News‎ > ‎

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf Scientist?

posted Sep 18, 2018, 11:14 PM by chloe owens

7/5/2018, by Christopher Solomon, New York Times

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf Scientist?

You might not guess from looking at him that Rob Wielgus was until recently a tenured professor of wildlife ecology. Wielgus likes to spend time in the backwoods of the American West that lie off the edge of most tourist maps, and he dresses the part: motorcycle leathers, tattoos on both forearms, the stringy hairs of a goatee dangling like lichen from his lower lip…We had rendezvoused in Republic, a faded former mining town of about a thousand people in the northeastern part of Washington State.

.. Wielgus had spent years in the surrounding woods doing research, and he loved the area. Now he considered it hostile territory.

…“Too many death threats,” he said. “I never started carrying this till I started studying wolves.”… Not long ago, Wielgus was a respected researcher at Washington State University in Pullman, in the far eastern part of the state, with his own prosperous lab and several graduate students under his guidance. His specialty was North American apex predators — mountain lions and bears. Over a 35-year career, Wielgus has published surprising research about how these animals behave, especially once their paths cross with civilization. Unlike some wildlife research, which can be esoteric, Wielgus’s work by its nature has concrete, real-world implications…Wielgus had no idea how unpopular he could get, though, until he began to study wolves…Even today, no animal in North America is at once more loved and reviled than Canis lupus, the gray wolf…There were bounties for wolves as early as Jamestown. “Wolfers” later roamed the Great Plains, shooting buffalo, lacing the carcasses with strychnine and returning the next day to collect the poisoned wolves’ pelts for their $2 bounties, Barry Lopez recounts in “Of Wolves and Men.”… The strange story of Rob Wielgus is a tale of what happened to one loud scientist who ran afoul of powerful forces. More broadly, it’s a parable of the American West in the 21st century and of how little we still can agree what it should look like…