Teaching through positive experiences with animals, pro-wolf activists work to dispel the image of the wolf as villain –
By Patricia Beech –
Photo by Mark Carpenter –
Wolves and people have lived alongside one another for eons, yet the relationship between humans and wolves has had a very long and turbulent history.
Fueled by misconceptions and misunderstanding, people traditionally have viewed wolves negatively, perceiving them to be either dangerous or a nuisance to be destroyed, according to wolf expert Rachel Lauren.
Lauren and her partner, Matt Emmelhainz are co-founders of the Columbus-based “Ironwood Wolves” – a USDA licensed educational facility designed to tackle the myths associated with wolves and to teach the public about their importance to our ecosystem.
The couple, along with their Ambassador Wolf Logan, visited the Manchester and Seaman Libraries on Friday, June 9. Wide-eyed children and their family members packed into both libraries to get a close up look at Logan, who is ¾ wolf and ¼ Malamute.
“This is where our ambassador wolf partners come in,” said Emmelhainz. “Logan helps us educate others about his wild cousins simply by drawing in a crowd willing to listen.”
Cody Hesler, a sixth grader at North Adams Elementary, says he was excited to attend the library’s wolf presentation to “learn why wolves, his favorite animals, are not presented as how they truly are”.
“They’re very misunderstood animals,” Hesler say., “They’re not as dangerous as they’re presented in books and movies.”
Lauren says the challenge is providing a whole sense of the animal with the hope that knowledge will bring acceptance.
“The ‘big bad wolf’ is a widely known term, but in actuality wolves are more afraid of us than we are of them.”
To her point, there have been less than half a dozen wolf attacks in the history of the United States, and in all instances the culprit was an ill wolf.
“A healthy wolf will not approach a human let alone attack one,” Lauren explains. “People have used the wolf in myth and fairy tales to teach lessons and instill fear in their children and wolves are often misunderstood because of this. Our biggest mission at Ironwood Wolves is to disprove these myths and remind the public that the stories about them are just that- stories.”
Lauren also spoke about the importance of wolves to the environment:
“As a large predator, the wolf is essential to keep the ecosystem balanced and in check,” she said. “Wolves hunt very young old or ill animals, leaving the strongest and healthiest in the herd to breed and keep the population at a healthy number. Without the presence of the wolf, hoofed animals become overpopulated and food sources for them become scarce.”
According to the Ironwood Wolves website, biologists witnessed many positive changes in Yellowstone National Park when wolves were introduced in 1995. In the absence of wolves, elk browsed heavily in the open flats along rivers and wetlands, since they did not need to evade predators by seeking thicker cover. Without fear of wolves, elk over-browsed the vegetation, inhibiting the growth of new trees. Since the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone, elk spend more time in the safety of thick cover or on the move.
River areas and aspen groves that had been suppressed by decades of over-browsing are regenerating, improving habitast for species like beavers and songbirds. Beavers, which create wetland habitats with their dams, have improved water quality in streams by trapping sediment, replenishing groundwater, and cooling water. Species that rely on healthy river habitats and benefit from the presence of wolves in Yellowstone National Park include trout, moose, waterfowl, songbirds, small mammals, and countless insects.
Arrington Jackson, an eighth grader at North Adams, said she believes the Ironwood Wolves program can make a difference in how people perceive the animal.
“People are killing them because they believe they’re mean, but if they would just take the time to learn about them and see how they act, they’d realize that they’re good”.
Emmelhainz agreed, “Wolves in Alaska are being killed as puppies, and wolf hunts are being held to control numbers, so its more important than ever to get the information out there that they’re not dangerous animals and they don’t pose a threat to us.”