I was sitting in a very inviting pub the other day, The Rusty Bike, enjoying a plate of locally caught fish and a glass of wine, when the conversation at the next table turned to the real differences between wolves and dogs. What was interesting about the conversation wasn’t its conclusions – because there weren’t any – but the manner of the discourse itself.
The point under dispute was this: While dogs and wolves might be almost genetically identical, are they fundamentally different due to thousands of years of domestication? Two people at the table said yes, dogs are different; one man said no, it’s all just a matter of early training (i.e., given a pup at an early age, any canine can be domesticated).
What struck me was that the fellow arguing for no major differences between wolves and dogs wasn’t interested in real answers – he was interested in winning, nothing more. It didn’t matter that others had excellent arguments, a few verifiable facts at their fingertips, and a willingness to discuss. (And, in fact, they were correct. A longish but fun article on the topic here.)
And so to the current U.S. administration moves to delist the gray wolf as an endangered species in the United States.
After three decades of protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has decided to turn the management of wolf protection over to state authorities. In areas where wolves have lost some of their federal protection over recent years, there have been drastic reductions in the wolf population due to widespread hunting. In particular, alpha wolves are prized targets, thus putting entire packs at risk.
Another aspect of this is the key role top predators play in ecosystems as a whole. Their elimination tends to have wide and negative ripple effects.
I can’t claim to understand the source and motivation of current anti-wolf sentiment. According to several articles I’ve read, the USFWS intentionally excluded the participation of several wolf specialists – even those who had done most of the federal research on wolf conservation – because none of these scientists agreed that wolves were recovered enough as a species to be de-listed as endangered.
Nonetheless, this plan is moving forward.
Because for whatever reason, this doesn’t seem to be about the facts. It seems to be about winning, and winning only. At least, for those in favor of wolf hunting.
To end this post on a happier note, if you’re ever in Exeter, UK, check out the charming and unpretentious Rusty Bike ‘gastropub’ – a place I’d visit on the regular if I lived anywhere nearby.
Over on Summit County Voice, Bob Berwyn has written a number of excellent articles on the issue of wolf protection and de-listing.
If you want to take action, there will be public hearings held on this issue in three U.S. cities – you can find the dates and locations here.
Finally, think about taking a minute and signing a petition in support of continuing one of the potential success stories of the Endangered Species Act.