L. David Mech

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L. David Mech (born January 18, 1937) is an internationally recognized wolf expert.


  • Labeling a high-ranking wolf alpha emphasizes its rank in a dominance hierarchy. However, in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none. Thus, calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or a doe deer as an alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so "alpha" adds no information. Why not refer to an alpha female as the female parent, the breeding female, the matriarch, or simply the mother? Such a designation emphasizes not the animal's dominant status, which is trivial information, but its role as pack progenitor, which is critical information.
  • The misinformation promulgated by wolf advocacy groups ranges from minor technical errors to major deception and fraud. Technical biological misinformation, though bothersome to professionals working with wolves, is not as serious as deception about such issues as the status and trends in wolf populations. This latter type of misinformation tends to motivate well-meaning wolf advocates to press their causes through letter-writing campaigns, public meetings, lobbying, and lawsuits. For example, animal welfare and wolf advocacy groups have been advertising for funds in major national newspapers for years, claiming that wolves were threatened in Denali National Park and other parts of Alaska, despite documentation to the contrary. These misrepresentations have even made it into conference proceedings. In the non-peer-reviewed proceedings of a nonprofit citizen organization, "Defenders of Wildlife's Restoring the Wolf Conference," undocumented claims were made the the wolf has been eliminated from "95% of its former range" and "95% of its historic range in Noth America". The actual figures are closer to 30% of its global range and 40% of its North American range.
    • Wolf Restoration to the Adirondacks: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Public Participation in the Decision, (2001).
  • I hope that the general public will try to regard wolves like every other creature rather than giving them some sort of a very special position in the wild. The wolf is like a cougar or a bear or any other species. It was endangered, and it was regarded as the poster child for endangered species, but it is recovered now, and it should be managed like any other creature. If the public can accept that, that would be the biggest thing I could hope for.
    • Interview (April 7, 2010), Wildlife Society
  • With wolf lay advocates it is just natural to want to promote their favorite animal and to try to counter the known negative effects of wolves and the claims fostered by people who vilify wolves, an increasing lot as wolves recover and proliferate. Thus wolf advocates eagerly seize on any study they consider favorable to wolves. The media become complicit by immediately publicizing such studies because of the controversial nature of the wolf. And all this publicity reverberates on the internet. Seldom, however, do studies contradicting the sensational early results receive similar publicity. The public is then left with a new image of the wolf that may be just as erroneous of the animal’s public image a century ago.
  • Mr. Ellis is neither a scientist nor an expert on the natural behavior of wolves.
    • B.J. King, "Why Are Wolf Scientists Howling At Jodi Picoult?" NPR. (April 19, 2012)

Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation (2003)[edit]

As quoted in Conclusion, pp. 341-344, in Mech, L. D., and Boitani, L. (Editors). 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-51696-2

  • After decades of advocacy for wolf conservation using all possible means to sell the goal of wolf recovery, it is now necessary to start advocating for compromise between wolf and human interests.
  • Demanding that wolf populations be allowed to continue to increase is not only a false conservation goal, but also a counterproductive tactic that is bound for short-term failure. It is strategically preferable to promote wolf range expansion and to accept reduction of unacceptable levels of conflict through scientifically planned and managed culling rather than through uncontrolled poaching. Full protection of wolf populations living near, or interspersed with, human settlements leads sooner or later to surplus wolves being killed, legally or illegally. Opposing wolf killing altogether implies accepting that all wolves will eventually be removed from these areas, whereas accepting some wolf control will allow wolves over much larger ranges. This vision requires a fundamental shift in the way wolves are perceived by folks who consider every wolf a symbol of the conservation battle or an animal with special rights among all other species. In the end, this approach probably will yield many more wolves than we could afford to keep in a few fully protected areas, no matter how large.
  • Wolves should be saved and managed as part of the whole context, not because they are singled out as a special species.
  • In the recent past, wolves were labeled a flagship species or an umbrella, indicator, or keystone species, depending on what conservation market one was trying to penetrate... A flagship species is an attraction to nearly all society's strata, but wolves are not welcomed by all factions of society. With a few rare exceptions, the rural world opposes wolves, so the animal's flagship role is restricted primarily to urbanites or to local areas. Wolves are certainly a powerful flagship species for the conservation movement, particularly that of affluent societies with strong lobbies in large cities, but a true flagship species should be able to move an entire society toward a goal.
    Neither are wolves a good umbrella species (i.e., a species, usually high in the ecological pyramid, whose conservation necessarily fosters that of the rest of the chain) in that they can live well on a variety of food resources and in areas with an impoverished prey base. Wolves are not a keystone species either, in that they are not essential for the presence of many other species (e.g., herbivores flourish in areas devoid of wolves). And wolves are not necessarily indicators of good habitat quality or integrity because they are too generalist to be good indicators of the presence of a pristine trophic chain.
    The above labels have been very useful in many circumstance and have contributed significantly to wolf recovery. They may still be useful in the future, but we should be aware that they are shortcuts to "sell a product" rather than good scientific grounds on which to build conservation.

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