The Wolf in Fact, Fiction, and More Fiction
[By Terry Wieland]
AT THE LIVINGSTON, MONTANA, INTERCHANGE ON INTERSTATE 90 IS A BILLBOARD. From the billboard, a gray wolf stares out soulfully, and the text beside it reads, COMING SOON: A WORLD WITHOUT WOLVES? STOP THE KILLING!
It’s a billboard that can be read two ways. The first time, I thought it was yet another message from Western hunters agitating for the right to control wolf populations, in order to save what’s left of the moose and elk herds of the mountain states. Such billboards dot the highway from Billings to Helena, giving exact percentages by which the Yellowstone elk have declined since the wolf was reintroduced to the Northwestern United States in 1995.
Only when I went to the website listed on the billboard (www.predatordefense.org) did I realize this was pro-wolf. The killing it was protesting was the killing of wolves in the Western states, where they have recently been removed from the endangered list, with state game departments given the right to issue tags and manage their numbers through hunting.
The concept of game management by state game departments is well established in the American consciousness. Nature needs to be kept in balance through human intervention, if only because previous human intervention upset the balance of nature as it had existed for thousands of years. Having created a massive problem by wiping out the bison, eradicating the wolf and grizzly, and introducing cattle and sheep, it is now our responsibility to try to keep everything more or less in balance through artificial means.
One such artificial means is hunting, licensed and legal, with numbers carefully monitored by game biologists. All of this sounds very logical and desirable, but it’s missing one essential element: emotion. With the gray wolf, there’s always more emotion than logic, and that applies equally to those who worship wolves and those who detest them.
Mowat’s most famous claim, still fervently believed by many, is that wolves subsist largely on mice. According to Mowat, wolves kill a few caribou and moose, but only a few. The staple diet of the arctic gray wolf, he said, was field mice.n 1963, Canadian author Farley Mowat changed the way we view wolves. His best-seller, Never Cry Wolf, was allegedly an account of a wildlife biologist’s experience in the Arctic, and it contradicted many common beliefs.
This may seem a small point, but it became the central theme and battle cry of the pro-wolf movement, through the back-to-nature 1960s, the Greenpeace ’70s, the anti-fur ’80s, and on into subsequent decades increasingly preoccupied with animal rights and global warming. Even today, mention wolves and their diet, and someone in the crowd is sure to pipe up, “But wolves only eat mice!”
As an author, the undoubtedly talented Farley Mowat progressed from pioneer to gadfly, icon, and discredited liar over roughly the same four decades. Works that he first insisted were nonfiction, the wolf book among them, turned out to be largely products of imagination and wishful thinking.