Wolves In the News, Taking the Bull out of the Story

Certain newspaper articles leave me wondering what has become of professional journalism. Of course, these are stories about wolves, those four-legged beasts that seem to be either loathed or loved, detracting everyone, journalists included, from any semblance of objectivity.

But those writing and getting paid for reporting news should at least adhere to two of the primary obligations of journalism, telling the truth and verifying facts.

Journalist comic

A recent article in The Oregonian, written by La Grande (eastern Oregon) based reporter Richard Cockle cites these statistics on wolf populations:

Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have an estimated 1,832 gray wolves:
Montana: 653
Wyoming: 328
Idaho: 746
Washington: 52
Oregon: 53
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Washington and Oregon numbers are up to date, however, the other statistics are from 12/31/2011 (see source site).  Since then, 539 wolves have been reported killed by hunters and trappers in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. This does not take into account agency control of so-called problem wolves, those poached, those gut-shot and left to die so hunters can go after another wolf, or those killed by cars or other human related issues. Granted, some pups were born last spring, but their numbers could not possibly come close to the number of wolves killed.
Cockle’s use of the 2011 statistics (without revealing the date discrepancy)  is far from accurate, giving readers an inflated account of wolf populations in the Rocky Mountain States.The article continues on to discuss the increase in wolf populations in Oregon, now at 53. And it mentions the simultaneous decrease in livestock predations in 2012.
Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild is quoted as saying, “The numbers don’t lie, wolf numbers went up and the conflicts went down when the wolf killing program was put on hold.” (He is referring to the 2011 legal challenge filed by OR Wild and other groups that so far, has halted the kill order on two Imnaha wolves suspected of livestock depredations.)

Klavins explains that the likely reason for the significant drop in livestock predations is the increased use of non-lethal measures as well as the stable base of elk and deer for wolves to prey on.

But Cockle’s article spends most of its space on the negative and the opinionated, forecasting a future of doom for livestock owners rather than detailing the decreased depredations and the reasons behind this. Rather than seeking facts from a non-biased biologist, the article leans heavily on the words of well-known anti-wolf rancher Todd Nash.

Why am I surprised? In September 2012, a post by Jeremy Bruskotter for The Wildlife News examined Dave Mech’s recent statement that scientists and the media sanctify the wolf. The Wildlife News provided proof that the opposite is true. According to a study done by Bruskotter (along with Melanie J. Houston and David Fan) that reviewed over 6,000 articles, more than 70% of the paragraphs coded were found to depict wolves in a negative manner.

wolf howling
I won’t pick on Mr. Cockle anymore, at least not today. Another type of writing that we see a lot of in journalism is known as the “Frowny-face,” in which an issue is blown up to illustrate the sadness behind the story, without revealing the entire picture.  I thought of this technique when I read this on Montana’s Daily Inter Lake. com


Wolves kill hunting dogs near Libby

Posted: Friday, February 15, 2013 10:00 pm

By Ryan Murray/Special to the Inter lake | 46 comments

LIBBY — A thrilling hunt ended in the worst way for several local cat hunters, as a harrowing night led to an unexpected and sad end.

Three hounds set loose in wild country by their owners to tree a mountain lion were never again seen alive by their owners.

 The dogs’ owners, Phil Soucy, Clyde Carpenter and Todd Hittle, were chasing the cat between Flower and Parmenter creeks, just two miles from the edge of Woodway Park on Feb. 2.

 The hunters circled the area to look for fresh wolf tracks heading in the direction they wanted to free the hounds and finding none, deemed it safe for the dogs.

They were wrong.

