Defenders of Wildlife used to have a bumper sticker (maybe they still do) that read: “Little Red Riding Hood Lied – Restore the Wolf!” But what if she didn’t lie? Maybe her story just got blown out of proportion and people got carried away with it until one day it became the one where she got eaten by the wolf, instead of just seeing the wolf. Or something to that effect. Anyway, I’m inclined to give Red the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe that they got her story wrong after a while.
Wolves aren’t evil. Are we all on the same page about this? They’re predators, and they have a job to do – that is, eating other animals. I know we don’t always like that, but it’s a fact of nature. And nature has a way of being very brutal and ugly at times. That’s just reality. We can’t pretend that the natural world consists only of sunshine and flowers – we have to be able to look at the yucky stuff too. Lions eat zebras alive. That sucks, but it’s real. And maggots are creepy. True story. But they’re still a valuable part of the natural world. Think about what would happen if nothing decayed… we’d be swimming in refuse and dead things. Nobody wants that.
I’m straying from my original point which was wolves. As important as it is not to demonize them, it’s also important not pretend that they’re sweet, cuddly animals and do no wrong. Living with big predators in your backyard is a challenge. Especially for folks who raise livestock for a living. Ranchers out west have legitimate concerns about wolves and other predators, but there are solutions. And wolves are far from the only problem ranchers face - they’re just the easiest to target.
But wolves – and other big predators (what we call top-level predators) play an important role in their ecosystems, and we need them here in the US. The out-of-control deer and coyote populations in many parts of the country are a good example of what happens when we lose top-level predators, but it’s only the most visible one. The New York Times (along with numerous professional scientific journals) has published a number of articles on the increase in biological diversity in Yellowstone National Park following the re-introduction of wolves in 1995. Wolves have affected their ecosystem from the trees to the songbirds right down to the water quality in the Yellowstone River.
Wolves were de-listed from the endangered species list not too long ago in several states, and the wolf-killing out west is distressing. I don’t see a problem with de-listing wolves in general when the population is stable, but I trust the biologists who say that these populations weren’t ready for an all-out hunting season. And it bothers me that the decision to de-list them in the first place wasn’t made by scientists - people who actually (gasp!) study the animals and know something about them. No, that decision was made by Congress and that ticks me off. That means that the decision was political (read: bought) and made by people whose interests are in big businesses and money, and who know nothing about the biology or ecology of this species. Pathetic. I just love people who put no stock into scientific research. You know, because who can trust those shady scientists? Please. Save me.
There are efforts to get the wolf put back on the endangered species list by organizations who recognize the value of scientific research. This isn’t a knee-jerk “let’s save the wolves because they’re pretty” movement (although I know there are those factions out there). It’s based on research which has biologists concerned for the long-term survival and genetic health of the species. Which is exactly what the endangered species list was meant to help protect. We need to help these organizations. If you’re inclined to do so, the Center for Biological Diversity sent a request to help stop the wolf killing by supporting their ‘Save the Endangered Species Act Fund’. Or you can visit the International Wolf Center and learn more about wolves and what’s happening with them across the US and the world.
So after all was said and done, what do you think really happened to Little Red Riding Hood? Was she eaten? Or just given a scare by a big animal? Maybe it was only a brief encounter; maybe she even felt lucky to see such a beautiful creature in the wild. But no matter what happened to her, the end result for the wolf was never in doubt – it was hunted down and killed.
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