Olympic Wolves?

Maggie Smith



ìYou can talk about laws, but Iím an outlaw.  If thereís wolves on my place, Iíll take my Winchester and hunt them down and shoot them.î  Port Angeles resident

ìSixty years ago, wolves ran immortal through this terrain.  They were the voice of the peninsula.  The notes from their pre dusk warm-up once filled the air, and for hours their songs replaced the silence.î  L. Allen Beard.

         All over the country wolves are returning to reclaim tracts of the great expanse that they once roamed.  From the Adirondak Mountains of the east coast to the American southwest and the National parks of Montana and Idaho wolves are making a comeback.  Some of this has been a result of natural repopulation, but for the most part, its been the result of concerted effort by environmental groups and the United States government.  These programs have met heated resistance from ranchers and other locals who donít want what they perceive to be a vicious predator living in their backyards.  In all the places where wolf reintroduction has been proposed town meetings have been swamped by scared and concerned residents, suspicious of government and environmentalists.  Despite these havens of resistance, public opinion has gone with the wolves and the government has responded accordingly.

        One place that has consistently caught the attention of the wolf supporters is a obscure national park on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state.  Olympic National Park is a pristine and undisturbed ecosystem missing only one component - the wolf.  Olympic has been eyed by wolf supporters because it offers such a unique opportunity for reintroduction.  It has nearly 1 million acres of roadless habitat that is virtually in isolation with only limited contact with private lands. (Judd paragraph 17)  Wolves were an important part of the ecosystem of the Olympic Peninsula and their loss has left a void that can only be filled by their reintroduction.  Wolves should be reintroduced to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State in order to correct the mistakes of the last century.
      The Ecosystem of the Olympic Peninsula most certainly included wolves in its natural state.  In 1861, an ethnologist named James Swan found ìinnumerable quantities of wolvesî on Sequim Prairie and wrote that their ìdismal howlings make night hideous, and cause the traveler, who may be benighted in the woods, great apprehension.î  Wolves were common all over the Peninsula until 1894. (McNulty paragraph 9)  In fact, wolves ranged over almost the entire continental United States, parts of Mexico, Canada, and Alaska.  After the arrival of Europeans, however, this range was greatly diminished and now wolves have only a very limited range.  The Olympic Peninsula was home to the subspecies Canis lupus fuscus that ranged from Northern California to Southeastern Alaska.  Today, this species is only found in western coastal British Columbia. (Dratch et al. 9)  A far cry from the territory they once roamed.

        Wolves, unbeknownst to the pioneers and settlers, exerted a powerful force in the original ecosystems.  They have been described as the top of a carnivore hierarchy. (DiSilvestro paragraph 27)  Their dominating presence controlled the populations and behaviors of the lesser canines such as coyotes and red foxes.  They also had a powerful influence on the Roosevelt elk.  The elk and the wolves evolved together over thousands of years and during that time they developed a symbiotic relationship. (Gantenbein paragraph 4)  Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator in the northern Rockies for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said ìEverything we admire most about elk is the result of predation, mainly by wolves. To say you want to have elk but not wolves is like loving the ëMona Lisaí but hating Leonardo da Vinci.î (McNulty paragraph 30)  The ecosystem cannot function as a whole while missing a part of this component.  Wolf Haven biologist Jack Laufer describes it as a wheel.  At a public meeting in Port Angeles, he said, ìEach species is like a spoke in a wheel.  As predators, wolves were an important part of this ecosystem for more than 8,000 years.  We destroyed that system when we got rid of the wolf.  Now, itís our obligation to restore it.î (McNulty paragraph 23)  By eradicating the wolf, the settlers removed a vital element of the Olympic Peninsula ecosystem that still leaves a gaping hole.

        The settlers reasons for the removal of wolves were convincing at the time, but today they hold no weight.  The first of these is the demonization of wolves in western literature.  Tales such as ìLittle Red Riding Hoodî and ìPeter and the Wolfî have exercised a powerful hold on the psyche of Europeans and those of European descent.  As is evident in the quote from James Swan, the first settlers on the Olympic Peninsula held this deep rooted, irrational fear of wolves.  There were practical considerations as well.  Wolves did prey on livestock and livestock was essential to the lives of those early residents of the Olympic Peninsula.  Killing wolves was a way to protect their livelihood.  These motives had tragic results for the wolf.