Click here if you want to read more, but I understand if you’ve had enough. We know this type of story, slanted against wolves when they do what is natural. There is nothing here about the risk these hunters take on when they release their dogs in the wilderness to hunt for cougar, nothing about the accountability they should assume for the deaths of their dogs. I feel for the dogs,  and I feel for the 14 year old kid who lost his pet, but my usually sympathetic heart does not fall for this very biased piece of “Frowny-face” journalism.

frowny

I spent a long time trying to find an article that I felt was unbiased in terms of wolves. Many came close, but employed a gross overuse of inflated terminology (ravenous wolves, ultimate hunting machine etc. ) that hinted strongly at a bias.Admittedly, I am all for wolves. I think they have as much of a right to exist as any other animals on earth. So, I had to work hard to put this aside to find an article I felt was fair.

The following story appeared on KXLF.com news, written by Katy Harris. This comes from Montana, so one could expect anti-wolf rhetoric to come through. But it doesn’t, except for perhaps the grim details of the cattle deaths that are attributed to wolves. The problem is discussed in a non-hysterical manner, and a solution is explored. The language is mostly calm and the sources cited seem credible. Click on the headline to read the story.

Certain breeds of dogs being used to ward off wolves from livestock

Posted: Jan 31, 2013 5:03 PM by Katy Harris KXLF News
Updated: Feb 4, 2013 11:52 AM

The media has done a great disservice to wolves and the environment as a whole by publishing slanted and one-sided arguments. As readers, we should raise our voices when blatantly anti-wolf articles appear. I suppose the other side can do the same, although they don’t have nearly the opportunity to holler that we do.

8 thoughts on “Wolves In the News, Taking the Bull out of the Story

  1. Well done again, Beckie! The bull surrounding wolves in the print media, tv ads, in the NRM state legislatures is unfair and perpetuated by the misinformed and uninformed. Thanks for putting this in perspective!

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  2. Good work! I am wolf-biased but have great appreciation for factual info. I am careful with my search for continual wolf education, I want to be well-informed, not wrought with emotion or blinded by fear

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    • Appreciate your comment, Tom. I believe that if only factual information on wolves was decimated, the irrational emotions people have regarding them would be greatly decreased.The whole atmosphere becomes nearly hysterical at times, and wolves do not warrant hysteria!

