A billboard campaign in Washington state says that gray wolves kill livestock, endanger elk populations and pose a threat to the public. But ecologists contend that the canines are actually scared of humans and are crucial to the habitat. (The Associated Press)
The four billboards near the Idaho border by Washington Residents Against Wolves calls for the state to decrease the wolf population, The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports. The billboards read: "Endangered? No. Dangerous? Yes. Good for Washington? Absolutely Not!" Pictured is a snarling wolf.
Wolves kill livestock, endanger elk populations and pose a threat to the public, group spokeswoman Jamie Henneman said. "We feel there is not a broad enough awareness about the impact of wolves in Washington state," Henneman said. "There has been some (awareness) with the impact on livestock, but the impact is much, much greater."
Ecologists dispute that claim, saying wolves are scared of humans and are crucial to the habitat. "They want people to think that these wolves are dangerous," population ecologist Oz Garton said.
Among the most disputed aspects of the campaign is the claim that wolves are not native to the area and compete with other predators for scant resources. "We have this non-native species coming in and disturbing this," she said. "We appreciate the predators as a really important role in the ecosystem ... (but) we already have this handled in Washington."
Wildlife officials have repeatedly said the species of gray wolf introduced, canis lupus, is the exact species that once thrived in the Northwest.
The debate over wolves illustrates a divide in the Northwest between rural areas further east and populous urban areas near the Pacific Ocean. Rural ranchers and residents say their more liberal counterparts in cities don't understand the realities of living among wolves, including the danger to the public and livestock.
Advocates of wolves reply that the area is their native habitat, and wolves have a positive impact on areas where elk would otherwise destroy grassland. Garton said habitat is the primary driver for changes in elk population and location, followed by the impact of wolves. "Hunters pick on the wolves as the problem, which is really not true," Garton said.