[This is the third part of a three-part series recommending that we return wolves to their rightful place in the Adirondacks. If you missed the part which considers the ecological importance of carnivores, please consider reading “Restore the Adirondack Wolf” and “Economic and Social Reasons to Restore Wolves“. Special thanks to Lake Placid based nature conservation photographer Larry Master (www.masterimages.org) for permission to feature his wolf photographs in this post.]
Fear Not the Wolf
Finally, we come to some speculative but compelling reasons to return wolves and other native carnivores to their rightful habitat as agents of healthy balance and as hedges against outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. These hypotheses may not yet be provable, but very possibly the public health benefits of top carnivores patrolling our woods and waters will, once understood, persuade even the crustiest old gunners to let them live.
Carnivores will enhance public health in several ways: Wolves and Cougars will trim the deer population, which at present is unnaturally abundant in many parts of the East (due to elimination of large predators, fragmentation of forest, and supplemental feeding). Deer inadvertently kill more than 200 Americans a year (two orders of magnitude more than all native carnivores in North America combined kill), mostly in collisions with cars. Deer are also vectors for black-legged ticks, which carry Lyme disease and other afflictions.
As a personal aside: I’ve trekked thousands of miles across many of the wilder parts of North America, often in territory of Grizzly and/or Black Bears, Wolves, and big cats. The only carnivores who have ever given me any trouble are domestic dogs. The animals I fear most, by far, are ticks. I’ve had Lyme disease, and it scares me more than the toothiest beasts on the planet.
Some carnivores do occasionally prey on livestock, but this problem can be humanely addressed with compensation programs for farmers who do lose animals, careful husbandry, and again realistic appraisal of relative risks. Domestic dogs kill more livestock than do Wolves or Cougars. Still, consumers need to be willing to pay a little extra for predator-friendly meat and other ecologically-sound goods.
Return Wolves to Restore Balance
I’ll save for another ramble the questions about which Wolf the Northeast had (Gray or Red or both or something in between) and whether Coyotes have begun to fill part of its niche; and whether active reintroduction is necessary, or whether we should save the wildlife corridors that allow the carnivores to recolonize on their own, or both. (I’d vote both.)
To bring the current consideration back around, I believe that for personal as well as ecological reasons we ought to return wolves and other top carnivores to the East. Cougars and Wolves, and Lynx and Wolverine in boreal parts of our region, will help restore forest health, bolster regional economies, enhance our ethical standing, beautify our environments, and keep us safer and healthier. Of course, we should not expect instant miracles. We’ve spent centuries exploiting and diminishing wild things; they and we will need a few decades to restore the balance.
Continue reading this Adirondack wolf series with the following posts:
- Restore the Adirondack Wolf
- Economic and Social Reasons to Restore Wolves
- Return Wolves to Increase Public Safety
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.
- We Should Welcome Cougars Back (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Misplaced Fear of Cougars (and Other Predators) (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Songbird Mysteries (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Serpentine Splendors: Snakes of Split Rock Wildway (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Cougar Sightings in and around Essex (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Coyote Capers (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- American Eels in the Lake Champlain Basin (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)