Photo Credit: Jackson Hole Magazine
Humans and wolves history: from destruction to protection and back again
Humans Versus Wolves: A History
Europeans brought a “Little Red Riding Hood”-style intolerance for wolves with them to North America, resulting in the near-annihilation of wolves.
In 1630, only a decade after coming to the continent, settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed laws that awarded a bounty to anyone who killed a wolf. In the western U.S., wolf killing reached a high point in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Both private citizens and the federal government took part in the slaughter using traps, guns, poisons, and snares.
By the 1940s and 1950s, wolves were virtually eradicated from the lower 48 states. The gray wolf was among the first species protected under the Endangered Species Act after it passed in 1973.
In the western United States, gray wolves live in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California. Gray wolves are beginning to disperse into other Western states, occasionally traveling to Utah and Colorado as well. New Mexico and Arizona are home to the critically imperiled subspecies of gray wolf, the Mexican wolf.
In recent years, however, wolf preservation efforts have come under attack. Under increasing pressure from a few hostile but powerful groups, including the livestock industry and some trophy hunting and gun advocates, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has attempted to strip away wolves’ protections. In response to legal victories overturning those efforts, Congress stripped some wolves of protections in 2011.
With more power in the hands of states hostile to native carnivores, including Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, we have seen a return to the unsustainable violence against wolves that nearly eliminated them from the continental U.S. in the first place.
The history of wolves and humans deserves more space than we’ve given it here. The following are a number of titles for further reading.
- Wendy Keefover (2012): Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves: A Public Policy Process Failure: How Two Special Interest Groups Hijacked Wolf Conservation in America.
- Rob Edward (2009): A Vision for Wolves in the Southern Rocky Mountains.
- Richard P. Reading et al. (2010): Awakening Spirits: Wolves in the Southern Rockies. Fulcrum Publishing.
- Michael J. Robinson (2005): Predatory Bureaucracy: the Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West. University Press of Colorado.
- Barry Lopez (1978): Of Wolves and Men. Scribner Publishing.
Defend the Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act is our country’s most essential environmental law protecting plants and animals, yet some members of Congress want to weaken the law. Tell Congress you value native wildlife and want to see all imperiled species protected.
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