WASHINGTON — The American team sought to protect the American media from the risk of physical harm, but in the process they may have inadvertently decided to protect the leaver as well.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came out Wednesday in support of a plan to allow dogs that may also be used in humane-hound training to protect people who run toward the animals during a wolf attack, similar to a plan that allows law enforcement officers and military forces to defend themselves with the use of dogs.
“Wolverines are dominant dogs that likely recognize and will react to people they see as obstacles or threats,” said the agency’s expert on Native American wolves, Jonathan L. Fisher, in a statement. “Taking steps to protect those individuals may protect all members of the animal’s population, including more vulnerable members.”
But at least one expert on wolves was stunned by the move.
“I have never seen a wolf that will see a human and say, ‘I’m going to go and kill you,’” said Paul White, an expert on wolves and wildlife veterinarian at UC Davis. “I can’t imagine what could possibly happen if an alpha male walks by a dog at a campground and that dog overreacts and charges the human. That wolf could look at that person and as serious as a human being and kill that person.”
According to accounts of a wolf encounter at an Oregon campground, when a dog approached the animal, the wolf began barking and growling and attacked the human. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on whether the canine protects the animal when it does not seek to harm humans.
The case came to the attention of the agency in June, when a U.S. Forest Service employee noticed a wolf tagging along the Oregon side of the Calamigo trail, a popular hiking trail in the Deschutes National Forest, according to the report.
The employee reported what he had seen and shot video, which the Forest Service said showed “a large, hairy, wolf standing over a group of people” at the top of the trail. He also filmed the wolf moving away from the group after the people fled in terror.
Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Division determined the wolf was part of the family of the Wapato Pack, which was listed under Oregon’s Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1991, and according to a Fish and Wildlife report, the wolf is naturally fearful of humans.
But while the agency said it believes that wolves are social animals, it stated in its proposed rule that one’s own behaviors can influence that social structure, and that wolves can become fearful of other members of their pack based on the way a human behaves. That fear, they say, can lead to “widespread behavior disturbances.”
“If a wolf is aggressive in an attack, perhaps a family member must jump up and confront the wolf so the family member can protect its own members and may even start to swat at the wolf with a stick or perhaps even pounce onto the wolf,” said the report. “This proximity to the wolves can greatly increase the likelihood of conflict between the wolf and other members of the pack or if a member of the wolf’s pack is attacked.”
A spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Rebecca Parr, could not immediately be reached for comment. The agency said it cannot comment on pending litigation.