        The eradication of the wolf was swift and merciless.  The methods had been well tested on the westward march of the pioneers.  Guns, traps, and strychnine baited carcasses were among the favorites. (McNulty paragraph 10)  Even the United States government got in on the planned extinction.  In 1917, naturalist Olaus Murie, was hired by the US government to go to the Olympics and eradicate the wolf.  Unfortunately for him, they were too late.  Murie had to resign because he could find no wolves. (Dratch et al. 11)  However, it wasnít until Adolph Murie (Olausís half brother), a noted biologist, made his report in 1934 and 1935 that wolves were declared officially extinct on the Olympic Peninsula.  Ironically, in this same report, Murie advocated reintroducing wolves to balance out the ecosystem. (McNulty paragraph 15)  After such a concerted effort was made to make wolves extinct, one would be wary of the chances of wolves ever making a recovery.  Fortunately, public perception has shifted dramatically since the time of the pioneers.  We once saw wolves as purely cruel and ruthless, unworthy of life.  Today, many people recognize the wolfís importance as well as the beauty that they represent.

        Wolves once roamed the Olympic Peninsula and it is biologically feasible that they could do so once again.  They would, however, need human assistance.  The Olympic Peninsula is isolated by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north, Puget Sound to the east, and the heavily populated I-5 corridor to the south.  This effectively cuts off any chance of wolves migrating to the Olympics naturally.  Wolves would need to be captured from healthy populations and relocated.

        Once relocated, wolves would find their new home a near paradise.  They would have plenty of prey to feed them.  Logging has created a habitat that supports many more ungulates (hoofed animals) than was historically possible. (Dixon et al. ch. 1 4)  The park would offer wolves two definite sources of prey, Roosevelt elk and the Colombian black-tailed deer, and one possible source, the mountain goat. (Dratch et al. 41)  Wolves should escape the extinction that they faced in the beginning of the century because of the creation of Olympic National Park.  The park would act as a sanctuary for wolves where they would be safe from predation by humans.

        Logistically, returning wolves to the Olympic Peninsula should prove to be a fairly easy task.  On Vancouver Island, separated from the Peninsula by a mile of water, there is a healthy population of wolves that the Canadian government would be happy to donate. (McNulty paragraph 29)  These wolves reside in an environment comparable to the Olympics and have similar prey.  The wolves would be tranquilized and flown to the Peninsula.  A student study by Western Washington University students recommended releasing wolves using the soft release method.  This involves penning the wolves in a one acre pen to acclimate them, making them less likely to roam. (Dixon et al. Ch. 3 2-10 )  After release wolves would be classified as a ìnonessential experimental populationî which gives agencies flexibility to control the animals and locals the right to destroy animals that are threatening them or their livestock.  Ed Bangs comments that, ìReintroduction would be easy to do, and pretty cheap.î (McNulty paragraph 29)

        Reintroduction is possible, but what would the ramifications of it be?  Wolves would certainly impact the entire ecosystem of the Olympic Peninsula.  In Yellowstone National Park where wolves were returned, reintroduction signaled an ìecological revolutionî that affected the lives of many other species such as coyotes, elk, grizzlies and rodents. (DiSilvestro paragraph 6)  We werenít fully aware of the impacts of removing the wolf, and weíre not fully aware of the impacts of returning it.  However, the Yellowstone experience can give us an idea about how the ecosystem might react.  For example, in Yellowstone, wolves have decreased the numbers of mountain lions and coyotes.  Because of carrion, foxes, raptors and others have increased.  Elk now congregate in wooded copses.  Grazing shifts alter the landscape which favors the black-hooded falcon and kit fox. (Motavalli paragraphs 3 and 4)  This comprehensive altering would most likely occur in Olympic as well.  John Varhey, chief scientist at Yellowstone National Park, commented, ìA lot of other predators and scavengers have a seat at the wolf kill table.  The wolves knock down an elk, eat their fifteen to eighteen pounds of meat and go sleep it off.  When the sun comes up on the kill it can be stunning.  You can see a grizzly bear four or five ravens, coyotes, a fox, bald eagles and golden eagles on the carcass.  All at once.  Itís amazing to see how fast nine hundred pounds of meat goes.  All thatís left is a puff of fur.î (Robbins B 14)  The effect of wolves is far reaching and long lasting effecting all aspects of the environment and the plants and animals that make it up.  Dr. Robert Crabtree of Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies remarked that, ìwolves are causing an explosion in species diversity.î (Robbins B 13)  Such an explosion would be greatly beneficial to the Olympics.

