Wolves and Animal Protection

In the middle of December 2014, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell reversed a 2012 decision of the US Fish and Wildlife Service that declared wolves were fully recovered in the midwestern Great Lakes region. Because of that decision management of wolf populations was handed over to state conservation agencies, who quickly moved to decimate wolf populations. Approximately 80% of the wolves were taken through the use of leg hold traps, a particularly gruesome contraption that is banned throughout the European Union and in other countries across the world. In light of this depredation, Judge Howell ordered an immediate end to the hunting and trapping of wolves.

Here are a few links that delve into the story from different perspectives.
Grey Wolves in the Western Great Lakes State, USFWS.
Humane Nation Blog, HSUS.
Science Insider, AAAS.
The Anti-Hunting Machine, Outdoor Life.

The judge made a narrow legal decision based on the Endangered Species Act, ruling the USFWS decision to delist was arbitrary and capricious. She cited in particular the failure of the USFWS to explain why it ignored wolf recovery elsewhere in the region, as well as the wisdom of turning management over to overtly hostile state agencies seeking to decimate wolf populations. Those following wolf politics in the states will recognize the USFWS’s efforts here as an extension of it’s past practice of gerrymandering maps of wolf recovery to minimize their range, and using artificially small definitions of healthy pack and population dynamics.

The Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA, Help Our Wolves Live, and Friends of Animals and Their Environment partnered in this lawsuit and took the lead in suing the USFWS. Conservation groups like Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, past leaders in pro-wolf campaigns, chose not to participate.

This shift from conservation to animal organizations illustrates an evolution in the policy community concerned with animals. Traditional conservation is content to focus on species and ecosystems, even when wildlife policy and management may substantively harm individual animals. Animal rights groups are generally concerned about individual animals and not their ecological context. Yet a new emphasis is emerging called “animal protection”. It is concerned about individual animals and their social groups, as well as species and ecosystems. It is thus increasingly more proactive in standing up for intelligent, social animals like wolves — whether as individuals, packs, populations, species or top ecosystem predator. It was not always so.

Early groups like the various societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals were responding to the cruel treatment of urban animals, especially of horses, dogs and cats. The humane and anti-vivisection organizations that emerged out of the spcas tended to focus on companion animals and research animals respectively. There was certainly some overlap, but the varying organizations represented the distinct concerns over and circumstances of different kinds of animals. This division of labour held until the 1970s when a growing interest in animal liberation and animal rights brought the well being of farm animals into sharper focus. Yet the well being of Wildlife was still largely the preserve of conservation groups.

Trapping, however, struck many as an unnecessarily cruel sport and was the salient for the animal policy community to enter into wildlife debates. So too the rising concerns over the extinction of all manners of species, and the irrational human depredations of predators, compelled many humane societies to take up the plight of wildlife like wolves. It also saw the formation of organizations devoted to conservation issues from the perspective of the humane movement. The animal protection position emerged out of this environment, merging ecological as well as ethical approaches to wildlife. Increasingly, groups like HSUS, Born Free, Help Our Wolves Live, and the Friends of Animals and their Environment are taking the lead in protecting wild animals. This legal victory for wolves is one example of this emerging trend.

This entry was posted in Ethics and Public Policy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *