Dr. Robert M. Miller sorts through the debate on controlling wolf populations.
In the summer of 1948, I worked for a ranch in the San Rafael Valley of southern Arizona. We heard that a government trapper had killed a wolf on the neighboring Heady-Ashburn Ranch, so we went there to confirm the rumor. The wolf, a small Mexican lobo, had been removed, but Mr. Ashburn showed us its tracks. This was the last wolf killed in Arizona back then.
Getty Images/National Geographic
About the same time, the last jaguar was killed in the Santa Catalina foothills north of Tucson.
Since then, in recent years, both the jaguar and the Mexican wolf have been reintroduced into Arizona. Of course in 1948, the total human population in Arizona was 500,000 people. Today, the burgeoning state has several million people, and more keep moving there all the time. It wouldn't have happened without air conditioning.
Back then, a bounty was paid to anyone who shot a wolf in the Western states, and the government employed trappers to keep predator populations under control.
Today, the government spends a fortune to maintain and control the wolf population and is subject to political pressure from all kinds of groups. On the one hand, there are the urban wolf lovers who wear t-shirts proclaiming their love and are opposed to any sort of population control. Most of these people have never seen a wolf in the wild and are, emotionally, really dog lovers.
On the other hand, there are ranchers who, after all, are producing food. I have a friend in Idaho who suffers losses every year in his cattle herd from wolves.
Colonists from Europe brought to America their fear and loathing for the wolf. Consider the villainous wolves in children's fairy tales written by the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson. Much of this attitude was rooted in the stories of rabid wolves that wandered into and terrorized European villages.*
No reasonable person wants to see the wolf suffer extinction—or any other species for that matter. The problem is controlling population in a way that will not incite hysterical opposition. Some groups oppose any form of control. Others ridiculously cry for a spay and neuter program.
The problem is that we are all entitled to an opinion. But, as in so many environmental disputes, few of us have a qualified opinion.
The wildlife and environmental scientists are human, and they make mistakes. But, over all, they are the most qualified people to decide how to manage our wolf population, all other wildlife populations, our forests, our water sources, and our agricultural lands. In general, they do a pretty good job.
*Rabies has been feared for millennia. A new book about the disease is Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus (Viking Press) by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy, DVM.
The views expressed in "Mind Over Miller" do not necessarily reflect those of the editorial and practitioner advisory boards or the editorial staff.
Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website atrobertmmiller.com.
Dr. Robert M. Miller