Environmentalism

More Wolves Raised by Wolves

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grey wolf pup

The Interior Department said Monday it would remove about 4,000 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin from the endangered and threatened species list in about a month. State and tribal governments will be responsible for keeping their numbers at healthy levels.

The department hopes to take the same action for about 1,200 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming within a year….

Government-approved bounty hunting nearly wiped out the wolf in the lower 48 states by the 1950s. Changing attitudes led to their protection in 1974 under the newly enacted Endangered Species Act.

The president of Defenders of Wildlife called it "a classic Endangered Species Act success story," but it may be more accurate to call part of the population boom a victory for private conservation. Grey wolves languished on the endangered list for years, and had little or no presence in Yellowstone National Park (including the area to be de-listed soon) until market-oriented environmentalists came up with a plan to compensate ranchers for their losses along Yellowstone's border. Once ranchers weren't forced to pay for the restoration of the wolf population out of their own pockets, the wolf population bounced back dramatically. Read all about it at PERC's website.

Check out Brian on wolves in 1995, and Ron on the Endangered Species Act in "Shoot, Shovel, and Shut Up."

NEXT: "Compean and Ramos are Bad Guys."

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  1. I suppose the question is this: had the wolves not been put on the government endangered list, would they have survived long enough for private conservation efforts to help them further?

  2. I think that the problem with much of the conservation efforts of the .gov isn’t that they’re trying to preserve endangered species, but that their methods for doing so have been either antagonistic or indifferent to the rights and concerns of property owners.

  3. Market Forces produce another positive outcome.

    Who would have thunk it?

  4. “I suppose the question is this: had the wolves not been put on the government endangered list, would they have survived long enough for private conservation efforts to help them further?”

    Heresy Haywood! Why, you are trying to put this issue in a historical context! And just when everyone had raised their snifters to toast the market savior!

    “their methods for doing so have been either antagonistic or indifferent to the rights and concerns of property owners.”

    You are assuming that said ranchers are in fact the owners of the property that they graze their animals on. Some of the largest ranching operations and loudest opponents of wolf reintroduction are to be found on public land. It’s called welfare ranching. Nice try though.

  5. I suppose the question is this: had the wolves not been put on the government endangered list, would they have survived long enough for private conservation efforts to help them further?

    Yes, they would have, since there are over 100,000 wolves in Canada and Alaska, a few of which naturally started the reintroduction process in Minnesota and Montana.

    Defenders of Wildlife and others deserve praise for their compensation efforts, but in real terms it’s been largely symbolic: The criteria for qualifying for compensation is quite strict, and only a small percentage of likely wolf kills qualify.

    The real benefit has been the fact that ranchers and sheepherders no longer feel powerless about wolf reintroduction. While I would guess that most would still rather not have wolves at all, the fact that there has been compensation available and that the government has been willing to remove wolves in extreme cases has placated them enough to allow the wolves to prosper.

    Now that the wolves will soon be managed by local sympathetic bureaucrats instead of relatively inflexible federal employees, most will grudgingly accept the wolves as a fact of life and learn to co-exist.

    In any case, I doubt the reintroduction would have been successful if the Feds and enviromentalists had taken a “you’ll accept the wolves and like it” position. Too many guns in too many hostile hands.

  6. “I suppose the question is this: had the wolves not been put on the government endangered list, would they have survived long enough for private conservation efforts to help them further?”

    What about this question: “Would the wolf (among other species) have been brought so near to extinction without the active participation of the government?”

  7. You are assuming that said ranchers are in fact the owners of the property that they graze their animals on. Some of the largest ranching operations and loudest opponents of wolf reintroduction are to be found on public land. It’s called welfare ranching. Nice try though.

    You’re also assuming that these private ranchers own no land whatsoever; on the contrary, many own fairly large spreads themselves for winter range. They lease the public lands for summer grazing. Now if you’re willing to concede them the right to shoot any hungry wolf that trespasses on their land, I think most would be happy with that; I doubt the environmentalists would be happy, though.

    (Incidentally, many of those ranchers have decided they can make more money raising condos than cattle, and so they sell out to some developer who promptly builds a ski resort or subdivision.)

