I talked recently with a man who had relocated from Michigan to Gardiner, Montana, a small town just outside of Yellowstone. Given that both states have wolves, we discussed them. The man, large enough to be a pro-football lineman, said he often hunted for deer in Michigan's wolf country. He recalled one day when he was sitting in his blind and heard wolves howl. He felt a tingle of fear. As darkness fell and he made his way to the car, the wolves howled again, too close for his comfort. As he hustled through the woods, he had a pistol in one hand and a rifle in the other. His headlamp beam moved like the light on a prison guard tower, as his head swiveled left to right.
"I'll tell you, the hairs were up on the back of my neck, and I was ready to blast them wolves if it came to that," he said.
His fear was obvious and real. But was it realistic? A few days later, I once again searched for an answer to the question of whether we should fear wolves.
I found two documented fatal - and tragic - attacks by wolves in North America. On Nov. 8, 2005, searchers recovered the body of a man in northern Saskatchewan. Two years later a jury found that he had died from "injuries consistent with a wolf attack." An investigator suspected that the attacking wolves might have lost their fear of people after eating at open garbage dumps. Luigi Boitani, wolf expert, expressed a different opinion in a 2015 interview with Spiegel. He said that the man had apparently been feeding the wolves regularly and that this could cause them to lose their fear of people.
On Mar. 8, 2010, the body of a woman was found along a road near a rural Alaskan community. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game - relying on DNA evidence for the first time - concluded that wolves killed her and that the wolves were not defending a kill or habituated to people.
So wolves have killed two people, one in Alaska, one in Canada. But what about in the lower 48 where that hunter feared for his safety?
A 2002 report prepared for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game found no human deaths in North America attributed to wild, healthy wolves since at least 1900.
In 2011, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said that no wolves have attacked humans in the Rocky Mountain states. The Oregonian newspaper investigated the claim. A reporter contacted the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, where a spokesperson stated that wolves have not attacked humans in the lower 48.
I found no other reports since 2011 of fatal wolf attacks. But I did come across statistics that help place those two wolf-related fatalities in a different light.
The National Canine Research Council reported 41 confirmed or potential fatal dog attacks in 2014 and 32 verified fatalities in 2013.
Records at the International Hunter Education Association show that during one six-year period 265 people died in hunting accidents.
An article from The Interstate Sportsman reports that each year in this country 1,500 to 1,800 people drown, and 800 to 875 die in boating accidents.
Dog attacks, drowning, and hunting and boating accidents claim far more lives than wolves have or ever will. Yet I don't hear anyone demanding that we eradicate all dogs or ban hunting, swimming, or boating so that we can protect ourselves from such dangers.
The chance of wolves killing people are minuscule; there are many greater fears to worry about. That some people use the fear of wolf attacks as a way to justify killing wolves - an endangered species - is another example of the incredible power of the myths and misinformation that surround these essential predators.
As always, I welcome your comments about this topic.
Rick Lamplugh is a wolf advocate and author of the bestselling "In the Temple of Wolves." Available as eBook or paperback. Or as a signed copy from the author.
Learn more about the creation of worldwide wolf hatred.