I was in the audience yesterday at the Minnesota DNR Roundtable meeting in St. Paul. Commissioner Tom Landwehr began the session with a roundup of his agency's accomplishments during 2012. At the top of the list on his first Power Point slide was "Successful Wolf Season". I quickly scanned the room hoping someone from Howling For Wolves or PETA wasn't going to start screaming or charge the lectern.
The Commissioner, painfully aware of the explosiveness of the topic, chose his words very tentatively, spent all of about 15 seconds on the item, and moved on to number two on his list. Safer ground. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from the 350 attendees.
I've been wondering for a year now, since the DNR announced a wolf season at the 2012 Roundtable, what it is about these animals that makes people so emotional. I have a friend who thinks it can be traced to our love of dogs. If your household doesn't own a dog you would be in the minority in Minnesota. But even though our pet dogs all evolved from the same female wolf roughly 15,000 years ago, they bear little resemblance, outside of fur and four legs, to canis lupus. The process of domestication has its advantages, right?
There has to be more behind the emotion on both sides. More reasons to humanize wolves and label them "sentient" if you love them. More reasons than the fact wolves kill deer to make you set traps or load your rifle if you hate them. Minnesota hunters still killed over 150,000 deer last season, wolves or not.
I've concluded that wolves bring emotions to the surface for many reasons, some silly, some serious, all heartfelt. But the principal reason is their numbers. Think about this: when I hunted ducks with my dad in the 1950's, geese, at least in central Iowa, were rare. When we bagged one there were handshakes all around, photos taken. Today, in Minnesota, Canada geese are so numerous some of my hunting partners pass on them because they take so long to clean. And PETA would have us castrate them to control their numbers.
When I stand at the kitchen window and watch the birds at my feeder, the chickadees are barely worth noticing. There are dozens of them flitting around. But if a pileated woodpecker comes for suet I lunge for my camera.
I suspect that if wolves were as numerous as their close cousins coyotes most of the emotion on both sides would fade.