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Wolf History, Conservation, Ecology and Behavior
Wolfology Item #1304
v83 n3 (August 2002)

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Wolves and Human Communities: Biology, Politics, and Ethics
Douglas W. Smith
Smith reviews "Wolves and Human Communities: Biology, Politics, and Ethics" edited by V. A. Sharpe, B. Norton and S. Donnelley.
Wolves may be one of the most studied mammals in the world. Numerous investigations have led to an in-depth knowledge of the biology of this species; indeed, long-term research was first justified by studies on wolves (Isle Royale, Michigan, 1958-present; Algonquin, Ontario, Canada, 1959-2000; northeastern Minnesota, 1966-present), yet wolf management remains enigmatic and controversial. Most of the trouble is because wolves were eradicated from major parts of their original range because of conflicts with humans, and now a change in human attitudes has allowed for wolf population recovery, some of it by intentional reintroduction....But life was much simpler without them. Consequently, there is much debate about what to do next, and wolf supporters, encouraged by recent success, hope for more reintroductions to suitable habitat. Not surprisingly, antiwolf groups feel that there are enough wolves, in fact too many, right now. High on the list for the next wolf recovery site are the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York (United States Fish and Wildlife Service 1992). The book Wolves and Human Communities addresses the well-known controversies surrounding wolves, providing information on these issues without advocating a position. The editors hope, as do those of us involved with wolf issues, that the book will at least inspire solutions that have stymied so many for so long.
If the book makes any point at all it is that wolf management is a sociopolitical issue, not a biological one, and herein lies the strength of the book. The editors include many authors (23) who might not normally be included in a book about wolves, and they come from many disciplines. The reader is repeatedly convinced that wolf recovery is doomed to fail unless stake-holders are involved throughout the sociopolitical process of reintroduction; many wolf managers would conclude that this is unassailably correct. On the other hand, some of the discussions stray too far from the theme, chapters overlap thematically, and wolf biology is not adequately considered. Only two wolf experts (L. D. Mech and R. O. Peterson) are included (and one of their articles is not about biology), but no one who has actually worked for the restoration and management of recovering wolves as a primary duty is included, a major oversight of the book.
The book is the result of a conference supported by the National Science Foundation and held at the American Museum of Natural History in October 1998, and it comprises seven sections and 20 chapters. Section I and II discuss policy and politics, section III, legal aspects, section IV, biology, sections V and VI, philosophy, and section VII, philosophy within a biological framework. Each section is preceded by editorial comments reviewing the salient points of that section and trying to link the various contributions.
The first section brings together the former mayor of Missoula, Montana (a town within wolf country), the world-renowned wolf expert L. David Mech, and a regional wildlife manager from the state of New York. All three stress the need for broad public involvement through a consensus-oriented, democratic process. Kemmis, the ex-mayor, is averse to using legal authority, such as laws that force wolf recovery on local people (referred to by some as "cramming wolves down our throats"). Mech makes the point that reintroduced wolves will require management forever, estimating that a recovered wolf population would require "hundreds" to be killed annually (a figure that seems high to me). Mech also chastises prowolf groups for advocating their position with incorrect information -- likely a consequence of involving laypersons in environmental issues, but use of misinformation to advance a position about wolves is not a recent development. Robert Inslerman discusses current policy toward wolves held by the state of New York, explicitly stating that there is no formal position on wolf reintroduction and that there will not be one until more information is available.
Section II involves the stakeholders. Some parts of this section delve into biology (Chapter 4), but the citations used were mostly from non-refereed sources (see Mech: Chapter 2). Sage (Chapter 4) notes that characterizing Adirondack Park as a true wilderness is a misconception, as the combination of logging activities, a checkerboard ownership, and 130,000 permanent residents makes it a "compromised wilderness at best." Another oft quoted fact is that Adirondack Park is larger than Yellowstone; it is (6 million versus 2.2 million acres), but it is not larger than the Yellowstone ecosystem (18 million acres), which is mostly public land as compared with large amounts of private land in the Adirondacks. These are big problems with which any recovery plan will have to contend.
