Why Joe Rogan Is Wrong On Wolf Reintroduction
In recent years, Joe Rogan has become one of the most popular podcast hosts in the world, known for his wide-ranging conversations with guests from all walks of life. However, Rogan has also been criticized for spreading fear and misinformation about various topics. The latest revolves around a conversation he had with Cliff Gray, described as a former financial trader turned wilderness outfitter, hunting guide, and YouTuber. The two had a lengthy dialogue surrounding the dangers of wolf reintroduction, particularly in the state of Colorado.
In a recent episode of his podcast, Rogan discussed the reintroduction of wolves into Colorado, which voters approved in November 2020. The CPW is in the process of finalizing the reintroduction draft plan. While many environmentalists and animal rights activists see this as a positive development for the state’s ecosystem, Rogan took a much more alarmist view, warning his listeners that wolves are dangerous predators that could pose a threat to people, pets, and livestock, starting the conversation with “wolves are dominant, intelligent, calculating predators that they eradicated from the west for a reason.”
In doing so, Rogan upheld a belief that the “big bad wolf” from fairy tales is the only way to view wild wolves, a belief that takes very little into account the sorts of chaos that have been caused to ecosystems since eradicating them across North America, and a belief that has very little to do with the reality of most wolf/human interactions. According to the National Park Service, there have been only two confirmed fatal wolf attacks on humans in North America in the past century, and both of these occurred in remote areas (Canada and Alaska). In the Lower 48 States, there has never been a confirmed fatal wolf attack on a human.
Rogan’s fear-mongering about wolves is not only factually inaccurate, but it also perpetuates harmful stereotypes about these animals that have long been used to justify their persecution and eradication. Wolves have been demonized in folklore and popular culture for centuries, and this has led to a widespread belief that they are savage beasts that pose a constant threat to humans and livestock. In reality, wolves are highly intelligent and social animals that play a vital role in maintaining healthy ecosystems.
I don’t want to understate the story that several North Pack wolves killed a couple of dogs in Colorado this week. It’s true, and it’s deeply sad. Many of the WCC staff have our own pets and dogs and would obviously be devastated if something happened to them to cut their life short. That being said, Rogan’s emphasis that the net effect of wolf reintroduction means “your dogs are going to get eaten” is a short-sighted unnecessary exaggeration that doesn’t hold up to statistical scrutiny. The majority of wolf-dog interactions come from hunting dogs being brought to wolf territory. In 2016, a reported number of 41 hound dogs were lost to wolves in Wisconsin. However, even that number stands in contrast to a study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management in 2019. Researchers analyzed 99 wolf-dog conflict incidents in Wisconsin between 1999 and 2018 and found that wolves were responsible for the deaths of 10 dogs during that time period. The study also found that the majority of the conflicts occurred on private land and involved dogs that were not under the direct supervision of their owners. (Treves, A., Krofel, M., & McManus, J. (2019). Wolf depredation on dogs in Wisconsin, 1976–2018. Journal of Wildlife Management, 83(2), 340-354.)
Another study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology in 2012 analyzed wolf-dog conflicts in Sweden between 2001 and 2010 and found that wolves were responsible for the deaths of 36 dogs during that time period. The study noted that the majority of the conflicts occurred in areas where wolves had recently recolonized and that free-ranging dogs were more likely to be killed than dogs that were under direct supervision of their owners. (Johansson, Ö., Karlsson, J., & Segerström, P. (2012). Wolf attacks on dogs in Sweden 2001-2010: Will increased wolf populations pose a threat to grazing livestock?. Journal of Applied Ecology, 49(2), 376-384)
While these studies provide some insight into the frequency of dogs killed by wolves, it’s important to note that these incidents are relatively rare and that most dog owners do not need to be overly concerned about their pets being attacked by wolves. However, it’s always a good idea to take precautions in areas where wolves are present, such as keeping dogs on a leash and bringing them inside at night.
If you’re wondering how those numbers stack up to other causes of death, statistically, dogs are most likely to have their life cut short by a road accident. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2004, an estimated 5.4 million dogs are hit by cars in the United States each year, but we understand the tradeoff for maintaining cars on the road in order for our society to run. Obviously, that tradeoff doesn’t make things easier for the individual owners who lose their dogs in these scenarios, but it’s hard to justify major policy changes over it either.
Perhaps this quote from an Ely, Minnesota resident in 1998 who lost her dog to wolves sums it up best: “I feel better knowing she fed wolves than if she’d been killed by a vehicle on the highway. We live in the woods because we want to surround ourselves as much as we can by nature. Wolves are part of our neighborhood and our “property values” would decrease if they left the neighborhood. I don’t want to see them trapped, or hunted, or killed because they acted like wolves – any more than I’d want to see vehicles eliminated or roads closed if [Tanya] had been run over by a truck.”
Other Rogan Follies
Rogan has also previously suggested that wolves could decimate elk populations, like the one in Colorado, which he claimed was already struggling due to overhunting. While it is true that wolves are predators that prey on elk and other ungulates, studies have shown that they actually have a positive impact on the overall health of these populations by culling weak and sick animals and reducing overgrazing (Ripple, W. J., & Beschta, R. L. (2004). Wolves and the ecology of fear: can predation risk structure ecosystems?. BioScience, 54(8), 755-766). Furthermore, the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s actually led to an increase in the park’s elk population, as well as the revival of several other species that had been driven to near extinction.
Instead of spreading fear and misinformation about wolves, we should be celebrating their return to Colorado and working to ensure that they are protected and respected. The reintroduction of wolves is a step towards restoring balance to our natural world and ensuring that future generations can enjoy the beauty and diversity of our planet’s wildlife.