Sixteen-year-old Noah Graham of Solway is lucky to be alive after being attacked without warning by a wolf while sitting at a campfire with friends last month on Lake Winnibigoshish near the town of Bemidji in far northern Minnesota.
“I had to reach behind me and jerk my head out of its mouth,” he reported, after which he leaped to his feet and fought back until the wolf fled. He suffered a four-inch gash on his scalp, closed with 17 staples — “the worst pain of my life” — and required a series of rabies shots. Meanwhile, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials, who called Noah’s experience the first documented serious-injury wolf attack on a human in Minnesota, jumped to the wolf’s defense asserting that a wolf killed nearby — it may not be the attacking wolf — had a “jaw deformity.”
Defenders of Wildlife (DOW), which might as well call itself Defenders of Wolves — they even have a statue of one outside their headquarters — said it was “surprised” by the attack. DOW went further than the DNR noting not only that the wolf “had some malformation of its jaw” but also that it was “reportedly habituated to humans.” But DOW downplayed the incident contending that “only two known deaths have occurred from wild wolf attacks across all of North America in modern history.” That is a bit of an understatement and far from a full and accurate accounting of the dangers to mankind from wolves, but DOW has come a long way in truth telling about the wolf since the 1990s.
Back then, DOW persuaded the Walt Disney Company to include the following disclaimer in its 1991 film adaptation of Jack London’s novel White Fang, the tale of a young man’s adventures during the Alaskan gold rush and his friendship with a wolf: “Jack London’s White Fang is a work of fiction. There has never been a documented case of a healthy wolf or pack of wolves attacking a human in North America.” That was followed by a statement bemoaning so-called “persecution” of the wolf and calling for the introduction of the wolf into “wilderness areas.”
Thanks to lobbying efforts like these, and the willingness of the Clinton administration to accede to the demands of DOW and other environmental groups, wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1994 and quickly spread over a 500-mile radius to all corners of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Earlier this month, a pack of wolves stampeded 176 sheep — two were bitten and killed; one was half eaten; the others died of asphyxiation.