The relationship between humans and wolves is complicated. Here’s how the relationship has grown and changed throughout the years
The relationship between humans and wolves is one that started before the times of written history. This relationship is speckled with moments that have impact on the future of both.
History: Humans and Wolves
For thousands of years, wolves ranged the American countryside, living side by side with the American Indians. It’s estimated that when Europeans began immigrating across the Atlantic, between 250,000 and 500,000 wolves roamed the country. From coast to coast, and across vast terrain, they could be found in just about every part of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
During this time, the Native American’s had a symbolic relationship with the wolf; he was depicted in their arts and stories and the relationship between the two was often seen as a brotherhood.
But as the Americas developed and the population grew, the relationship between humans and wolves changed.
The 19th Century
As the American population spread westward, man’s relationship with wolves started to change. Because of ecosystem destruction and the growth of farming and grazing, the wolf started to cause havoc. Sheep and cattle were often victims to the wolves and, what was once a relationship of respect, soon became one of hatred.
By the mid-19th century, the U.S. government placed a bounty on the wolf’s head, in an attempt to encourage hunting and trapping to protect livestock. Wolves were considered a dangerous nuisance. Even President Theodore Roosevelt, who was known for his love of wildlife, stated that they were a “beast of waste and destruction.”
It is believed that the wolf is the only animal that man purposefully tried to eradicate from the planet.
The 20th Century
By the 1930s, the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states was nearly gone, and years passed without a sighting. By the 1970s, one lone wolf was spotted in Montana, believed to have migrated from Canada, and this event spurred ecologists to get involved. The gray wolf was added the Endangered Species list in 1974 and work began to reinstate the wolf’s presence in the States.
By 1988, 30 wolves were living in Montana’s Glacier National Park and one of the first known litters of pups was born. While the wolves were maintaining their population, it was not growing as quickly as activists would have liked, and they pushed for more.
In 1990, red wolves were reintroduced into North Carolina and between 1995 and 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services captured 66 wolves in Canada and transplanted them in central Idaho and Yellowstone. The population was on its way up.
The 21st Century
At the turn of the 21st century, the wolves’ population grew due to having an abundance of prey and few rival packs. The numbers were exponential, doubling every year for three years in a row.
In 2012, the gray wolf was removed from the Endangered Species List. As soon as the delisting occurred, many states introduced a wolf hunting season to help keep the population balanced. Ranchers and farmers were paying a price in livestock, and shot wolves on sight in an attempt to protect their herds and lands. In the Great Lakes region, over 1,500 wolves were harvested in just two years.
Some believe this was too much too soon and in December of 2014, the gray wolf hunting season was banned in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin until further notice.
Where Do We Go From Here: Humans and Wolves
Now there are over 1,700 wolves ranging through Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, five times the threshold initially stated by the Endangered Species Act. The population is spreading across Oregon and Washington as well, and wolves have recently been spotted as far south as the Grand Canyon.
The growing wolf population has the biggest impact on small ranchers and farmers, who sometimes see as much as a 20 percent loss of livestock contributed to wolves.
As the wolf population continues to grow, it’s important to find a balance between humans and wolves. We must find a way to live, share the land and its resources, and continue to grow together.