Anecdotal evidence (i.e. storytelling), is often "twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools." Historically, white supremacists have used anecdotal evidence to portray racial and/or ethnic minorities as dangerous, sex crazed predators. Of course, the empirical data indicates that incidents of interracial violence are quite low and that most people who are raped, murdered or beaten are the victims of someone they know and it often occurs in their own homes. This has not prevented racists from using statistically rare events to create irrational fears.
Anecdotal evidence can be utilized to portray almost any form of wildlife as dangerous. People have been attacked by deer, blue jays, skunks, field mice, etc. While in office, and under the protection of the Secret Service, President Carter was attacked by a swimming rabbit while in his canoe. Anomalies happen.
In recent years, some knaves have attempted to create a trap for fools by portraying wolves as a threat to humans. For example, a statement in opposition to ending aerial hunting in Alaska claimed that:
"Alaskans all across the state have seen or read about the killing power of wolves. Countless dogs were stalked and killed and even people were threatened by wolves. The wolf attacks were vicious and often deadly. They drive home the necessity of managing predator populations."
Of course, the number of dogs that are killed by wolves is statistically insignificant. Automobile accidents, trapping accidents, and abuse and neglect by humans, are the major threats to the well-being of dogs.
The probability of being attacked by healthy wolves is so low that it isn't worth being concerned about. At the most, in the entire history of North America, there have been two documented fatal attacks on humans by wolves. One incident recently occurred at Chignik Lake in Alaska. All of the relevant facts of this incident are not yet known. Since there are no witnesses, what actually occurred at Chignik Lake may never be known. The other attack occurred in Canada. According to the widely respected bear and wolf biologist, Paul Paquet, the alleged wolf attack incident which occurred in Saskatchewan, was actually a case of bear predation.
Wolves are valuable members of our community. A recent article in the journal BioScience, recommended reintroducing wolves to many areas of the Lower 48 in order to restore the health of degraded eco-systems. The article further noted that the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone resulted in an increase in eco-tourism spending of approximately $35 million a year.
We can keep ourselves and wolves safe by not feeding them, not running from them, not approaching them and by keeping our dogs on leashes or under voice command.
It is important not to let demagogues manipulate us into having irrational fears and distracting us from tangible, likely threats. We are surrounded by a wilderness which is full of dangers. Experienced wilderness travelers reduce their chances of being injured or killed by using a map and a compass, practicing with their avalanche beacons, wearing a float coat, and leaving their cotton clothes at home. I have never met an experienced hunter, trapper, or backpacker who wasted their energy worrying about wolves.
Alex Simon is a Juneau resident and is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alaska Southeast.