and food supply. It has been shown that in past eras where hominids were found, there was also a direct decline in the large predators of that time. So why does it seem that humankind is prematurely wired to hate nature’s stealthiest hunters of the food chain? Is it because we really are in competition for a prey base? Or are we simply scared of the unknown that they seem to bring?
Wolves specifically have been a topic of great controversy since the early 1900’s when population numbers in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were virtually nonexistent. Hunted to near extinction, the gray wolf was hated by many and preserved by few. With such a successful reintroduction since, populations of gray wolves across the United States are now once again faced with mixed stakeholder groups, as they have remained a hot topic of debate everywhere.
Histories of wolf-human conflicts are so rare and yet immensely feared. Could it be because of the way they are falsely portrayed in our fiction and folklore? We are all familiar with the Big Bad Wolf that mercilessly devours poor Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Or the three little pigs, whose homes were blown to bits by a bloodthirsty wolf. Even the recent Disney film Frozen didn’t miss an opportunity to have a pack of wolves chasing down the princess and her prince. While it makes for a good story to pin wolves as the bad guy, that is all these will ever be—stories. Wolves have always been extremely misunderstood for centuries and it is time that we spread the truth about this critical species.
While wolves do hunt and take life from many prey species, they also give life to entire ecosystems. Following their reintroduction to Yellowstone in 1995, valleys and gorges regenerated in vegetation and thrived in the following six years. Species such as songbirds, beavers, foxes, badgers, and birds of prey grew in number, and rivers changed their entire courses. Because of the wolf, the complete trophic cascade surrounding this ecosystem thrived. Even so, with so many negative connotations, it is difficult to find a management plan for this great species that will hold true with everyone. Today I bring attention to this keystone species, without which entire ecosystems would surely collapse. It is time that we recognize all species for their worth and contribution to the natural world around us. I challenge you not to fear the creatures that we share this planet with but to research them and to learn about the things you thought scared you. You might be surprised.
To learn more about the wolves impact in Yellowstone I highly recommend the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q
What other “nuisance” creatures does society have misinterpretations of? (Think about spiders or bats).