    As for subsidies, every user of national forest and BLM land is heavily subsidized, inlcuding the Pure and Saintly Environmentalists. In most areas, there is no entry fee to hike, fish, camp or hunt on federal lands, and even developed areas like campgrounds you pay about half of what a private or state campground would charge. If you’re arguing that we should run our public lands at a profit, that’s fine with me, but I doubt many environmentalists would be happy. They like their nice, free playgrounds.

  8. “Would the wolf (among other species) have been brought so near to extinction without the active participation of the government?”

    I’ll bite. A damned irrelevant question given the fact that at some point in space/time a decision had to be made to either protect them or let them go extinct. How they got to that stage is a question for another debate…outside of space/time.

  9. I’m assuming we’re not talking about the market forces for wolf meat.

  10. pinko is making a great point: On government “owned” land, ther is no incentive for the users of the land to conserve the resources.

    The federal government should be selling off its land holdings, then the ranchers can buy the grasslands they want, the conservationists can buy their preserves, and the taxpayers stop having to subsidize their battles with each other. everybody wins!

  11. Captain Holly | January 30, 2007, 11:19am | #

    As for subsidies, every user of national forest and BLM land is heavily subsidized, inlcuding the Pure and Saintly Environmentalists. In most areas, there is no entry fee to hike, fish, camp or hunt on federal lands, and even developed areas like campgrounds you pay about half of what a private or state campground would charge. If you’re arguing that we should run our public lands at a profit, that’s fine with me, but I doubt many environmentalists would be happy. They like their nice, free playgrounds.

    true, heavily subsidized for all users, but not all users make a profit, and the affects of different uses on the land and ecosystem are quite disparate

  12. Look at history.

    The irresponsible practices of the wolf nipple chip industry wiped out the species in Judea.

  13. “A damned irrelevant question….”

    Is it? The real issue is regulatory capture.

    “…at some point in space/time a decision had to be made to either protect them or let them go extinct. How they got to that stage is a question for another debate…outside of space/time.”

    A politically influential group gained control of government policy, to their own benefit. Subsequently, a different group, whose influence was rising, wrested control of policy away, and manipulated it to their own benefit.

    You may point to the resurgence of wolf populations as a triumph of good government. Fifty years ago, the ranchers pointed to the near eradication of predatory “varmints” as a triumph of good government.

  14. I suppose the question is this: had the wolves not been put on the government endangered list, would they have survived long enough for private conservation efforts to help them further?

    “Government-approved bounty hunting nearly wiped out the wolf in the lower 48 states by the 1950s. ”

    Maybe they wouldn’t have to save the thing if they didn’t ask for it’s slaughter.

  15. true, heavily subsidized for all users, but not all users make a profit, and the affects of different uses on the land and ecosystem are quite disparate

    Agreed. But having been raised in the west and having seen most public land use transition from logging, grazing and mining to recreation-based uses, I can say that the new uses can be just as destructive.

    Or, to put it another way, trees and grass will grow back. Condos and ski resorts are forever.

  16. “Government-approved bounty hunting nearly wiped out the wolf in the lower 48 states by the 1950s. “

    The government “approves” of everything that’s legal, including private conservation efforts.

  17. To be fair, there were no real market forces at work in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Local hunters fought the wolf reintroduction tooth and nail back in the 70’s. As it happens, the DNR is now grateful for them. Both states are being overrun by deer.

    Deer are a sort of “weed species” that thrive in areas where humans have altered the ecosystem. They love corn from cornfields and, in the winter, they feed on the saplings planted or growing naturally in areas that have been recently logged. There are more deer in Minnesota and Wisconsin than there were before the white man came, despite the fact that hunters diligently kill off hundreds of thousands of them every fall. When I was a kid, getting a doe permit was hard. Nowadays, nearly everyone gets one and in some districts they will give you a second one. Farmers get a doe permit (which they can sell) every time they find evidence of deer feeding on their corn. This particular market solution isn’t working very well: so many are given away that the market is soft and the number of deer keep on rising.

    So the wolf has been welcomed as a godsend by the DNR. Since wolves primarily feed on deer in the winter, Minnesota, interestingly enough, now has more wolves than it had before the white man came, mostly concentrated in the northern part of the state. Thus there are now discussions on how to control the wolf population, but that would require hunting or trapping, hence the need to remove the animal from the Endangered Species List.