        One area in which it could be beneficial is in controlling mountain goats.  Mountain goats are not indigenous to the Olympic Peninsula and they were introduced by sport hunters around the same time that the wolf was being exterminated.  The introduced goat has wreaked havoc on the fauna of the Olympics.  The altitude makes it very delicate and goats love stomping around in alpine meadows, tearing up the plant life.  The Park attempted an extermination program where goats were hunted down and shot, but this resulted in a huge burst of public outcry, culminating in Congressman Norm Dicks putting an end to the program.  Currently, the debate has reached an impasse, with the fate of the goats in the balance.  Reintroduction of wolves has been forwarded as one method of goat control that would not offend the public.  While wolves would probably not prey on mountain goats, they could have a positive effect on their behavior that would limit the damage done to the environment.  Right now goats are not restricted to traditionally typical mountain goat habitat because they are under little predator pressure.  If wolves were reintroduced, the goats could serve as prey until they receded to higher elevations. (Dratch et al. 43)  Thus, goats would be pushed out of the alpine meadows that they are destroying and into the rockier, harder to access areas of the high country.  In this way, the park could have goat control without public outrage.

        There has been a lot of discussion about the effects of wolves on the numbers of the ungulate populations of the Olympic Peninsula.  The general consensus of the experts has been that wolves will have little, if any effect on the numbers of elk in deer.  Our experiences in Yellowstone tell us that wolves feed mainly on elk, with deer as a supplementary food source. (Robbins B 14)  Hank Fischer, a wolf expert for defenders of wildlife, a wolf advocacy group, says, ìWhat one hundred wolves can do in a space of a year doesnít really have a significant impact on the elk population.î (Gantenbein paragraph 7)  In 1975 a comprehensive study of wolf reintroduction was done by Evergreen State College students.  It is still the foremost study on the subject.  Extensive testing was done to determine how ungulate populations would be effected.  The study concluded that wolves would not cause an abrupt decline in the populations of Olympic National Park.  In fact, they hypothesized that the ungulate biomass could support up to three hundred wolves with out predation being a major control on numbers.  The estimates for the maximum numbers of wolves in Olympic National Park is fifty. (Dratch et al. 49)

        While wolves wouldnít adversely affect the numbers of elk, they would greatly impact their behavior.  The ecological effect would be very positive.  Deer and elk would grow more robust over the long run and their altered feeding patterns would help the vegetation. (Schlickeisen paragraph 8)  This has been proven to be empirically true in the experiences of Yellowstone.  There, Fischer describes the effect on elk as, ìWolves have really changed the way the elk use the landscape.  They used to camp out  at lower elevations, but now they know theyíre really vulnerable there so theyíre spreading out more and spending more time in timbered habitat.  That, in turn, will allow more riparian vegetation to come in because the elk arenít hitting it so hard, which could have an effect on songbirds.  We just didnít fully appreciate how connected wolves are to other parts of the ecosystem.î (Gantenbein paragraph 7)  This would be a great boon to the abused fauna of Olympic National Park.

