Two ecosystems, two cultures [and wolves]

Brodie Farquhar writes an essay for the Casper Star Tribune on why wolves are more controversial in the West than in the Great Lakes States.

Two ecosystems, two cultures.

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  1. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    Well written article.

    I noticed one thing in the article that stands out to me because of my perspective, a paper I wrote and subsequent presentation I gave at Frontiers in 2005…

    My theory is that reintroduction has failed because the FWS failed to address the causes of extirpation, and only addressed returning wolves. The causes, as stated by FWS in their own recover plan, included ignorance, and myths/legends about wolves. In otherwords, the cultural differences between these two areas still exists, and therefore wolves are still in jeopardy in the Northern Rockies.

    Interestingly enough, the only negative comments I received about my presentation were that it didn’t reflect reality….in the Great Lakes region… so stated an employee of IWC.

    I’m very glad this article points this out this difference between the two regions.

    Perhaps one day this will be resolved. If I had the ability, I would probably pursue this legally; I tried to do it through advocacy, but the FWS is not to be swayed. They are intent on getting this reintroduction off their shoulders, apparently so they can claim a raging success…where instead, a total failure stands in its place.

  2. SAP Avatar

    Mike, maybe you could clarify a couple things for me:

    1. If you are referring to wolf recovery in MT-ID-WY as “total failure,” by what criteria are you judging it a failure?

    2. If it wolf reintroduction in the Northern US Rockies is a failure, how has ignorance or misinformation about wolves contributed to the failure? What factual information are people lacking that would help them successfully conserve wolves?

    I agree that there is a fair amount of ignorance about wolves. But it’s not clear to me how that ignorance is leading in a functional way to ineffective conservation efforts.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Mike can speak for himself, of course, but I think the program has not been successful in a cultural sense, in that cultural animosity toward wolves has not been significantly reduced due to the inadvertent and also the deliberate spread of misinformation. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has not done much lately to help. That’s in large measure because the agency has fallen under the control of people who hate wolves — the result of bad election outcomes.

    As for myself, back in 1995 I was hostile to the ranchers in the public lands areas near the wolf reintroduction due to conflict with them over their position on other conservation issues during the previous 20 years. They were always the one public land user group who would never compromise or even bargain.

    As the wolf restoration rapidly succeeded and key ranchers, often grudgingly at least, adopted measures to protect both their livestock and wolves, I felt that progress had been made.

    The turnover of the program to the states has been very unhelpful. Policies advocated by Wyoming to kill all the wolves outside Yellowstone Park, and by Idaho’s new governor, plus the elevation of long time anti-conservationists from Idaho and Wyoming to key Dept. of Interior positions, has opened up old wounds.

    These people are going to be in place just 1 1/2 more years, but they will be out to settle old scores.

    There is successful wolf restoration on the ground, but outside of Montana it will probably be just a blip in the timeline.

  4. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    There was just a “news” story a few days ago in the Casper Trib stating that Wyohming intended to manage wolves as close to the minimum federal standards as possible. And if one was to look at the 2007 Idaho hunting regulations you would see that wolves and noxious weeds share a section unto themselves………….

  5. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Having been a resident of Wyoming for fifteen years, and having been involved in wolf reintroduction and other controversial issues for the same amount of time, it is my considered opinion that to expect significant cultural changes in Western attitudes toward wolves (and bears, bison, elk, etc.) during the past decade and a half is highly unrealistic. Just what was the FWS going to do to make wolves acceptable? Or the Defenders of Wildlife with its compensation fund? The DOW fund hasn’t worked hasn’t achieved any level of acceptance of wolves. I think it’s a waste of money.

    If anything, attitudes have hardened more than they were, in a manner similar to how attitudes toward civil rights hardened in my native South after the 1954 Brown decision that found “separate but equal” to be unconstitutional. I grew up during the civil rights era and I can tell you it was not a pleasant time for anyone as the KKK and its allies in state and county governments racheted up the violence and the threats of violence.

    What I see of the old guard in the West is much the same as what I grew up with in the South. We know by every objective measure that ranching, for example, is at an economic dead end, and in a sense, it has been so from the very beginning, as ranching succeeded only by the enormous squandering of natural capital, something well explained in the recent interview of George Wuerthner in Counterpunch, to which Ralph has given a link. That natural capital is now spent. The livestock oligarchy is on its last legs, and, as to be expected, it is lashing out with every last ounce of energy to destroy land and wildlife. It’s the old saw, “if we can’t have it, no one else can either.” I think all we can do is help the industry into the coffin and into the ground as soon as possible.

