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2005 Wolf Awareness Week Contest Winner

The 2005 Wolf Howl National Wolf Awareness Week Contest Winners

The first of our two first place winners is Sharona Symonds, a trail guide, nature buff, Wolf Dog guardian and artist from Mineral Bluff, Georgia for her creative artwork celebrating Wolf Awareness Week 2005.

Sharing this honor with Ms. Symonds is Phil McKenna, a student taking part in a one year Masters Program in Science writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Phil is originally from northern Wisconsin and before pursuing his writing career was a field Biologist in California and Arizona working on the reintroduction of the critically endangered vulture, the California Condor.

Wolf Awareness Week 2005 winning entry Here is a photo of Sharona Symonds creative art piece made especially for Wolf Howl Animal Preserves Wolf Awareness Week 2005. The entry is a gourd that has a collage of beautiful Wolf pictures and quotes. The stem of the gourd is tied off with leather, beads and turkey feathers. We appreciate all the work that Ms. Symonds put into her entry. Click Here or on the picture to view a larger image.

The Phil McKenna entry is an essay that contains all the elements we were looking in a contest entry. His essay highlights Wolf characteristics, the near extinction of the Wolf in the US, and the results of the reintroduction effort.

Here is the winning entry by Phil McKenna:

"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot," Aldo Leopold, foreword to A Sand County Almanac.

Fifty-seven years after the founding father of wildlife conservation compiled this groundbreaking collection, his words continue to inspire. On the eve of the Defenders of Wildlife's 10th annual Wolf Awareness Week, North America's original big dog is struggling to make a comeback. Though I have never seen a wolf myself, I am truly elated to know that packs of these wild predators are slowly but surely returning.

Next to humans, wolves were once the most widely distributed mammal on earth. They form tight emotional bonds with other members of their family and have a social structure closer to humans' than that of many primates. Wolves can be tough; packs have rigid hierarchies and often kill strangers who trespass in their territory. But they have also been known to adopt and nurture the young of others. Efficient hunters, wolves can sprint up to 35 miles per hour while chasing prey. Highly intelligent team players, a group of wolves can take down a moose ten times their size.

Wolves prey primarily on large, hoofed mammals such as white-tailed deer, moose, elk, and caribou. On average, they kill the equivalent of 15 to 20 deer per wolf each year. They are generous with their spoils. After "wolfing" their own share, they are often too stuffed to bother with other scavengers including coyotes, eagles and ravens that scrap for the leftovers.

But wait, you say, aren't wolves dangerous? Doesn't the "Big Bad Wolf" come huffing, puffing, and blowing down the homes of cute little pigs and chasing after innocent young girls in scarlet bonnets?

It's true that wolves, like bears and mountain lions, are wild, potentially dangerous animals that are best kept at a distance. It's also true that you stand a better chance of getting hit by a meteorite than killed by a wolf. Although wolves are large, powerful animals, they don't seem to bother humans. Wolf attacks do occur, however, they are usually by wolves that have become habituated to humans. Moreover, in the last 100 years, not a single person in North America has been killed by a wolf. By comparison, more than 20 people are killed and 3 million attacked each year by man's best friend, the domestic dog.

Some speculate that wolves avoid humans because we walk on two feet while their natural prey walk on all fours. Others believe that thousands of years of intense persecution have taught the species to fear us. Whatever the cause, wolves are shy animals that are rarely seen, even if you are deliberately trying.

For those seeking wolves, and subsequently supporting a growing multi-million dollar ecotourism industry, the odds may be improving. In the 1960s, wolves had been shot, poisoned, and trapped to near extinction across our country's lower 48 states. The use of bounties for wolves, even in national parks and refuges, left less than 1000 individuals taking cover in the northernmost forests of Minnesota. Reintroduction programs, which started ten years ago, and natural dispersion across the Canadian border, have produced new territories in recent years that have exceeded biologists expectations. There are now nearly 5000 gray wolves spread across eight central and western states. Beginning in 1998, biologists started to reintroduce another species of wolf, the Mexican wolf, to Arizona and New Mexico. This past year, wolf conservationists in Colorado began to push for their own gray wolf reintroduction program. Though Colorado is a state with a rich ranching tradition, 70 percent of those polled supported the measure.

Such support in Colorado shouldn't come as a surprise. Wolves that have repopulated other areas haven't been as big a problem for ranchers as they once anticipated. A recent study in Minnesota found that only about one out of every 400 sheep and one in 6000 cows in wolf country are lost to wolves each year. When wolves do take livestock, ranchers can be reimbursed either through state funds or money set aside by conservation groups. Further, wolves that become habituated to feeding on livestock are killed. Some farmers even welcome the return of wolves as their presence reduces deer herds that feed on corn and oats.

Still, many hunters are vehemently opposed to the predator's comeback. Two years ago, Alaska reversed a 30-year ban on aerial wolf "control", a move that could have devastating consequences for the state's roughly 8,000 wolves. In nearly 20,000 square miles of the state, it is now legal for private citizens to shoot wolves from airplanes and helicopters. In one region the limit has recently increased from 10 wolves a year to 10 wolves a day. The new regulations call for an 80 percent reduction in wolf numbers to artificially boost moose populations for sport hunting. A similar belief that wolves and game animals cannot coexist is shared by a hunters' advocacy organization called the Abundant Wildlife Society of North America. The South Dakota based group sells bumper stickers on its website that read, "Save Hunting Rights, Kill a wolf".

Looking back on the last ten years of wolf reintroductions, I think the greatest success hasn't been the return of Canis lupus. Instead, it has been the complete transformation of the ecosystems in which it now thrives. No place is this more visible than the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, an ecosystem now known as North America's Serengeti. Prior to the wolf's reintroduction in 1995, vast herds of elk leisurely grazed their way through the range's aspen forests, cottonwood stands, and shallow marshlands. When wolves were reintroduced, the elk immediately had to be more careful. They started grazing in more open areas to avoid surprise attacks. The shift in feeding sites quickly began to change the landscape. Willow shoots and cottonwood trees began to grow thicker and taller wherever the wolves hunted. More astonishingly, aspen trees, which essentially stopped regenerating in the region when wolves were extirpated 70 years ago, immediately began to return. As the trees came back, so did the beavers. In less than a decade, their colonies in the valley increased from one to eight. Their dams in turn are creating pools rich in aquatic life which will support a host of larger animals including otters, mink and even moose. While elk can no longer spend as much time in the valley's lush floor, their numbers are only slightly down. Their fitness, however, has increased as wolf packs trim sick and older individuals from their ranks.

The reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone has thus come full circle in reinstating the balance of an ecosystem. The approach is catching on. Across the Atlantic, Paul Lister, a Scottish businessman, recently announced an ambitious ecological restoration plan in his native Highlands. Specifically, he hopes to reintroduce wolves to an enclosed 23,000-acre former hunting estate. If successful, Lister's project will host the first semi-wild wolves on the British Isles in more than 300 years.

Here in the United States, a federal court ruling recently paved the way for a wolf reintroduction program in the north-eastern United States, a region of the country I now call home. I may never have the good fortune of seeing a pack run through the woods. Yet, during the 10th Annual Wolf Awareness Week, just knowing these "wild things" are returning will make me howl with delight.

Phil McKenna - 2005

View the 2005 National Wolf Awareness Week Honorable Mentions

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