Sunday, November 8, 2015

What Happened to the Wolves in America?

What Happened to the Wolves in America?

Gray Wolf by dalliedee (Gray Wolf II) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
In Little House on the Prairie, the classic book about a young girl growing up in the western frontier, author Mary Ingalls Wilder describes a harrowing experience in the chapter entitled, "The Wolf Pack." A pack of 50 or more wolves follows Laura's father home, and Laura, lying in her bed in the family's cabin, hears them sniff at the chinks in the wall, pad around the cabin, and howl in the night. Her father holds her up to look out the window, a simple hole cut in the wall, and she stares in fascination at the leader of the pack.
Everything about him was big — his pointed ears, and his pointed mouth with the tongue hanging out, and his strong shoulders and legs, and his two paws side by side, and his tail curled around the squatting haunch.
Gray wolf  by Retron [Public domain]

Mary and her father admired the way the big wolf's coat shone in the moonlight, but Charles Ingalls also had his rifle at the ready. This moment echoes a centuries-old sentiment toward wolves. They are seen as symbols of the wild but also as creatures to be feared. Interestingly, while historical and modern records show deaths from wolf attack do occur, few of these happened in North America.

The biggest motive for eradicating wolves, then and now, is protecting livestock. Again, it would seem the fear is greater than the threat. Wolves do kill livestock, but modern statistics indicate that livestock is less likely to be killed by wolves than by illness or other predatory animals.

The wolves suffered from a similar problem as Native Americans, unfortunately, with the way of life that sustained them in conflict with western emigration. The West must be tamed, wild lands fenced, and habitat destroyed, all in the name of manifest destiny.

What happened to the wolves in America? In 1906 the U.S. Forest Service yielded to pressure from stock owners and brought in the Bureau of Biological Survey to help determine how best to remove gray wolves from cattle ranges. As part of the investigation that followed, biologist Vernon Bailey traveled to Wyoming and New Mexico to look into "depredations" by coyotes and wolves. Upon his return to Washington D.C., he met with President Roosevelt. Immediately afterwards, the Biological Survey advised the government to "devise methods for the destruction of the animals (wolves)." (Quotes are mine.)

Sketch of  Theodore Roosevelt chasing a wolf. (Good hunting; in pursuit of big game in the West)
My great uncle once told me that he made a lot of money shooting bounty wolves in Missouri at $50 a head. The memory remains with me clearly because of my outrage at the idea. I was quite young at the time, but the suffering of the wolves and the impoverishment of our nation's natural history really broke my heart. By the middle of the 20th century, almost all the wolves in the lower 48 states were gone.

In the 1960's, America began to understand the need for conservation. Wolves moved under the protection of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Wolf populations improved, and in 1995, researchers began to reintroduce gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park. The gray wolves that were released came from Canadian packs that were genetically similar to the ones that had once lived in Yellowstone. Neighboring ranchers were not enamored of this decision, however, and expressed concerns about their livestock. Gray wolves are still being hunted and exterminated in America.

More Reading
List of Wolf Attacks in North America

About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. Look for her upcoming Montana Gold series, with Hills of Nevermore, Cheyenne Sunrise, and Stagecoach to Liberty all set during Montana's goldrush.

Janalyn also writes allegorical epic fantasy. Beginning with DawnSinger, her Tales of Faeraven series carries readers into a land only imagined in dreams.

Bohemian by ethnicity and mindset, Janalyn is an eclectic artist who creates in multiple disciplines. She offers a monthly newsletter, Creative Worlds of Janalyn Voigt, where she shares inspirational advice, her original photographs and digital art, book recommendations, plus tidbits and travel journals from her research.

Janalyn is represented by Sarah Joy Freese of Wordserve Literary. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, she loves to discover worlds of adventure in the great outdoors with her family.

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