  6. SAP Avatar

    Ralph – thanks for your thoughts. I agree with your assessment that the challenge now is cultural.

    Here are some “rules of rational problem solving:”

    “1. Articulate, and try to improve the articulation of, the problem to be solved.
    2. Propose and critically assess possible solutions.
    3. When necessary, break up the basic problem to be solved into a number of simpler . . . subordinate or specialized problems . . . in an attempt to work gradually towards a solution to the [overarching] problem to be solved.
    4.Interconnect attempts to solve [overarching] and specialized problems, so that [overarching] problem-solving may guide, and be guided by, specialized problem solving.”

    That’s from Nicholas Maxwell’s “Is Science Neurotic?”

    So, if we have a cultural problem, how do we go about fixing it? Or, how do we go about changing a culture?

    I don’t have any easy answers. The best disciplines/specializations to turn to are probably social psychology, social cognitive neuroscience, communications, and marketing.

    We have unprecedented understanding now of how the human brain works, thanks in large measure to functional MRI and other technologies. We should be able to develop a useful understanding of what drives people’s hatred and opposition, and develop ways of communicating better with those people — communicating in ways that they can hear us, rather than just shutting down because they feel threatened.

    I am concerned that if we just characterize the problem as “ignorance,” our attempted solutions will be misguided and ineffective. Go back to step 1 there: articulate and continually revisit and improve articulation of the problem to be solved.

    I’m not saying the authors of the wolf EIS & Recovery Plan were wrong in identifying ignorance as A problem. But it’s not the whole story, and maybe not even a big part of it.

    Let’s keep in mind here that the EIS & RP were written a fairly long time ago, and by people whose training was primarily in wildlife biology. I think many of them would admit that learning about geochemical cycles, systematics, botany, physiology, statistics, animal capture and handling, and the other standard courses did NOT give them adequate preparation for understanding and solving cultural problems.

    So, we end up with the standard boilerplate stuff — that people need to be educated, that as soon as they are exposed to some factual information they’re currently lacking, they’ll change their attitudes, their values, their behaviors.

    I don’t see it working that way — it doesn’t even work that way among people with high levels of formal education. Remember the old saw that “Science changes one funeral at a time.”

  7. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    SAP, you brought up great point; even highly educated people can be stubborn. I think that using the term “ignorant” is a kind of “catch all” description. It’s not just a lack of education, it’s also those who consciously decide to remain ignorant of the facts whether that be because it’s the more easy path, or for a variety of reasons. And there are the folks whose traditions dictate their choices, for example “It was good enough for my dad, and his dad, and on and on”. In Appalachia there are areas where the family tradition is remaining uneducated. Families have been split apart if a son or daughter takes a different path. As you know it can be very difficult presenting facts to those folks. Education is seen as a threat. A lot of people are afraid of change.

    Also, some people can be saying the exact same thing, but in such a different way that neither understands the other.
    Thinking the other is wrong but they are both right. A good example would be an engineer and an artist/painter; each describes the same process in a very different way. Both answers are right, they just don’t understand each other.

    With touchy subjects, one has to be able to present the facts in a way that their mind works, and be sensitive so as not to be insulting. It is very important to be able to read people. That might mean coming up with half a dozen ways to say the same thing. And it all makes the same point.

    Being able to draw diagrams works well in some situations.

  8. Monty Avatar

    Yellowstone–meaning the entire complex– is the sum of it’s parts, including the wolf. Yellowstone is the major economic engine for the region. Why aren’t more of these voices heard?

  9. SAP Avatar

    dBH: excellent points, especially about engineers and artists. We in the Euro-American world give such deference to positivist science as having a monopoly on describing “reality,” and having the only points of view that are worthwhile.

    But if I sit in the yard while waxwings are swarming the apple tree, I am embedded in a reality that only poetry could begin to describe. Same thing when I hear wolves howl, or find a place where a family of grizzlies dug up gopher tunnels.

    We have gotten way too far into “Science” as our means of description, justification, measurement, &c. I’m not saying throw it out, I’m saying let’s acknowledge other ways of knowing and seeing.

