Valerius Geist is a Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Calgary, Canada.
He believed in the myth of the "Harmless" wolf until he personally experienced evidence to the contrary, four years after he retired. In this heavily documented paper, written in 2010, He explores how the mythology came to be. From wolfeducationinternational.com:
November 26th 2010
The effects of thousands of impoverished trappers and wolf bounties in northern Alberta early in the 20the century on predators, and its relation to the myth of the harmless wolf.
I have been digging into historical literature in my quest to understand why in North America the myth of the “harmless wolf” took such a severe hold, to the point of perverting scholarship and quite probably leading to the death of some believers. The conventional view of the harmless wolf, which I also believed in throughout my academic career and four years into retirement, is in sharp contrast to experiences elsewhere. Yet, it certainly coincided with my personal experience pre-1999, after which a misbehaving pack of wolves settled about our and our neighbor's properties at the edge of a farming district in central Vancouver Island. The unexpected behavior of these wolves led me to investigate wolf behavior for the first time. I subsequently discovered that the wolves were much the same in their behavior, whatever their origins, but that circumstances lead to vastly different outcomes. In general, the evidence indicates that wolves are very careful to choose the most nutritious food source easiest obtained without danger. They tackle dangerous prey only when they run out of non dangerous prey, and they shift to new prey only very gradually, following a long period of gradual exploration. Wolves are very sensitive to strangeness, including a potential prey species strange to them. Garbage is the easiest and safest food source for wolves, and they do take advantage of such. Once they are habituated to people due to their proximity, they may begin to investigate people. The ultimate exploration of a strange prey by a carnivore is to attack such. Hence, the danger from habituated wolves. However, they need not have garbage, just a shortage of prey to begin investigating and eventually attacking humans. This means that as long as wolves have sufficient natural prey, they leave livestock alone. As long as they have livestock they leave humans alone. When short of natural prey and livestock they turn their attention to humans and their habitations and may even break into such to extract cattle, horses, pigs, sheep or poultry. Dogs and cats are attacked before that. We humans are next in line, primarily children. But even then the initial attacks are exploratory in nature and clumsy, allowing some victims to escape. however, this scenario is of exceptional scarcity in North America, though it is practiced occasionally by coyotes targeting children in urban parks.
The discrepancy, however, between global and conventional American experiences with wolves is crass. Wolves have killed thousands upon thousands of people as chronicled by European and Asian sources, yet in North America documented fatal attacks are few and disputed. The differences are real.
What then was going on in the past century in North America to make wolves so harmless? I felt I had obtained part of the answer that showed that wolves are wolves wherever they occur, but that circumstances can generate very different outcomes in wolf behavior.
I continued digging.
In a teleconference with a committee of the Montana legislature on or about April 27th I suggested that in Canada trapping and official wolf control via hired predator control officers was likely a good part of the answer. I ran subsequently into most unlikely sources, plus follow-ups. These are the memoirs of two German authors, the first is the two volume work of Max Hinsche (1935) Kanada wirklich erlebt (Canada really experienced) and Reinhold Eben Ebnau (1953) Goldgelbeds Herbstlaub (Golden yellow fall leaves). In addition I examined C. Gorden Hewit's (1921) The Conservation of the Wildlife of Canada, and followed up with some reading by a like-minded and qualified author on Russian and Siberian conditions Egon Freiherr von Kapherr (1941) Wo es trommelt und röhrt (Where [wildlife] drums and roars).More Here. The paper is 7 pages long. Here is the conclusion of the paper:
Recipe for “harmless & romantic” wolves (based on Alberta data): License trappers so as to have one trapper per 25 square miles. Give him leg-hold traps, snares, poison and an accurate gun, insist that he live off the land, give him a monetary reward for killing wolves, hire predator control officers to kill all wolves entering agricultural lands, let game wardens poison wolves after the big game season, remove all legal protection from wolves so that hunters, ranchers, farmers etc can shoot them all year long, drop by the ton frozen horse meat injected with strychnine or 1080 from aircraft on frozen lakes all winter long, (note killings of wolves by native people as ongoing). With this recipe re-implemented, expect very few, shy wolves with limited distribution, virtually free of Echinococcus grnaulosus or rabies, expect strong game populations, expect little if any predation on livestock, and expect no attacks on humans (the odd rabid wolf excepted) and, by all means, offer a monetary reward for anybody proving an attack on humans by a healthy wolf! Enjoy the occasional wolf howl in “real” wilderness setting! It is under conditions such as described by above recipe that American wolf biologists convinced themselves that wolves were utterly harmless, good for the ecosystem, and the global experinece to the contrary, as symbolized by the Red Riding Hood fairytale, was irrelevant at best, and malicious, ignorant garbage at worst.