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  3. I was in car sales for 20 years and know from experience that if you pleased a customer he/she would tell half a dozen people, but if you dis-pleased a customer he/she would tell the whole world! There is something in some people’s nature that seems to come from our Machiavellian nature that is only too eager to paint the blacker picture. Newspapers often thrive on the bad stuff, but they call it news. There’s not a news media program or paper that would say ‘Today every airplane in the world landed safely’, they would not call that news, and yet if you are a person travelling in any one of those planes, its real good news. In fact some people would regard it as a miracle and be truly grateful! I believe its called taking things for granted and life will sneak up on us in moments like these and can surprise us.
    All this ‘science’ and figures just seems to confuse and blur the landscape as if we cannot exist without it. Like mobile phones, how on earth did we manage before?
    In a wonderful documentary, “A Wolf called Storm” there is a scene which perhaps shows how little we really understand about both Nature and the wolf. Science can and does tell us much, but only by guys like this spending months at a time filming and watching wolves, can even a small percentage of their lives be revealed to us. Not unlike as Barry Lopez has observed often, and as the Natives of various countries would tell us, much of what happens is a mystery and frankly should remain so and the least we do to interfere with them, the better.
    Perhaps only when huge areas of our countries are given over to the wild and completely left alone or managed minimally will we have come to terms with Nature and our own place in it.
    There is a wonderful scene in the film where the aerial camera is tracking a pack, headed by Storm, the head honcho, and they are chasing down a herd of Buffalo, they are after female cows who will have with them their small, weak calves. But there are no females amongst this herd. But then Storm, at the front, runs past the whole herd at full speed, the others following. What’s going on? Why aren’t they tracking the herd, perhaps trying to split a weak one from it. The guy commentating is amazed too. What are they after? No one can see what’s going on up ahead, even though they are aerial and can see over the whole scene. Its not recorded how long this goes on for in real time, the film maker may have edited much for the film. But he says he has witnessed wolves chase for 20 miles or more and at fair speeds too.
    Storm overtakes the herd and even they seem confused, and then just over a small ridge he comes to a standstill, and there in front of him stand two buffalo on their own, one fairly full grown and young, the other old, both male, neither one the easiest of prey to tackle. They are not running or fighting or resisting, just standing there, motionless, almost as if they are waiting for something.
    Storm reaches these two males whilst the other herd heads off out of the way. The rest of the wolf pack catches up. But there is no attack. We see the wolf pack milling around a pond, drinking, cooling off maybe and the buffalo is not trying to escape either. The wolf pack is hungry and has young pups to feed, why are the wolves not attacking?
    The commentator cannot work out what is going on and has to leave the area for the day and will return tomorrow to catch up.
    The next day on his return the scene before him shows the wolf pack feeding off the now dead older buffalo. The younger buffalo was gone. He says it as if the older buffalo just lay right down there and died, or gave itself up with no signs of resistance on its part, no sign of a struggle. Maybe its time had come and he knew this and maybe the wolves knew it too. Maybe his race was run and he was just observing the rules of life as he and they knew them and he sacrificed himself to save the other younger buffalo. Maybe this is how its been for millions of years. The mystery at work.
    Wolves can sense when a herd has passed through an area 2 to 3 days previous. Did Storm smell this old buffalo when nothing else could, is it instinct, gut feeling? Could he see the two lone buffalo whilst chasing the other herd whe no one else could? Has he so much learned experience handed down through his DNA, that he just ‘knows’ what’s going on around him?
    Who knows?
    It may seem hard, cruel, even unfair to some people to witness this, even through a lens, and that’s understandable. As apes we have a great feeling of empathy for what animals appear to suffer. Though we should not presume to know. Evidence gained from people who have survived attacks from wild animals, including one man taken by a tiger for his cubs to play with for an hour, tell us that during the attack, they felt no pain, as if the body and brain anaesthetised itself during the trauma. Animals caught and then escaped from the jaws of death ‘shake off’ their trauma and all the chemicals and stress that builds up to help them escape and cope with imminent death.
    We can learn much from this ourselves. Peter Levine in his studies and trials has shown how as humans we experience all kinds of traumas, large and small, physical and mental, all through our lives and often fail to deal with them as an animal would, we do not follow through. Our traumas sit the in the mind and body, festering, often being relived time and again. To our detriment and ill health we do not release them so we can continue life in a state of calm and peace, and having learned a new experience that we may deal with differently next time, in order to survive.
    We have much to learn about the world of wolves, some stuff we may never know, but is it not that mystery which is somehow pleasing to us? Maybe its a sense of something else at work, something far bigger than us, a force at work that we cannot control, but a benign force that if we chose will look after us, but only if we let it, what Joseph Campbell would call the divine and others would simply call God. Its said that we cannot touch the face of God, all we can perhaps do is admire and praise the beauty and wonder of it.
    Wildness is probably going to prove to be our saviour as Henry Thoreau said ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world. Or if you prefer something along more modern lines “God only knows, God makes his plans, the information’s unavailable to the mortal man” – Paul Simon – “Slip slidin’ away”. Science and study yes, but please as The Beatles said, ‘Let it be’.
    ..

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    • Great comment, thank you! I loved the story about Storm, as well as the discussion of trauma in humans and animals. Perhaps if people were better able to resolve their trauma issues there would be less violence in the world, including violence against innocent animals like we have seen in the hunting and trapping of wolves.

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  4. This article is sweeping the FB pages so you’ve probably seen it but its so well-done that I’m posting it here. The article leans toward pro-wolf, yet it does not dismiss the fact that problems do exist. Besides being a well-written example of good journalism, the story is amazingly optimistic, especially after the news of 222 wolves being legally killed this season in Montana.

    German villagers bury ‘Big Bad Wolf’ fears:
    http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130228/german-villagers-bury-big-bad-wolf-fears

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