To the Editor:
There is a certain amount of circular logic that goes into establishing the numbers for a wolf hunt. The states ask "How many wolves can be killed without endangering them again." Numbers are determined, hunters and trappers proudly tout that the numbers are science based and express disdain for anyone who might disagree.
Why would anyone disagree? Because for many of us, the right question was never asked:
"How many wolves do we NEED to kill in a hunt?" Let's use science to answer that one. Surprisingly, the answer might even be zero! Sometimes lethal action is necessary when non-lethal deterrence fails for persistent livestock killers, but other than that wolf numbers are sufficiently controlled by the difficulty of their lives: starvation, interwolf aggression, accidents and disease. Their numbers do not need artificial control by people.
As for trapping, it is indeed controversial, perhaps because there is no doubt that it causes sustained pain and distress in the victims. As a veterinarian I have seen firsthand the effects of foothold traps on pets: damaged toes, rotting flesh, the profound pain of loss of circulation, not to mention the hunger, thirst, fear that the animal likely feels during the 24-48 hours it is legally allowed to suffer before the trap is checked. It has been well documented that the parts of the brain responsible for fear, distress, pain are the "lower" centers common to all mammals. You do not have to be human to suffer.
What, exactly, is the appeal of trapping? Is torture part of the fun?
I fully support the ethical hunter cleanly killing for meat, but trapping is a whole different issue.
The wolf is more than a trophy animal and a furbearer. There is clear and compelling evidence that wolves have close and enduring family bonds. A wolf may be cleanly killed in a hunt, but there is profound impact on the surviving family members.
For people and businesses in rural areas, U.P. communities and politicians should look to Ely Minnesota where, in one year, the International Wolf Center added $3 million to the local economy and created the equivalent of 66 full-time jobs. Clearly the wolf is far more valuable as a tourist draw than as a pelt on the wall.
Science based management is critical and decisions must be based on peer-reviewed research. But it is also important to ask the right question. "How many wolves can we get away with killing" isn't the question most Americans are looking for.
Chris Albert, DVM