Dennis Anderson: Wolf activist strikes up aggressive campaign

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 18, 2012 - 6:46 PM

An interview about the planned hunting and trapping season in Minnesota was contentious at times.

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Maureen Hackett is a physician specializing in psychiatry and forensic psychiatry. She also served seven years in the Air Force, leaving at the rank of major. Raised in Ohio, she moved to the Twin Cities in 1995. She's in private practice and also sees patients at a metro hospital.

In March she founded the organization Howling for Wolves, whose initial goal -- through billboard, radio and TV ads, and protests like the one at the governor's residence Thursday -- is to stop the wolf hunt and trapping season planned by the Department of Natural Resources beginning in November.

In an interview she explained why she opposes the hunt.

DA  How did you develop an interest in wolves?

MH  All my life I've been interested in wildlife. I learned about wolves on a trip to Yellowstone, and while on a dogsled trip into the boundary waters. I remember when I came here I heard people describe "up north" as a place so wild they had wolves. I thought, "That's cool."

DA  Is Howling for Wolves, which you founded, a membership group? If so, how many members do you have?

MH  We don't have members. We have supporters. Our goal is to become a foundation that provides non-lethal predator control, in which we give people resources to keep wolves away from their livestock: electric fences, dogs and so forth.

DA  Your group, or you, has placed billboards prominently in the Twin Cities, one of which says, "Stop DNR Torture. Now or Never," and shows a photo of a wolf. The other shows a wolf that almost looks like a pet dog, rather than the predator it is. Where did you get the photos?

MH  We bought them. The photo is actually of a caged wolf. We don't have wild wolves that aren't persecuted that we can take photos of. We couldn't find high resolution photos of wolves in the wild, so we used those.

DA  There are lots of wolf photos available showing a pack killing a deer, or taking down a moose. You could have used one of those. It would have been more representative than the warm, cuddly image your photo represents.

MH  You want wolves looking as beautiful as they are. And yes, they are predators.

DA Have you seen a wolf in the wild?

MH  No. And 400 wolves dead after the fall Minnesota hunting season will mean 400 wolves I and others won't ever be able to see.

DA  You or your group has also sponsored radio and TV ads decrying the pending wolf hunt. How much have you spent?

MH  I don't have to reveal that.

DA  You will if the tax-exempt status you seek is approved by the government.

MH   You can see it then. Meantime, we think it's important to invest significantly in this important cause.

DA  What is your primary problem with the scheduled hunt?

MH  The DNR has no baseline data about wolves. So they won't be able to measure the effects of the hunt on the state's wolf population. The last time the DNR conducted an estimate of Minnesota wolves was in 2008. Instead the DNR is using livestock depredation data to estimate the population. In any event, the hunt won't reduce depredation, because hunters who are spread out in the wolf zone will kill randomly. They won't be targeting problem wolves.

DA  Do you agree some people just don't understand hunting or its roles -- if not to help manage another species, then as a social and cultural tradition? Sometimes people who disagree with something come up with facts that suit their opinion.

MH  The DNR is talking about using the hunt for livestock depredation. But it's for sport, and a sport hunt will kill randomly. The law already allows people who are threatened, or whose property or pets or livestock are threatened, to kill wolves. We don't need hunters doing it also.

So far in 2012, for example, federal trappers have killed 169 wolves. Thirty-six wolves have been killed by private trappers. And as many as 27 have been killed by ranchers and other property owners.

DA  Some studies suggest the discussion over hunting wolves or not hunting them is moot, because whatever void is created in the wolf population will be quickly filled by increased reproduction success.

MH  That's where you're wrong. The average pack size in Minnesota is 4.9 wolves. You don't know that by hunting the population randomly, you're not reducing the overall age of a pack, thus requiring the younger female wolves in the pack to have pups, rather than the older and perhaps more dominant females.

You can create problems by doing this, and because the DNR has no baseline data, you wouldn't know it. In fact hunting's effect on the state's wolves might create more livestock depredation, and the DNR's response might be to have more hunting, not less. This is highly endangering our legacy wildlife.

DA  How else do you think wolves might be adversely affected by a hunt?

MH  Under the stress of a hunt, they might come down with diseases. And just like that you could take out a pack.

DA  You're suggesting that wolves don't already lead a "stressful" life, assuming we can overlay them with that human emotion. They're constantly hunting, on the move, looking for their next meal, fighting off mange, avoiding cars.

MH  I'm saying that if you take a wolf out of a pack with a hunter's bullet, because it's done randomly, you might and perhaps will create stress in the other pack members. Fundamentally, here's the problem: We don't have excess wolves to shoot.

DA  Where's your data to support that?

MH  Can you refute me? We're going to be shooting and trapping them right up until February, when they start breeding. What will be the consequence of the hunt on reproduction?

DA  By your definition, deer in the north live "stressful" lives also, constantly on the move to avoid wolves.

MH  Deer are not as fragile as wolves. They're not as dependent on the social structure. Perhaps some deer hunters see fewer deer in a certain area because there are wolves there. But wolves are serving the greater ecosystem by keeping deer moving. By moving deer, wolves allow herbs and trees the deer would otherwise eat, to grow.

Also, wolves contribute to a deer herd's health by taking out the sick, less-productive and less-well animals.

DA  That's not entirely true. Studies show that in many cases, wolves kill for fun.

MH  Wolves in some instances can get into feeding frenzies. But that's unusual.

DA  Call it a feeding frenzy if you will. But wolves sometimes kill opportunistically, in which the dead deer -- which aren't always the weakest -- aren't eaten by the wolves.

MH  Are you afraid of wolves?

DA  No.

MH  Then I think you need an education. I'm saying that if you're afraid, if you feel threatened, or your pets or property are threatened, you can kill them. These are very specific situations, as opposed to randomly killing.

Don't you want wolves around?

DA  Wolves aren't going extinct. That didn't even occur when they were poisoned.

MH  In my profession, I do risk assessments all the time, deciding, for example, whether someone should be confined for the rest of their lives. I was also a military officer and saw bad decisions being made when they could have been stopped or changed if someone had stepped in and said something. That's what I see here.

When it comes to wolves, we need to develop a new social paradigm. It's not about how many the land can tolerate. It's how many wolves people can tolerate.

DA Did anyone in your family hunt as you grew up?

MH I have cousins who hunt.

DA  Are you a meat eater?

MH  I eat some lamb. But not much.

DA  Maybe it's whole notion of a sport hunt offends you.

MH  I think tracking and shooting game is a legitimate sort of pleasure. But I think most people who hunt think they should consume what they eat. They don't do that with wolves. It's the final act, the eating, that creates a certain sort of sacred bond between the hunter and the animal they killed. If a hunter doesn't eat his kill, the activity can become malicious. That's how you denigrate the wolf. He died for someone's pleasure.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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