Though wolves were eradicated from Ireland and Scotland long ago, there is a growing debate about reintroducing wolves to these countries. Two thoughtful wolf advocates - one Irish, one Scottish - recently shared their views with me. Here are excerpts.
Dan Lettice wrote an article, "Re-introducing wolves to Ireland: Could we? Should we?" for IrelandsWildlife.com. Lettice noted two benefits of reintroduction: reduced damage from over-abundant deer herds and eco-tourism that could bolster local economies.
He also sees challenges. Glenveagh National Park, Ireland's largest, is 170 square kilometers (approx. 66 square miles) in size. Cairngorms National Park in Scotland is over 4,500 square kilometers (approx. 1,700 square miles). By comparison, Yellowstone is nearly 9,000 square kilometers (approx. 3,400 square miles). He adds that Irish and Scottish parks are not buffered by wilderness areas. If dispersers leave the parks, "Irish wolves would be wandering into areas where people have no experience of dealing with large predators, and have been led to believe, through myth and fairytale, that wolves are savage killing machines."
Another challenge would be the cost of researching, legislating, implementing and monitoring a reintroduction program and compensating farmers for losses.
But for Lettice, the most important factor is the welfare of the wolves.
"Wolves re-introduced in Ireland would need to be heavily managed, some might say controlled. It's likely that their locations would need to be monitored daily, and that several animals in the pack would be burdened with telemetry collars. Wolves may need to be re-captured if they move into areas deemed undesirable, and pups may have to be relocated if adults den outside the national park they are introduced into. Would such a heavily monitored and managed population really mean we have wild wolves in Ireland again?"
"...while the re-introduction of wolves here might have some benefits, both ecologically and psychologically for us, there would be no benefit whatsoever to the wolf, either as a species, or to the individual animals released here."
Maxwell Muir is excited about the growing interest in wolf reintroduction after several hundred years without wolves. He is organizing a Wolf Awareness Weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland, which he hopes will promote the idea of reintroduction and help people consider coexisting with wolves. Muir believes that the Cairngorms national park in Scotland - with its overpopulation of deer - could provide enough prey for reintroduced wolves.
But reintroduction is risky. "Wolves have been persecuted in almost every land they have inhabited since time remembered and this may very well happen in Scotland." However, he says that the progress Defenders of Wildlife made in Idaho with non-lethal deterrents shows that "it can be done anywhere. What we need are attitude changes and the only way to do this is getting practical to prove it."
Muir says economic changes could increase wolf country. "Sheep farming in Scotland's north is on the decline and more land is being freed up." The concerns, Muir says, "will come from hill walkers and Munro baggers and of course those that live in wolf country. Scotland is also a very popular camping ground where people like to holiday with their dogs."
Muir understands that accepting reintroduction will be difficult:
"Coming out of a comfort zone is not easy for any human being and after centuries in a wolf-less land people need to get used to taking care and being more responsible when out in the wild."
"Public acceptance to trial and experimentation is the key in my mind. We need to get people to try. Yes, it might go wrong and that would mean the death of wolves that are reintroduced, but we still have to try. It is worth that much surely."
(Top photo: Eurasian wolf)