        A major concern among locals has been how wolves will effect hunting.  This is difficult to ascertain because expert opinion varies and there is no empirical data to rely on.  It is generally agreed that wolves would cull biologically inferior individuals for a herd. (Dratch et al. 47)  This will increase the overall health of the herd and increase their protective properties.  The Evergreen College study found that in Southeast Alaska, black tailed deer were benefiting from wolf predation.  Population Increased rapidly and they had light winter mortality.  Areas with wolves also supported a greater annual hunter harvest of deer per unit area. (Dratch et al. 48)  On the other hand, Dr. Crabtree of Yellowstone National Park has observed that elk have been forced to change their grazing habits, which, he thinks, may result in more winter kill, because of less time spent foraging. (Robbins B 14)  This would have a negative effect on hunting.  The Western Washington University Study concluded that, ìWhere hunter harvest is already at maximum harvest productivity, reductions in future hunter harvest are predicted.  Wolves may cause reductions in fawns and calves.  This, combined with hunting, may result in a reduction of animals available for harvest.î (Dixon et al. Ch. 3 4-17)  The ambiguous findings of these studies lead one to the conclusion that wolves will have only a minute impact on hunting.  Whether that impact will be positive or negative cannot be determined until it actually occurs.

      No species will be impacted by wolves as greatly as coyotes.  Historically, coyotes have been the second rung on the canine hierarchy, preceded by wolves.  With the removal of wolves they became number one.  The return of wolves changes everything for the coyote.  This has been made very clear by the experiences of the Yosemite coyotes.  With in one year of release, wolves killed 25% of the coyotes in Lamar Valley, home to a pack of wolves. (Di Silvestro paragraph 27)  In two years 50% of the coyotes had been killed. (Robbins B 13)  Dr. Crabtree predicts that the numbers wonít stop decreasing until wolves have killed two thirds of the coyotes in Yellowstone.  However, the coyotes that survive will thrive on the scraps left by wolves. (Robbins B 14)  The effects of wolf reintroduction on coyotes have been astounding.  It is disastrous for the coyotes, but may be beneficial to the ecosystem.

        Coyote levels have been unnaturally high since the eradication of the wolf.  The return of the wolf will push these levels back to their rightful place and serve as a benefit to the entire ecosystem.  In Yellowstone, the decrease in coyotes has led to more rodents, the primary prey of coyotes, which hawks and bald eagles feed on.  Overall biodiversity sharply increased. (Robbins B 13, Gantenbein paragraph 6)  When wolves were wiped out, no one predicted the consequences.  As top carnivores, wolves exert top-down control of the food chain and regulation of the environment. (Schlickeisen paragraph 4)  With the loss of this control, humans have had to step in to control coyotes.  Wildlife Services killed 500, 000 coyotes between 1990 and 1994.  In spite of all this killing, coyote populations have not been decreased. (Remert and Motavalli paragraphs 44 and 45)  Wolves provide a natural control that works much better, permanently decreasing coyote numbers at less cost and with more efficiency.

        Science and experience have shown us that it is entirely possible to reintroduce wolves to the Olympic Peninsula.  It is also ecologically beneficial.  There is, however, one more consideration, the human element.  The people who will be sharing have a unique perspective on this issue, and their feelings are vital in this debate.  Often, scientists and environmental advocates come into towns, make the changes they see as beneficial, and then leave.  The locals are left out of the debate and are left with the aftermath.  Their opinions and well being should be taken into consideration while deciding this issue.

        The public seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of the reintroduction of wolves all across the country.  America is fundamentally altering the way that it sees predators.  Never before have a great number of people supported traditionally evil animals like wolves.  In Washington State a majority of residents seem to favor wolf reintroduction.  Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen says that opinion polls throughout the nation have shown that the public overwhelmingly support wolf recovery. (Schlickeisen paragraph 10)  What he conveniently forgets to mention, however, is how Olympic Peninsula residents, the people who will actually be living with the wolves, feel.  Their attitudes differ quite

        The Olympic Peninsula is a culturally distinct place, quite different from the rest of the state.  The Peninsula has been isolated ìbiologically, politically, economically and sociallyî from much of the state by its surrounding three bodies of water. (Dratch et al. 5)  This has resulted in a type of pioneer attitude that intensifies the farther west one travels.  It was called by historian Murray Morgan ìthe last frontier.î (McNulty paragraph 23)  Its a place where old attitudes die hard and people are often unwilling to change their way of life.  Thus, historical attitudes about wolves are still pervasive.

