THE GREEN FIRE LIVES



From Barry Babcock
With the recent federal appellate court ruling, Judge Jeffrey White, a George W. Bush appointee, determined that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t adequately consider threats to the wolves outside of two major populations and placed the gray wolf back on the Endangered and Threatened Species Act (ESA). With this re-listing of the wolf comes backlash from some hunting groups and the livestock sector.
Near a hundred years ago, Aldo Leopold shot a wolf and standing over the dying wolf, watched the “green fire dying in its eyes.” As it took this incident to alter his opinion of wolves so it is that we too, must ponder green fire in the wolf.
The director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) stated that their “members cannot compete with wolves.” There many variables that contribute to success in hunting. Deer hunting in the Northwoods is not a “canned hunt” and it should not be the job of wildlife managers to make game farms out of the Northwoods. Regarding myself, I see wolves as an asset – moving deer around rather then allowing them to bed down by some hunter cultivated food plot until darkness.
The truth about wolves and deer is that since approximately 2000 Minnesota has had more whitetails than ever before in our history. Around 2003-05 the MN DNR estimated that the deer herd was one and a quarter million while at the same time the wolf population was 3,200! Those numbers say a lot! I have been an avid deer hunter in northern Minnesota (both as a traditional archer and rifle) for over a half century and there is no doubt in my mind that for the last twenty years we have been in the golden age of deer hunting. The deer herd was so large during this time in some districts in northern Minnesota you were allowed as many as five antlerless permits, meaning you could take one deer of either sex and five more deer that are antlerless!
Deer hunting in the 1960’s, 70’s and into the 1980’s was tough. Deer numbers were very low. So, the reader may ask, why the extraordinary increase in the deer herd? The reason lies with the three OSB Potlatch Mills in Bemidji, Grand Rapids and Cook and their demand for aspen. Much of our state forests became tree farms for Big Timber which provided jobs and a boost for a depressed economy but the results to the land were a monoculture of different age brackets of aspen. Deer thrive in disturbed forests and are generally creatures of edges and openings. The impact of all this timber harvesting created a natural utopia for deer. Now with the deer herd busting at the seams, we have chronic wasting disease (CWD), an explosion of deer ticks carrying multiple tick-borne diseases, plus deer are carriers of ‘brain worm’ which has become the major factor in the decline of our state’s moose populations. Researchers are realizing that if we want moose to make a comeback, we have to reduce the deer herd yet many hunters would rather have an over-populated deer herd than to see a bull moose or hear an elk bugle on a frosty October morning.
Disgruntled deer hunters must realize that northern Minnesota is comprised of a diverse variety of forest types. Our northern forests are referred to as the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province and there are seven sections within this province. These sections vary greatly from being remnants of Lake Agassiz, peatlands of NW MN, moraines with more fertile soils in north central regions and the northern Superior uplands that comprise the BWCA. Some of these sections are prime habitat for deer and some are not. For instance, the northern Superior uplands (NSU) which includes the BWCA) were scoured by the glaciers and left a land devoid of the glacial till and moraines found throughout NC Minnesota. Deer populations in the NSU will never reach the size of those in the ‘drift and lake plains’ of north central Minnesota. NSU is moose habitat – not good deer habitat. This diversity of geologic factors is a principal factor with deer numbers. These plus the winter factor determine the herd size. I have always maintained that being a good deer hunter requires knowing food sources.
As wolves were being shot from planes and helicopters in Montana and Idaho and some Rocky Mountain states were virtually killing wolves on sight, while Wisconsin was using dogs and night hunting, it is obvious that we had returned to the early 1900’s when we exterminated all wolves except in Minnesota. We let the genie out of the bottle in 2012 and now we are finding that it is exceedingly hard to get the genie back in the bottle. Thankfully Judge Jeffery White sees it that way too. I am proud, that thus far our state, our Governor and Lt. Governor and House of Representatives have said no to a wolf hunt. In comparison to other states, we are light years ahead of them with the wolf. I hope we can remain so.
I recall years ago, watching a TV documentary on wolves. In this documentary there was a tractor towing a trailer into a forest opening. Here there was a poison laced carcass of a dead deer with ten or more dead wolves lying about it. The men from the wagon were picking up the dead wolves and piling them on the wagon as though they were cord wood. One large wolf, when thrown over a mans back, raised its head with open eyes and looked about – it was evidently paralyzed yet was still barely clinging to life. This scene is burned into my memory and I’ll never forget it.

I am pleased that, for now, the “green fire” lives!