The Grey Harvest: Hunting Wolves in America’s Heartland

For centuries, humans killed the grey wolf (canis lupis) out of fear and misunderstanding. By the 1950s, the species had been hunted to brink of extinction within the continental United States save for a small remainder in Minnesota’s heavily forested northern wilderness. Environmental studies in the 1960s demonstrated that wolves were valuable to local ecosystems, leading to a scientific and cultural reassessment. In 1974, the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) shielded wolves from further slaughter, allowing the species to rebound and spread across the Great Lakes region. The decision to protect wolves bred resentment amongst some farmers who complained that the predators were a threat to their livelihoods. In late 2011, the government removed the grey wolf from the ESA, citing its full recovery. Just days later in January 2012, Minnesota and Wisconsin both authorized public wolf hunts to bring their respective populations back down to manageable levels. Game officials maintained that these “harvests” – the first in each state’s history – were a necessary step for effective wolf management. Critics, however, protested that killing a recently threatened species in such fashion might jeopardize its long-term survival. Wolves invoke passionate sentiments that obscure rational discussion; objective analysis does not always prevail. In Minnesota, there was valid evidence for a cull. With 3,000 wolves in the forest and advanced monitoring technology available to researchers, reducing that number by 400 wolves was a calculated risk worth taking. This fact did not, however, deter conservation groups and advocacy organizations from mounting a concerted protest over the summer of 2012. In Wisconsin, the rationale for a hunt was thinner. Politicians insisted upon aggressive measures that many scientists felt would pose a legitimate danger to the Badger State’s fragile contingent of 800 wolves. Input from the state’s leading biologists was largely ignored during the legislative process. This is a tale of two ostensibly similar, yet ultimately divergent, wolf hunts: one that took science into account and one that shoved it aside. Both carry equally important implications for the future of grey wolf management in the Midwest.



Share this Post