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Dramatic rumors stoke wolf fears

Published on September 9, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on October 7, 2011 8:19AM


For the Capital Press

Many people in Okanogan County, Wash., are talking about wolves since they returned to our county a couple of years ago. If you believe everything that is being said about wolves at public meetings, coffee shops and on the Internet, you may not be getting the whole story.

Remember, the results of a recent poll shows that a whopping 70 percent of Washington residents support wolf recovery in our state. As a friend, acquaintance and neighbor to many people in Okanogan County, I want to share information about wolves and help stop the unproductive and unfounded fear-based rumors, untruths and wild stories that are going around.

* "Wolves will infect us all with Echinococcus tapeworm." This tapeworm is found in canines around the world, including dogs, coyotes, wolves and foxes. The eggs of the tapeworm can spread to wild and domestic ungulates, like deer and sheep, when infected canid feces are ingested. Ungulates also can give the tapeworm to canines when an infected ungulate is eaten. But people will not get tapeworms from eating infected deer, elk or sheep. The tapeworm can only be transmitted to humans who ingest infected canid feces. The risk of infection to humans remains infinitesimally small.

* "Gray wolves are not native to Washington." It is scientifically documented that wolves first migrated into Washington from the southern Great Plains about 10,000 years ago, and wolves were routinely observed and trapped by pioneers. With territories of over 350 square miles, and excellent dispersal capability, wolves have been wandering back and forth across the Canadian border for eons. Gray wolves living in Canada and Washington were, and are, all the same species. When wolves disappeared from Washington in the 1930s due to trapping, poisoning and hunting, the same gray wolf species still existed in Canada. And now these wolves have wandered back into Okanogan County.

* People saw wolves being released in Okanogan County. I'm sure somebody saw something, but to believe these were wolves you'd have to ignore a whole lot of things. Even highly trained biologists and trappers need more than a quick sighting to verify a wolf. To verify a wolf you need pictures, photos of tracks or DNA evidence to be sure what you "saw" wasn't a wolf-dog hybrid, coyote, or some other big dog. People dump unwanted pets every week in our area. Who would have the skills, motives or funds to track wolves, trap them, dart them, transport them unnoticed across the border, and release them in our county?

* "We will have monster 200-pound wolves." The Idaho Department of Fish and Game would beg to differ. Of the 188 wolves taken in the 2009 Idaho wolf hunt, the record weight was 127 pounds and the average was 95 pounds. The myth of monster wolves comes from Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs children's stories, not from reality.

* "But what about all the livestock loss because of wolves?" Fortunately, there is good data on livestock predation. With 1,500 wolves in the Rockies and 3,000 in Minnesota, only 1 percent of cattle losses were due to predators. Of that 1 percent, coyotes accounted for 53 percent, domestic dogs 10 percent and wolves 4 percent of all predator losses. Neighbors' dogs kill three times as much livestock as wolves. After the poaching of the Lookout Pack in the Methow, we only have 2 confirmed adult wolves in Okanogan County and a few scattered sightings of lone wolves. Let's get proactive now so we can have plans in place to avoid wolf and livestock conflicts and funds to compensate ranchers if conflicts do occur.

* "Wolves will multiply to unmanageable numbers and overrun the county." Predator populations are self-regulating. Their numbers don't grow beyond the natural prey base or the territorial space they need to occupy. Okanogan County only has enough physical space for a limited number of wolves.

* "Wolves will decimate elk and deer herds." To get you thinking, 23 of Idaho's 29 game management zones have elk numbers within or above management targets. With 150,000 elk, Montana is 14 percent over the state management objective, and Wyoming with 120,000 elk is 50 percent above objective. As an avid elk and deer hunter, I realize wolves change herd behavior. In order to remain successful, hunters will have to adapt, which in turn will make them better hunters.

To learn more about wolves in Washington state go to: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html and take a look at the Washington Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. You will be surprised in its thoroughness, fairness and balanced approach to the return of wolves in our state.

Jay Kehne works part-time as an Okanogan outreach associate for Conservation Northwest. Prior to that he spent 33 years with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. He lives with his family along the Okanogan River. He has degrees in wildlife biology and soil science from Washington State University.


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