    Of course, like all my thoughts, I am indebted to someone else for them; I highly recommend David Abram’s “The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World” for an exploration of other ways of knowing. He is an ecologist, philosopher, and a sleight-of-hand magician.

  10. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    SAP: well said. I am reminded of a story about a fellow who with science, math, etc., was at the top of his class. He could figure out anything on paper, he really knew it all. But when it came to application out in the real world he was clueless. The example given was, that he was trying to open a door by pushing in the center and could not figure why it was so difficult. A couple of his classmates came along and opened it the with little effort. He was completely amazed.

    About thoughts; don’t discount them ,you may have had them all along, you just needed someone to give them words. It would not be as interesting if we could all write poetry. With painting, understanding the chemistry of the paint in itself, does not enable one to create a painting that evokes an emotional response

    With cultural issues and wolf introduction, science may have to take the backseat in order to be flexible in communication skills and find a plan for creative presentation.

  11. Mike Wolf Avatar

    In response to SAP’s questions about my initial comment:

    1. It is my conclusion that wolf recovery is a failure, because the primary reasons for extirpation of wolves from the nothern rockies, as stated in the Wolf Recovery Plan, have not been change, and were not adequately address; as Ralph so kindly pointed out.

    On my website (see link above, click on my name), you’ll find a my presentation that details these conclusions.

    Basically, the FWS stated the reasons for the demise of wolves, but failed to adequately address those reasons, and as a result, the reasons why wolves were extirpated still persist and thus, wolves are still in jeopardy. This was, in addition to the subject of a presentation on how to surmount this problem, the primary reasons I gave in my testimony in April about delisting at the Spokane hearing.

    In other words, I conclude that the wolf recovery is a failure by the criteria put forth by the Fish and Wildlife Service in their own NRM Wolf Recovery Plan.

    2. I think you are misunderstanding the real issue here. The isn’t isn’t about being able to successfully reintroduce wolves. The issue is that the prevailing attitudes in the Northern Rocky Mountains, as evidenced by Idaho’s Joint Memorial Resolution and other legislation as well as the comments of Governor Otter amd Idaho’s management plan; the management in Wyoming; and the management plan in Montana are the same attitudes that the Fish and Wildlife Service pointed out in the Recovery Plan as having been the major contributors to the original demise of wolves.

    It’s not that we don’t know how to conserve them; its that the vocal majority (actually, they are in fact in the minority) are ignorant and misinformed about, and I believe prejudiced against, wolves. That the Wyoming and Idaho plans are what they are show this, and the statements of Otter are but a symptom of a greater problem.

    See, I live among wolf packs. A dispersing wolf was recently shot on the field next to my property – a wolf that we should value, as it went between two sheep producers’ properties, without touching their livestock! It was shot by someone driving through the area. They saw the wolf, pulled over, and with the prevailing local attitude, “took it upon themselves to uphold frontier justice” and shot the wolf dead, despite state and federal regulations to the contrary.

    In other words, the attitude that ignoring the law and doing what they perceive of is right, being an attitude common enough, and effectively endorsed by our Governor, means that wolves are still truly threatened with extinction in this area. In short, recovery has failed, because the causes of failure were not addressed.

  12. Peter Kiermeier Avatar

    please let me add some impressions about the picture one get´s when watching the scene from abroad, from a distance. This view is of course not backed by science or psychoanalysis and could well be totally wrong. I guess we are not talking here about individuals whose limited brain contains only “destroy” and “kill” and not about people´s dream of wilderness that drives them to settle down out there, where they suddenly face reality: Ooops! There is a dangerous animal in my backyard! I think we are talking about otherwise honest, straight and intelligent people out there whose attitude is just hard to understand for us.
    To me it seems, there is still a strong and pronounced “Wild West” image deeply engraved in peoples minds:
    – My ancestors conquered this land”
    – I rule this land”
    – I make the rules”
    – I am the law
    – My decisions are always right”
    – Everything / everybody setting foot on this land (human or animal) is suspect, needs my permission, has to follow my rules”
    – Everything / everybody questioning my role as the ruler of this land faces my gun”
    Basically this attitude is not a bad thing. Somehow it expresses a strong relationship with a land. It is not exclusive to the “West”, it can be found in many “last frontier areas” around the globe. A little adaption in our millennium is surely necessary but obviously hard, nearly impossible, to achieve. There seems to be a reluctance to admit “hey, we killed all these indians, bisons, wolves…….This was wrong! This reluctance however seems typical human – who has really the strength to admit “I have made a mistake!”

