Why Do We Need Wolves in Vermont?

Because they belong here. Wolves, like other native species recently exterminated, were part of the natural fabric of Vermont, long before there ever was a Vermont. Wolves, mountain lions and lynx lived here for not just hundreds, but thousands of years. They did not disappear, they (and the habitat necessary for their survival) were intentionally destroyed to make way for human progress in the form of settlement and livestock.

In the last few centuries, the entire northeastern portion of North America was radically altered to suit the needs of just one species, humans. With the arrival of European explorers came a voracious appetite for fur, which led to the commercial extinction of many forbearing animals desired by markets overseas. Those native forbearing species like the wolf and lynx that survived this initial onslaught were then targeted because they preyed on the domestic livestock that accompanied European settlement.

By the early 1900’s the howl of the wolf had all but vanished from the place we today call Vermont. In their place, over time came other species that could survive on the logged and exhausted landscape. Smaller predators like bobcats and coyotes slowly filled the ecological niche left with the absence of apex predators, but today we are witnessing the impact of this change to our (and animals) environment.

Caribou, elk, wolverine, bison, mountain lions and wolves once called Vermont home.

As has been seen in other former wolf habitat in North America, when wolves are allowed to return, they restore a balance not seen in most of our human lifetime. Rivers, plants and especially native ungulates like deer and moose rely on apex predators to keep a balance that humans alone cannot match. Without natural predation, deer and other prey can become detrimental to their own habitat, over browsing trees and plants necessary for healthy waterways. Without natural predations, disease and starvation become more common among ungulate populations.

Many people, especially sport hunters benefit from the lack of apex predators by finding species like deer more plentiful and easier to hunt as they have lost their fear of natural predation from wolves. In places like Montana, Wisconsin and Michigan where wolves have recently returned or been reintroduced, many hunters claim that wolves are “killing all the deer” but the truth is that wolves in those states still subsist on fewer deer than are killed by humans…and automobiles.

What has changed in those states is the ease hunters once had in killing a deer, elk or moose when those species changed their behavior without the threat of apex predators. Gone are the days when you could go hunting in your tennis shoes and shoot a big buck from the roadside or your heated tree stand over bait. In states where wolves have returned, we have seen a return to what functional ecosystems used to look like before the intentional eradication of some predators.

This slide from Vermont Fish & Wildlife recognizes that wolves were essential as predators for beavers and other animals. In their absence, human trapping is meant to replicate natural predation.

In many states including Vermont, state wildlife agencies work hard to restore native species overexploited by humans. In Vermont, black bears for example have rebounded thanks to efforts of not only state wildlife agencies, but even hunters. But in nature one cannot pick and choose which native animals are allowed to return to healthy numbers because of their popularity today as a huntable “game animal.” We must strive to restore the proper balance that existed before our meddling of the last centuries and not focus only on those animals that again benefit humans.

Humans alone are not the natural apex predator like the wolf. Too often hunters favor killing the strongest and largest deer, elk and moose – not the old and sick or overpopulated. Alone we cannot pretend that healthy ecosystems require only “wildlife management” by licensed recreational hunters, the land and the animals we love to hunt or simply watch need apex predators like the wolf.

Would the return of the wolf to Vermont lead to more predation on livestock and people’s pets? Probably. But predation of non-target animals can be greatly avoided through non-lethal methods like grazing livestock closer to barns and the use of livestock protection animals like certain types of dogs and even donkeys which have been proven to reduce predation on livestock by apex predators. Remember, in Vermont wolves and mountain lions were intentionally eradicated to make way for sheep and other livestock new to our environment.

An incredible 91% of Vermont’s population support the restoration of extirpated species like the wolf!

We are not saying that wolves belong on the landscape and Vermont’s many dairy and sheep farms do not, we simply believe that our restored healthy forests again need natural predators like wolves and lions who can naturally reduce populations of deer and moose currently affected by diseases never before seen in a healthy ecosystem.

When many of us were children, we were taught that the Endangered Species Act was needed to protect native animals from human eradication, with the wolf as a prime example of what should NOT be done to promote and protect our natural environment. And while there are still many opposed to the return of the wolf where their kind has recolonized former habitat, there are so many more who celebrate this wildlife success story.

In Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan for example, the indigenous Anishinaabe inhabitants revere the wolf as a brother who was delivered by the Creator to help us all survive. They believe that what happens to the wolf will happen to them and view the return of the wolf as an indication that humans have learned a valuable lesson about survival and coexistence.

A NY hound hunter reported this possible wolf sighting in Vermont in 2019.

Now it is our turn. Will you join us in welcoming the wolf back to Vermont? Are you willing to alter some of your behavior when visiting our forests so there is again room for another native inhabitant to this beautiful place we also call home? Will you also rejoice and yourself feel a part of your spirit restored when you again hear the howl of a wolf in Vermont?

On February 15, 2023, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board will be addressing a petition regarding the protection of large canids including wolves. Click on the link below to see the agenda and tune into the 02/15/23 presentation:

Are you ready to welcome the return of the wolf to Vermont?