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Fact Check

Controversial Wolf Issues – Fact and Fiction

In recent months misleading information has been posted on the Internet about the International Wolf Center’s position on controversial issues. The following FAQ’s are intended to correct these errors and misrepresentations.

Q. I just read on Facebook that you are now actively supporting wolf hunting. How can you?!!
A. We don’t support wolf hunting because we don’t take positions on wolf management issues at all. Offering a science-based, unbiased approach to wolf education allows us access to schools, which is the best place to influence the next generation of students. Furthermore, our mission clearly states that we advance the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future. We perform the sometimes misunderstood work of sharing science-based information, encouraging public dialogue and promoting understanding of these often complex and controversial issues.

Q. I thought you were advocates for wolves? Don’t you care about wolves?
A. Of course we do. Our passion for wolves runs ocean deep and decades long. In fact, we do advocate for wolves, but only through the use of science-based education and outreach. We influence an audience of more than 1.5 million people annually who visit our web site, discover our education center in Minnesota, read International Wolf magazine, or participate in our many interactive classroom experiences. The International Wolf Center provides a comprehensive resource for students, teachers, outdoor enthusiasts, biologists, naturalists, scientists, researchers, environmentalists, conservationists, and anyone who values and appreciates wolves and the important role they play in our environment. Individually, our supporters fall on many sides of controversial issues. At a time when polarized debate occupies much real estate in contemporary culture, an organization like the International Wolf Center plays a more valuable role than ever.

Q. I’m still confused. You say you do not promote wolf hunting and trapping, but you have articles in your magazine and on your Web site that talk about hunting and trapping.
A. That is true. Remember, our role is to explain in an unbiased way the many aspects and the pros and cons of wolf-related issues and the wolf’s relationship to humans. However, opinions are not facts. Our goal is to give context to these difficult issues so that you can make up your own mind and choose your own course of action. Remember, we are a resource to all stakeholders, even those who may disagree with you. Think of us as an unbiased place for everyone to go to learn many aspects of the truth about wolves-a place where anyone can learn about and come to respect wolves.

Q. I guess I still can’t get over the fact that you say you support wolves, but you won’t come out and take a stand against wolf hunting.
A. We understand completely. It is often quite difficult to keep personal feelings out of our work as educators. What makes that possible for our staff and board is the sure knowledge that we are dispelling myths, engaging, influencing and inspiring people across the globe to respect and better understand wolves. In the end that goal is far more important than how we as individuals might feel about certain wolf management practices.

Q. Why do you have someone on your board like Dr. Dave Mech, who I’m told supports wolf hunting and has even written about it?
A. First of all, while all of our board members highly value wolves, and many are renowned wolf experts, they have varying opinions on wolf management issues. That diversity is valuable and keeps the organization on track to advocate only through education, to provide unbiased information and promote dialogue without taking positions on issues. Unless specifically stated, any comment made by a board member represents their personal opinion and not that of the International Wolf Center.

Secondly, while Dr. Mech is a board member and one of the founders of the International Wolf Center, he is not on staff or employed by the Center, nor does he speak for the Center. Dr. Mech often speaks publicly as a senior research scientist for Department of the Interior and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. He started a committee to form the International Wolf Center in 1985 because he wanted the public to come to know the real wolf through the results of research. He has been a driving force supporting our belief that by not taking sides, we can reach out to all audiences with science-based information, especially to students in schools where those who advocate in other forms have little opportunity to teach. Dr. Mech also co-chairs the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Wolf Specialist Group, which brings together 16 wolf biologists from around the world to work for the conservation of the gray wolf. He has studied wolves on Isle Royale, in Minnesota, also in Canada, Italy, Alaska, Yellowstone and elsewhere since 1958. Dr. Mech has authored several books including The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species in 1970, The Way of the Wolf in 1991, The Arctic Wolf: Living with the Pack in 1988 and Wolves of the High Arctic in 1992. A detailed wolf reference book Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, which he co-edited with Luigi Boitani, was published by University of Chicago Press in 2003.

Lastly, unwarranted criticism of Dr. Mech has focused recently on a few paragraphs in a single scientific paper – Considerations for Developing Wolf Harvesting Regulations in the Contiguous United States, written for the Journal of Wildlife Management, a technical journal for biologists, in 2010. He is the author of hundreds of peer-reviewed research papers that have informed the wolf biology community and the public about the real wolf for over 50 years. Many of them are posted on our website as reference material. The paper in question addresses, in an unemotional way, factors that would be considered by wildlife managers if wolf hunting were to be enacted, which almost inevitably would happen when the wolf was delisted from the Endangered Species Act. So far his predictions, though unpalatable to many, have been scientifically accurate. 

Q. I recently read a post that you got a grant of $1.2 million dollars in 2010 to promote wolf hunting and trapping? Say it isn’t so.
A. No problem. It isn’t so. The grant in question was awarded eighteen years earlier by the Minnesota Legislature in 1990 as part of a bonding bill to build our world-class education facility in Ely, MN. An additional $800,000 was raised from private sources.

Q. So you aren’t funded by the state?
A. No. Our funding comes largely from private donations, admissions to the Center, retail sales and memberships. We do receive some grants from foundations and have from time to time received small educational state grants, most recently from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, to provide interactive learning experiences through our WolfLink programs to classrooms in rural and urban Minnesota schools that would not have otherwise been able to participate without financial support.

Q. I heard you receive funding from DNR, right?
A. We do not. In fact we actually pay lease fees to the DNR for use of our education facility in Ely, Minnesota. Because the state partially funded the building’s construction, it legally owns the building and requires the DNR to oversee the lease we hold to use the building.

Q. So what is your relationship with the MN DNR? 
A. We are listed in its wolf management plan as a resource for information. However, as a well-established 501c3 non-profit, we are programmatically independent of the DNR. We lease a building from the DNR in Ely, Minnesota, that serves as our Education Center. However, the agency cannot and does not have any influence on our position, mission or our educational messages.