  13. SAP Avatar

    Mike Wolf:

    You said ignorance was a problem. I asked (in all sincerity) what they are ignorant of, and how curing that ignorance is going to turn wolf recovery into a success. Can you answer that for me?

    Did you actually talk to the guy who shot the wolf near your place to find out that his actions were due to ignorance?

    I agree that people are highly prejudiced against wolves. I am not sure I agree that ignorance is part of the problem here. If it’s part of the problem, we should be able to solve it by giving people the facts.

    I don’t have a website or my own ranch. But I do want to see wolf conservation succeed. To that end I want to make sure we’re clearly understanding the challenge we face. As my other posts on this thread indicate, I am doubtful that “ignorance” is a good characterization of the challenge. An inaccurate characterization of the challenge can lead us to waste time and effort on the wrong solutions.

    That’s why I’m asking you to give me some details about what you think people are ignorant of in the case of wolves. I am open to the possibility that I myself am ignorant of my own ignorance.

    Peter, thank you for an excellent perspective — yes, people get really invested in the things they’ve done, and don’t want to admit they shouldn’t have done them. Perhaps, also, they were the right decisions from a particular historic/geographic standpoint, and they didn’t have the foresight or resources to consider alternatives.

  14. SAP Avatar

    PS: Mike, with text it’s impossible to discern a person’s tone. I do not want to come off sounding combative or adversarial. When I ask how you’re judging wolf recovery to be a failure, I am asking that with 100 percent sincerity, as someone who wants to understand others’ perspectives.

    Just so you know, I regard wolf recovery as at best an incomplete success. I agree that local cultures in the Rockies remain predominantly hostile to wolves, and that those cultural attributes can end up having very serious consequences.

    The agencies have addressed some of the serious immediate problems that led to wolf extirpation, but dealing with those cultural obstacles will be necessary. Part of the problem, as I outlined earlier, is that the people in charge of recovery and management may not have the skill sets for tackling a cultural problem.

  15. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    SAP: I gave you the link to my website for a reason. My presentation is there, everything is clearly explained. Please don’t make me sit down for 2 hours and rewrite it.

    The ignorance issue; however; is quite easy to explain. People fear what they don’t understand. And people shoot what they fear. The wolf was shot out of ignorance; I don’t have to ask the guy. The person hates wolves, but doesn’t know why. If he knew anything about wolves, he wouldn’t have shot a wolf that went between the properties of two sheep producers – this is a wolf we WANT, one that doesn’t go after free meals in the form of lambs (there were about 1,000 lambs 1 mile from where the wolf was shot.)

    Aside from that, please read my presentation and handout materials.

  16. SAP Avatar

    Ok, Mike, thank you for the link. Had a look at your stuff. Interesting, and I found that it parallels a powerpoint on grizzlies I put together with a colleague. Here is text of two of the slides:

    SLIDE: Evidence of Symbolic Conflict:
    “Enviro groups are pushing to place these large carnivores everywhere because their goal is to end multiple use.” (WY rancher)

    “We’re sick and tired of having stuff shoved down our throats by people back somewhere who think they’re better than us.” (ID citizen)

    SLIDE: More than “just talk” – Conservation Consequences

    Malicious poaching (not for parts trade)

    Refusal to adopt coexistence practices, leading to grizzly mortalities

    Thwarted efforts to improve policy

    Under-funded agency programs

    So, I agree with many of the things you pointed out about Anti-Wolf Coalition and the legislatures’ “memorials,” and so on. There are real and potent conservation consequences.

    But, Mike, I’m afraid I did not find in your powerpoint or handout any answers to my question: What factual information are people lacking that would help them successfully conserve wolves?

    I found no specifics — you cited a few lines from the Recovery Plan, which likewise did not offer examples of specific factual information that, if people were made aware of it, they would understand and therefore conserve wolves.

    The part of the Plan you cite actually talks about “fears and superstitions,” but did not specify that the fears were based in ignorance, or that they were incorrect. “Fear” that wolves will kill cattle seems to be legitimate, doesn’t it?

    I’m sorry to keep harping on this, but like I said above, if we mis-characterize the challenge, our attempted solutions may end up misguided.