        Local reaction to the proposal to reintroduce wolves has been fast and furious.  A scathing editorial in the local Sequim Gazette demanded to know why Congressman Norm Dicks, a wolf supporter, was setting up a lot of hikers and campers to be some wolfís hot lunch. (Ferguson paragraph 1)  While driving into Port Angeles, the largest town on the Peninsula, on Highway 101 one can observe the John Birch Society billboard stating, ìEAT BEEF & LAMB:  HUNDREDS OF WOLVES CANíT BE WRONG.î  The furor reached the ridiculous when Forks mayor Phil Arbeiter wrote a letter to Norm Dicks comparing the settlers efforts to eradicate the wolf to current government efforts to destroy the Ebola virus. (Rembert and Motavalli paragraph 13)  Leading the charge against wolves has been the Clallam County Citizens Coalition, a property rights advocacy group.  The head of the Coalition, Marv Chastain told people at a Port Angeles luncheon that, ìWe oppose the introduction of wolves because we live here.  We hae animals and kids who will be put at risk.  Elk and deer populations have already been severely impacted by unlimited Indian hunting, a growing cougar population and logging restrictions.  Wolves will only exacerbate this problem.î (Rembert and Motavalli paragraph 14)  While the facts of this statement may be erroneous, the sentiment is reasonable.  Olympic Peninsula residents will be the ones living with wolves and should therefore be included in the debate.

        The opinions of Olympic Peninsula residents are the result of a variety of factors that the residents of these resource oriented communities have dealt with.  Specifically, the loss of the timber industry has deeply impacted all aspects of the community.  In recent years, federal restrictions on logging have made the unemployment rate in these areas rocket past the state and national average, resulting in a lot of resentment towards outsiders.  The Dixon study commented that, ìIn an area where independence, hard work, and wresting oneís living from the earth have long been established values, the loss of the opportunity to go out and earn a living the way that oneís father and grandfather did has been seen by many to be a hard blow, not just financially, but to their pride and manhood also.î (Dixon et al. Ch. 3 8-5)  The loss of this pride is further exacerbated by outside forces coming into the towns and telling locals what to do.  The Dratch study reached a similar conclusion when it wrote, ìVast areas of the Olympics remain wilderness and those people that live on its fringes still view the world from the perspective of pioneers.  Thus, enmity toward predators, with which these pioneers once had to compete for a food source, is still prevalent.  A common attitude concerning a wolf reintroduction is perhaps best summarized by quoting old-timer Charlie Lewis, who said to us, ëAnyone whoíd put back wolves is a crazy.íî (Dratch et al. 55)  The unique perspective of many Peninsula residents must be taken into account in any discussion of wolf reintroduction.

        A major concern of many residents is the possibility of wolf attacks on humans and pets.  The fear of attacks on humans is driven primarily by misinformation.  In reality, there have been no documented cases of healthy, wild wolves injuring or killing a human.  (Dixon et al. Ch. 1-16)  In contrast many people are killed by bears, cougars, ungulates, reptiles and other animals.  The most stunning contrast is between dogs and wolves.  Dogs kill an average of twenty people and injure 500,000 annually. (Tubbs in McIntyre 357)  This makes them far more dangerous then wolves, but no suggestion of eradication is made in their case.  Finally, wolves do pose a threat to pets.  In Minnesota, from 1979 to 1996, 77 dogs were killed out of 64,000 dogs.  Annually, about 4 dogs were killed per year. (Dixon et al. Ch. 1-16)  This is a threat, but it is far below the public perception of the threat.  If a concerted effort were made to disseminate this information to the public, we would see a marked decrease in objections, simply because people would be informed.

