Gray Wolves in the West

Photo Tracy Brooks/USFWS

Gray wolves in the western United States are a good example of how conventional conservation solutions often fail to address the drivers of conflict, and can lead to continued or escalated conflicts.

A Little Background. By the 1930s, the gray wolf was eliminated from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The gray wolf population began recovering in the 1980s, however, and this recovery was bolstered by the 1996 reintroduction of the species into Yellowstone National Park and the central Idaho wilderness.

Antagonism has remained intense “despite efforts to address livestock depredation from wolves through compensation programs, innovations in depredation deterrents and many other conservation efforts,” explains Francine Madden, Co- Founder and Executive Director of Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration.

“Deep-rooted social identity was among the most powerful predictors on tolerance of wolves, while compensation for livestock losses had no influence on tolerance levels,” she continues. “Nevertheless, conservation and management have continued to focus on compensating livestock losses, educating livestock owners in preventive measures, providing technical support to implement such measures and using lethal control.”

One Idaho rancher hinted about the social, psychological, cultural, political and legal history involving the issue by saying, “Compensation does not equal reconciliation.”

Agreeing with this concept is Ed Bangs, the wildlife biologist responsible for the U.S. federal government’s northern Rockies wolf recovery effort from 1988 until 2011.

“We’ve done way too much wolf-handling and radio-collaring. … and the use of technology is seen as the fix for everything,” says Bangs. The wolf issue is “all about humans and their values, and how we use symbols to discuss our values with other people.”

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