Monday, July 17, 2017

Wolves: A Fierce Green Fire or Beasts of Waste and Desolation (from April 2012)

By Bob Ferris
Mark Johnson DVM training me to listen to wolf's heart beat on animals being processed for release in Yellowstone in 1996.
I once read a piece written by astronomer Timothy Ferris (no close relation) about science and politics.  Part of his argument was that science, true science had to be conducted in a liberal setting.  He further argued that conservative and liberal were not polar opposites.  He put forth cogently in the piece that progressive and conservative were on opposite ends of the political spectrum with conservatives being people who were more comfortable with the past and progressives being more at home in the future and embracing change.

Add to this linear construct measures of the relative degree of political system constraints from totalitarian to liberal and you end up with a model that allows you to efficiently map political regimes.  Under this design conservative totalitarianism would be fascism and the same restrictive approach embracing the future (progressive totalitarianism)would represent communism.  Libertarians would actually be liberal conservatives (i.e., don’t tread on me and I love the past or status quo) and socialism would hug the progressive end of the plot somewhere north (more liberal) of communism.

I have often shared this with folks when they start calling me names like Nazi or Commie—sometimes both simultaneously—as a method for clarifying my position and adding a common language to these often acrimonious and sometimes silly and artificially polarized conversations.  Today as I was participating in some debates between wildlife biologists about wolf recovery, it hit me that we could probably map biological philosophies and biologist types using a similar method.  But what would or should we use as the scalars?

Here I think that conservative and progressive could also apply but those could be replaced easily by Teddy Roosevelt (yes, I know he founded the Progressive Party) and Aldo Leopold and the totalitarian versus liberal could be replaced by applied versus theoretical.  The conservative side of this could also be thought to be grounded in wildlife management primarily for human benefit such as hunting or prevention of crop or livestock damage.  And the progressive could be linked with a desire for understanding rather than controlling.  These are obviously gross and not completely accurate representations, but useful nonetheless.


Before you start going on and on about the problems of generalizations and stereotypes, think about wildlife and conservation biologists you know and see where they might end up on this diagram.  In my experience, biologists found in the lower right hand corner of this diagram are much more likely to see predator control as a viable and necessary component of wildlife management.  Someone in the upper left is much less likely to hold those same beliefs.

I have purposely narrowed the gap between theoretic and applied because I think that the philosophical divide between TWS and SCB members has narrowed as well over the years.   This is in part because Michael Hutchins (TWS CEO) has been trying to push his membership more in that direction.  The soon-to-be-released analysis of predator control programs by TWS is a case in point.  I am not sure that we would have seen something along those lines in the mid-1980s when I initially joined TWS.  That said, the proof in this particular pudding will be the content and thrust of the analyses contained in the report.

The above is not to say that there are not some wildlife or conservation biologists who are off the charts in all directions, just as there are climatologists who do not absolutely embrace the reality of climate change or our role in that phenomenon.  But this is really not about those souls more than two standard deviations from the norm; it is about the rest of us and seeing how grounding and professional entry points might subtly or profoundly influence our relative takes on predator value and management.
With Steve Fritz and Dave Mech in Fort Saint John, British Columbia.  Minus 45 degrees F is pretty cold for a boy raised in California.

I have through experience and age a foot solidly in both camps with my early technical exposure coming from khaki-shirted deer and fish maximizers when Nixon was still president and my graduate work on the eve of the Clinton candidacy.  It puts me in a spot where both factions have made me cringe at times.  And that is OK and all part of a healthy discipline and dialog.  So where am I going with all of this?

The wolf debates in the Intermountain West have jumped off the logic tracks and been driven there equally by hysteria and dismissiveness.  My plea is for biologists from all parts of this construct to first have some self-awareness about where you might fall in this philosophical dynamic and how that might color your view.  And then, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make you, speak out publicly and call for an end of the hysteria (i.e., wolves are driving elk to extinction) and dismissiveness (i.e., nothing is happening) in favor of an honest and rational examination of what is transpiring and why.

The two exemplars I used above—Aldo Leopold and Teddy Roosevelt—and others helped to draw many of us into our profession.  These two in particular are important because they were also very principled players who staked out defensible positions and then defended those positions in the face of robust opposition.  We should all remember that the next time someone says that wolves have decimated elk populations in the Rockies or that predation is always compensatory and never additive.  We have a responsibility and an obligation to set them straight and demand that they support their claims.

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