        Finally, much of the drive against wolf is the result of strong anti-government sentiment in the area.  Olympic Peninsula residents have endured economic hardship for the last decade due to federal regulations on resource extraction. (Dixon et al. Ch.1 16-17)  This hardship has caused many to be distrustful of anything bearing the governmental seal.  The plan to reintroduce wolves is view as the combined efforts of the corrupt government and rich, liberal environmental issues who care nothing about how loggers in Forks are going to make a living.  To many, that is enough reason to oppose the plan.  The same thing occurred in the Yellowstone area.  Jason Campbell, natural resource coordinator for the Montana Stockgrowers Association in Helena said, ìBut when a federal agency is bringing them in and basically sticking them in your backyard, that gets a little bit tough for our people to understand.  Private property rights are a huge issue here.î (Nemeth paragraph 4)  This is the reason that the Clallam County Citizens Coalition has become so involved.  President Marv Chastain, a property rights advocate, has cast the plan as being another step towards the ultimate goal of the environmentalist - completely removing people from the park and its surroundings.  At a Port Angeles luncheon he declared, ìWhen they bus the last one of you off the peninsula, then youíll believe me.î (Gantenbein 15)  While Chastain is a radical, and most peninsula residents would scoff at his claim, you do find a consistent theme of warnings to be wary of the government.  A more mainstream example is the a letter to the editor published in the Sequim Gazette.  The author cautioned, ìBeware of the inconsistencies in professional government agencies that are selling off our national land reserves while proposing reintroducing wolves and grizzly bears into semi-populated areas; we need more common sense and accountability in government.î (Albright paragraph 6)  In many instances of resistance, the opponent is not seen as the wolves.  Rather it is the government who is perceived as the enemy and it is the government that is the focus for much of the backlash.

        There is another factor in the equation, beyond locals and environmentalists.  That factor is the media.  The local media of Washington state caters to the more educated, more urban populations of the greater Seattle area.  Thus far, they have either played up local fears or mocked them in order to entertain their more sophisticated audience.  For example, a recent column in the Seattle Times commented, ìOne station actually interviewed a Port Angels man who said - with a totally straight face - that heís gravely concerned Olympic wolves might stalk and kill him, his pets and grandchildren . . . At least one guy in Port Angeles has been reading way too much Jack London.î (Judd paragraph 10 and 14)  I find two problems with this arrogant and destructive comment.  To begin with, the local television station was being irresponsible by broadcasting such statements that are false and misinformed.  The goal of media should be to broadcast correct and helpful information, not further false perceptions.  Secondly, the author of the column was no better by mocking the man in such a fashion.  Whether or not he was correct, the man had real concerns that are legitimate and should be addressed.  This is the point the column should have focused on.  Not the stupidity of a frightened man.  The author ended his column with the comment, ìThink about it.  Woulndít that front line of The Brothers and Mount Constitution take on an entirely new grandeur if you knew that somewhere, in the rarefied air behind their snowy shoulders, the wild Olympic wolf ran free once more?î (Judd paragraph 19)  Itís easy to mock the fears of locals when youíre staring at the mountains from your Seattle skyscraper, separated from them by Puget Sound.

        Although this issue is complicated and fraught with high emotions, I believe that a solution can be achieved.  The key will be to involve the locals at every step of the decision making process.  Their input and opinions will be invaluable in reaching a conclusion that will be acceptable to all parties.  Many Peninsula residents feel that the decision to return wolves has already been made, without their input, and this makes them angry and even less accepting of the decision.  Also, the Olympic Wolf Summit, sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife and including Congressman Dicks, was an invitation only event.  To be productive, conferences need to be both open to the public and well advertised so that community members become a part of the decision making process.  By taking into account the various feelings of the community members, you can begin to reach a decision that involves consensus more than dictate.  What many residents object to is being told what to do by outside forces.  This element must be removed to make it palatable.

        An extensive public awareness campaign will be invaluable in returning wolves to the Olympic Peninsula.  Many local fears come from a lack of experience with wolves and a belief their monstrous reputation.  This fear must be dispelled before the plan can be implemented.  I recommend representatives from Defenders and Olympic National Park visiting local schools and teaching the children about the realities of wolves.  Also, public information meetings should be held to inform people.  Finally, the media will be an invaluable tool in informing the public.  Unfortunately, the Seattle media is more interested in the exploitation of the subject and the local media is woefully uninformed and incompetent.  I think that an effort should be made to get correct information to them, but the media cannot be relied on in this instance.

        When wolves were wrested from the ecosystem of the Olympic Peninsula a hundred years ago, a mistake was made whose repercussions we are just beginning to become fully aware of.  It is within our power to correct this mistake and return balance to the environment.  Wolves are not the demonic beings of legend.  They are predators with a purpose and place in a complex system of life.  They perform an important function that has been missing from the Olympic Peninsula since their extinction.  The importance of returning them outweighs all the objections against their return.  If the right thing is done there will be Olympic Wolves.



Works Cited


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