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MA: Mission Wolf

Written by Lee Roscoe

Harwich Community Center hosts program on wolf habits, habitat

Once again wolves have returned to Cape Cod, as they have off and on over the past two decades. But sadly, they were just visitors.

In an event sponsored by Harwich Conservation Trust, Mission Wolf, now in its 26th year, brought three captive wolves from their sanctuary in Colorado to over 150 people at the gym at the Harwich Community Center to raise awareness not just about wolves but about other keystone species and the areas they inhabit.

Mission founder Kent Weber said that humans fear wolves and we “destroy what we’re afraid of.”

“Take fear and add it to technology and there’s a recipe for disaster.” Wolves were extirpated from the United States 80 to 100 years ago, and on the Cape, he said, 150 years ago.

Conversely, harm is done when we love wolves too much, treating them like pets. “A wolf which has been brought up in a cage can never leave it; never learn to hunt or live in the wild. We’ve had to turn down over 10,000 wolves.”  (He said that’s a fraction of caged wolves, which often end up killed.)

The number one threat to wolves in the wild is habitat loss, Weber stressed. He said that they and other top predators, often called keystone species, create a top-down effect called a “trophic cascade.” After mentioning recent fish die-offs in streams that had overheated, Weber said, “Wolves give fish cold water.” He explained that without wolves, elk overbreed in the west, eating grass and small trees, limiting tree growth and thus bird species, as well as compacting the earth.

“Wolves make animals run,” he reiterated, “so they can’t eat as many trees, and they aerate the ground.” This means rain is retained by the earth, willows and other trees return, along with beaver. Beaver in turn he said, create more watery areas, and fishes replenish.

When wolves are gone, coyotes proliferate, Weber added. Bring wolves back and coyotes are controlled. Then badgers, fishers and other wildlife over-predated by coyote can also recover.

“The Cape is too fragmented for wolves to make a comeback,” Weber said, but there are three north to south corridors on the continent, which would provide space for wolves to live. “I get frustrated. U.S. Fish and Wildlife argued for 22 years over reintroduction, and when they finally decided, it took only a week to put wolves back into Yellowstone.”

An audience member asked about  endangered species status. “They are an endangered species where they are gone, yes. But as soon as they make a comeback and go beyond 300 in population they begin to be killed again…It’s all political. A lot of it doesn’t make sense.” He commented that “wolves affect less than ½ of 1 percent of livestock.”

Weber and wife Tracy Ane brought out on leashes 12-year-old Magpie, her partner, Abraham, and adopted son Zeab for pre-selected people to touch. Weber explained that wolves’ yellow eyes gauge character and body language almost telepathically; the nose receives scents and the teeth and mouth, not paws, are used the way we use our hands. “If a wolf wants to hug you it will chew (gently) on your head.”

“If you can get to the Sangre de Cristos and down ten miles of dirt road, you can camp. If you stay two months you get your own tipi to live in. We have 60,000 hours of volunteer opportunities.” Weber, an engineer and architect by training who found the corruption in the world disheartening decided to leave an unhappy money-driven society to live self-sufficiently on the 200-acre sanctuary, 50 acres of which are fenced in for the wolves.

Weber joked, “We come in on a bus, not a Greyhound, but a wolf bus,” noting that bus, insurance and 2,000 lbs. of food a week for 52 animals is costly. Part of the proceeds of the four days of Cape wolf programs go to HCT and Mission Wolf. If HCT can raise the funds, it will adopt a wolf.

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