  18. The government “approves” of everything that’s legal, including private conservation efforts.

    Except in this case, it was the federal government that acutally subidized the eradication: The wolves in Yellowstone were killed by government trappers and hunters.

  19. Cap’n:

    agreed, condos and ski resorts are forever, but are these being built on public lands?

    when I think of recreational uses of nature on public lands, I think of low-impact uses like primitive (tent, not RV) camping, canoeing/ kayaking, birdwatching and nature watching, but that’s probably my personal bias.

  20. I’ll bite. A damned irrelevant question given the fact that at some point in space/time a decision had to be made to either protect them or let them go extinct. How they got to that stage is a question for another debate…outside of space/time.

    “The government saved the wolves from extinction!!!”

    “But the wolves were only near extinction because the government had previously promoted their extermination…”

    “That’s irrelevant unless we’re talking outside space/time!!!”

    We get it, we get it. Government is never bad and is the solution to all problems. Just calm down, man.

  21. agreed, condos and ski resorts are forever, but are these being built on public lands?

    In some cases, yes; I went skiing at one (Beaver Mountain in Utah) just last week. The resort recently expanded by some 200 acres a few years ago, all of it on forest service property.

    Usually, the resorts are built on private land adjacent to public land (for example, Uber-Environmentalist Robert Redford built Sundance next to a designated wilderness area). More often than not the private land is purchased from ranchers or miners who have gone bust or have been forced out of business due to environmental restrictions or when they lost their grazing leases. So instead of having open space with a few hundred cows grazing in it, you end up with a small city of condos, shops, lodges with thousands of seasonal residents.

    when I think of recreational uses of nature on public lands, I think of low-impact uses like primitive (tent, not RV) camping, canoeing/ kayaking, birdwatching and nature watching, but that’s probably my personal bias.

    And done individually, those things are quite low-impact; I enjoy most of them myself. But there is what I call the “wilderness effect”, which occurs when the federal government designates an area as a park or wilderness and it ends up attracting far more people than it would if it were just another open space on the map.

    The best example of this I’ve seen is City of Rocks National Reserve in Southern Idaho (http://www.nps.gov/ciro). Twenty years ago, it was a cool, out-of-the-way place to go camping and exploring. Then the goverment officially created a “preserve”, and now it’s overrun on weekends by thousands of Subaru-driving climbers from all over the west, many of whom don’t even bother to camp in designated areas or haul out their trash. Having seen the change firsthand, I would be hard-pressed to say the area is better off today than when it was used for grazing (as the privately-owned sections still are).

  22. A lot of the ski resorts are on federal lands.

    Also, western states had laws on the books that allowed anyone to bring a wolf hide to a government official for compensation. Heck, Colorado just got rid of their law to that effect like two years ago.

  23. Lest everyone celebrate too soon, being delisted may not be the best thing for wolves:
    http://www.newwest.net/index.php/city/article/wyo_wolves_to_stay_under_feds/C95/L95/

    That deals with Montana; in Idaho the governor pushed back hard on a plan that would protect more than 100 wolves in the state (there are now about 700). I’m no wildlife biologist, but I know that these target numbers are heavily politicized and not drawn straight from population-maintenance requirements.

    I’m always amazed that people will pay the government to hunt wolves, then complain when they hit a deer while driving. And there’s an externality for you — if Rancher hunt ‘varmints’ on his property (or on gov’t property we all co-own) that has effects on the rest of us, but Rancher won’t pick up that tab.

  24. The general rule for maintaining genetic diversity in a population is the 50-500 rule. Fewer than 50 individuals in a population has a high likelihood of inbreeding depression. Fewer than 500 individuals in a population has a high likelihood of loss of genetic diversity by random genetic drift.

    don’t ask about “effective” population size, or the actual number of individuals you need is even higher

  25. Let us not forget the government extermintion of native humans.

  26. “This particular market solution isn’t working very well: so many are given away that the market is soft and the number of deer keep on rising.”

    It’s not really a “market” solution when you have to get a permit.

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