    Also, some of your recommendations sort of play into some piercing criticisms of enviros/conservationists/wolf advocates (ie, that they’re bossy, authoritarian, and want to tell people what to think).

    Specifically, this one:

    “Ensure that information presented is indisputable, and presented in a manner which does not invite or encourage debate.”

    Some things about wolves are indisputable, but, since they’re wide-ranging intelligent carnivores, it’s difficult to have such certainty in predicting the consequences of their presence in a specific situation.

    What is the probability that a particular pack will start killing cattle? What could we do to prevent that? What should we do if they start killing cattle? The answers are unclear from a technical standpoint, and from a standpoint of value preferences they are massively complicated. A vegetarian, a wolf manager, a federal trapper, a cattleman, an outfitter selling wolf hunts, are each going to have very different answers to these questions.

    Those are the questions people are asking in my neck of the woods. There are no “indisputable” answers, and to act like there’s no debate about it is, well, a little out of line.

    As I’ve stated above and elsewhere, a lot of this comes down to people’s values. Trying to FORCE people to value wolves (even if you want to frame it as curing them of their ignorance) will backfire, and cause even greater entrenchment. The literature on changing people’s attitudes and behaviors provides good guidance on these processes, and how the wrong approach can be counterproductive.

    Also, Mike, your statements about the guy who shot the wolf are kind of contrary to your statements about being guided by Science.

    I don’t know the specifics — whether the shooter has been apprehended and has talked about why he did it. So maybe you know more about him than I do.

    But, going on the assumption that he is at large, we can’t say why he shot it, other than he didn’t value the wolf alive. Maybe he felt that the wolf WOULD probably start killing livestock — do we have telemetry or other evidence demonstrating that the wolf was avoiding livestock? Maybe he saw the wolf as a symbol of “the other side” — people with different values moving in and taking over the West. There could be many possible motives for his crime besides not knowing anything about wolves.

    I would point out that people are all the time shooting bighorns, moose, elk, and so on from roads, often leaving them where they fall. Why do they do that? Do they fear bighorns or moose? Do they hate them? Are they lacking information about them?

    Of course, all of that is against the law. People who commit such crimes against nature need to go down hard, and be made examples so others can see that this is serious. Arrest and harsh penalties are the tools there.

  17. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf


    Sorry, I just don’t have the time for this. Besides, the point is that I was citing what the NRMWRP said.

    Also, your question just doesn’t make sense. You’re asking me to catalog every bit of information that every person out there doesn’t know about wolves. Sorry, that’s just impossible.

    Perhaps you should defer your question to the Fish and Wildlife Service, since it was them I was citing. No matter, I’m rather done with the issue. I don’t seem to be able to answer your question and I don’t think I ever will be able to satisfy your questions.

  18. elkhunter Avatar

    Mike, SAP has valid points. You feel its ignorance cause it goes against what you feel strongly against. It goes both ways, I am fine with having wolves, I dont want to many, but a few is okay, you would think that I am ignorant. There are others that obviously feel very strongly against wolves, and they think you are ignorant. And BOTH sides have many studies and reports that support and back up their point of view, and each side calls the other ignorant. Plus I would imagine that if you continue to call the other side ignorant/un-educated about a certain topic, dont expect them to come running to you to learn your point of view. Cause I am sure they feel the same way about you.

  19. SAP Avatar

    That’s ok, Mike — probably not the best forum for kicking this around anyway. Keep up the good work all the same! I am glad I got to see your website; I think your ranch-laboratory idea is an excellent idea, and hope that you can someday soon carry it out.

    Elkhunter, thanks for your good points, too.

  20. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    SAP, Mike, Elkhunter; Thank you for being respectful to each other. By having an open/straight-forward debate, I for one, have gained a bit more insight about this issue. Not just about the wolves, but everyone’s comments are relevent in a wide array of subjects and has given me some new thoughts about a presentation I am working on.

    Regarding individuals who are killing a lot and leaving the carcasses; There are some who just kill for the sake of killing. For others it may give a sense of control and power. And some in either group are dangerous out there. They shoot at anything that moves. Including people. There was at least one accidental shooting every hunting season.
    The animals suffer too. It is a pitiful thing to come across a deer still alive, full of infection with it’s front leg almost completely shot off and just hanging by the skin. But being glad that you can end it’s suffering. I would say that being responsible is the most important thing.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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