In two other chapters in Section II, key individuals from the environmental organization Defenders of Wildlife detail a feasibility study conducted by a Citizen Advisory Committee. The committee produced two reports: a biological assessment that did not recommend wolf recovery (Paquet et al. 1999, 2001) and a survey of the attitudes of New York residents (Enck and Brown 2002). Paquet et al. argue that isolation and fragmentation of the Adirondack area will limit gene flow and compromise population viability. Additionally, they consider canid taxonomy to be too murky at the moment to know which canid was or is in this region (coyote and Canadian wolf hybrids?) and, consequently, which to reintroduce. As expected, the attitudinal survey found passionate views about wolves, both for and against, and much misunderstanding. Counter to conventional wisdom, the survey found that education does not always lead to support; in some instances it leads to indecision.
Section II concludes with a philosophical perspective by Jan Dizard on the views of humans on nature, a view that encompasses the wolf and one that is to become the theme of the rest of the book. Although not stated anywhere in the book, this is important because some people have ascribed our problems with wolves to different viewpoints on nature, using wolves as a vehicle, often as a lightning rod, to promote their belief on how humans use or abuse the environment. The wolf, therefore, becomes a philosophical flagship species. Dizard states that there are few grizzlies and cougars in Yellowstone, that wolves do not compete with either carnivore or human hunters for ungulates (none of which is true--Clark et al. 1999), and that there are 20-50 beavers per colony in Massachusetts (also not true-Jenkins and Busher 1979). In the endnotes to this chapter Dizard states that the "only naturally occurring wolf population in the lower 48" (p. 92) is in Minnesota, and this is also incorrect in that wolves naturally reestablished themselves in Montana (Ream et al. 1989). A final letdown was the lack of citations of original sources; this is a problem elsewhere in the book as well.
Section III has two chapters concerning the legal issues involved in the recovery of endangered species. I found these chapters especially illuminating, because I was not as familiar with these issues, despite their ubiquity in the endangered species arena.
I liked Part IV the best, probably because it was anchored by a splendid chapter by Rolf Peterson outlining 4 decades of fascinating research on Isle Royale, arguably the benchmark wolf study. The section begins with a chapter by Clark and Gillesberg, which uses Yellowstone as a case study for wolf recovery; they reflect on what has been learned and how recovery efforts could be improved. Peterson relates what is known about predator-prey relationships, noting that we should probably expect fewer deer after wolf reintroduction in the Adirondacks. He also discusses the importance of other carnivores in the wolf-prey equation and the relevance of beavers, an abundant food source for wolves in the Adirondacks. Peterson also discusses the cascading trophic effects wolves have on ecosystems (frequently mentioned throughout the rest of the book without specific references), with supportive data (this is the only chapter in the book that has figures) and an intelligible lack of jargon. This section concludes with a chapter on canid coexistence in the east and natural versus human-induced (reintroduction) recovery, using upper-peninsula Michigan as an example of the former.
Section V discusses the concept of wildness and the iconic standing of wolves in current definitions. Apart from the legal chapters, I learned the most here. But these three chapters also at times strayed farthest from the book's theme, so I found myself vacillating between feeling greatly enlightened and wondering about their relevance to wolves in modern society. Another point was the high cost of wolf recovery: are wolves the best use of our limited resources or should we instead focus on bigger problems like pollution and our incredible reliance on fossil fuels? Countering this, however, is the keystone status of wolves in ecosystems and the resulting trophic cascades triggered by their presence or absence....
The last section of the book expands on the philosophy of preceding chapters, with connections to biological data. An evolutionary perspective on wolf recovery is discussed in the last two chapters....
The main value of this book is a fresh perspective on an old issue. Wolf issues are not new, but recovery and population expansion are, and the book firmly establishes wolf management as more than just a biological endeavor -- it is a sociological one as well. Other publications have stressed public input on wolf management, but none have been as encompassing as this book....The major issues for wolf recovery are wolf-prey interactions, livestock depredations and compensation, human safety, ecosystem impacts (e.g., trophic cascades), and public involvement and education. The book is at its best with the last issue; it alludes to ecosystem impacts, and it touches on wolf-prey interactions, but it is largely silent on the remaining issues....
....For those keenly interested in the human side of wolf recovery, Wolves and Human Communities will be a vital source deserving close reading and, if understood, will reduce the time to resolution of the issue.
DOUGLAS W. SMITH, Yellowstone Wolf Project Leader, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190.
References: 12