Wolves and Cows: Individual and Organizational Conflicts

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Courtesy of Brooks Fahy, Predator Defense

Killing wolves in Washington causes personal conflicts. Some groups say they're against killing but don't publicly say no, and some individuals who work for them want to but don't.

"The time is always right to do what is right." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Killing wolves in Washington raises questions about where allegiances fall: Can "good" people and organizations support and do "bad" things?

The on-going killing of wolves in Washington state, seven members of the Profanity Peak pack in 2016 and two individuals of the Smackout pack during the past month, raises interesting and often difficult conflicts on a number of different levels. Some groups say they're against killing but don't publicly say "no," and some individuals who work for them want to speak but don't or feel they can't because their views counter those of the organization for which they work. For more details about what's been happening in Washington please see "Who's Really Defending Wildlife As Wolves Are 'Removed'?" and links therein, a film produced by Predator Defense called "The Profanity Peak Pack: Set Up & Sold Out," and a radio interview titled "The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion and Coexistence in the Human Age / wolves and cows ..."

"I'm a good person, but the group for which I'm working supports bad things although they also do good things."

I've had a number of emails from, and some phone calls with, individuals who work for organizations that either directly or indirectly support the killing of the wolves, but who do not share their group's views. The basic and most common message is that they're caught in a bind and they're not sure what to do. In one conversation someone said to me, "I'm a good person, but the group for which I'm working supports bad things although they also do good things." We chatted about this for a while, and then I said good people can do and support bad things, but at some point you, as an individual, should seriously consider airing your views -- in this case strongly opposing the killing of the wolves. While people can quibble about the meaning of the words "good" and "bad," they and I agreed that "good" here meant saving the wolves, whereas "bad" meant killing them.

Along these lines, I've always felt that "good" people can do "bad" things, but at some point each individual needs to air their personal views and then decide if a particular group or activity is a good fit for them. These sorts of discussions also have come up in debates about the use of other animals in invasive research, for example, and over the years some people have decided that enough's enough and moved on. I made this choice and a wonderful recent example is a book by former researcher John Gluck called Voracious Science and Vulnerable Animals: A Primate Scientist's Ethical Journey. For an interview with Dr. Gluck please see "Voracious Science: A Journey from Animal User to Advocate."

What's at stake? The psychology of dissent

Concerning the conflicts centering on the killing of the Washington wolves, first, there are organizations that claim they're against the killing, or what is called the "authorized removal" of wolves, yet they have not made a clear public statement saying "no more killing." Next, there are conflicts among some individuals who are against the slaughter of these wolves but who also work for organizations that are sending out a mixed message -- the groups say they don't support the killing but are mum on saying it publicly, or their public statements are then modified by using the word "but" to provide reasons for allowing it to happen at this point, but hopefully to in the future. Of course, there is no guarantee that it won't happen again, and clearly, allowing wolves to be killed in 2016 did not stop killing them in 2017.

It's easy to see why questions are raised about where allegiances fall -- should individuals simply assume the position of the group for which they work or support, or speak out as individuals assuming no fear of reprisals? It's a tricky situation, but, as I've said, during the past few weeks I've had some interesting exchanges with people who are experiencing some deep conflict about these matters, namely, they like the organization they support or for which they work but disagree with their views on the killing of the wolves and other matters.

A recent essay by Stephen Capra, Executive Director of Bold Visions Conservation, titled "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" raises some of these issues. With his permission I am reproducing much of Mr. Capra's piece as a guest essay, and have edited and updated parts of it, also with Mr. Capra's permission. Some of these changes appear in italics and "I" refers to Mr. Capra unless otherwise noted.

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

It remains a sure way to be isolated in the conservation community, if you dare to speak truth to our own failings. I do so, not because I want to cause harm or embarrassment, not to as many will say harm those partners fighting for good, but because I have long believed that we, as the conservation community, must be willing to look at our actions and be willing to say we were wrong. Any company, any movement, must be willing to be self-critical if they are to ultimately succeed.

Nowhere has the conservation community lost its soul and guiding principle more than with its efforts on protecting wolves in the wild. If you look at the conservation community landscape almost every group speaks out and says they support wolf recovery. Some make science a focal point, others work with the livestock industry to find common ground and still others use lawsuits to try and slow or prevent harm.

In all cases the vibrant aspect of speaking for wolves, I believe comes from the heart, but we cannot ignore that it provides many groups with wealth beyond what they could have imagined. One need only look at Defenders of Wildlife to see how an organization can fill its coffers using wolf protection as its platform, while sadly continuing to harm the very animal they profess to be a leader in protecting.

What Defenders and like-minded groups and their supporters continue to ignore is that the actions of these groups in many ways have sold out wolves in an effort to be reasonable and as they see it strategic, on wolf recovery. In so doing they have supported hunting seasons on wolves once their numbers recover, they have wasted millions supporting the cult of rancher-wolf relations and the idea that we can have both thriving wolf populations and ranches on public lands. They have sided with Game and Fish Commissions and agencies that destroyed packs to reward ranching interests and they continue to do so to garner the favor of their elected-official based strategies.

In an interview from October 12, 2013 on Utah's KUED radio, Suzanne Stone, Defenders of Wildlife representative from Boise, Idaho, said, "Defenders of Wildlife is not opposed to hunting of wolves. We represent hunters as well as other conservationists and animal rights people. We have a very wide spectrum of people that are our members, but we've never been opposed to hunting. As long as it's hunting done in a manner that other species are hunted, so that it's not to exterminate the species, but actually to only take surplus from that population."

Ms. Stone has subsequently said she was misquoted and the link to the transcript of her interview disappeared during the past few days. In an email to me that I received from a third party on August 11, 2017, Ms. Stone wrote, "For the record, Defenders opposes the hunting of wolves. We believe that nonlethal methods should be used to prevent conflicts with livestock and have pioneered the use of many of the nonlethal livestock tools used around the world today."

Neither Mr. Capra nor I are "attacking" Ms. Stone. We simply are focusing on Defender's opinions about killing wolves. So, we applaud Ms. Stone's writing her note, but we cannot find an explicit public statement that clearly says that Defenders, members of the Wolf Advisory Group (WAG) in Washington state, are against the killing of the Washington wolves, and that it should stop right now and should never have started in the first place. Their name is on the list of members who, we might surmise regrettably, support the "authorized removal" of wolves. If they don't then we look forward to their making a public statement to this effect. The phrase "authorized removal" is how members of WAG view the killing of the wolves.

As Mr. Capra notes, such statements represent a green light from the conservation community and defy science and research that clearly sees the destruction of packs as detrimental and ill advised. But groups that drink from the funding pool also point to past efforts to end public lands grazing that did not succeed, as a basis for their current efforts. The idea seems to be, work with ranchers, federal and state agencies and hope that wolves will weather the storm and in time ranchers will come to accept co-existence. Yet, this direction has led to the endless killing and cruelty in Idaho and other western states where wolf destruction has become a rural badge of honor. Ranchers are not inclined to cooperate; rather they are more empowered to end wolves’ short recovery in the West.

So the conservation community is fighting for wolves with one hand tied behind their back, embracing weakness disguised as strategy, rather than real strength to protect a vital, beautiful creature. The very weakness that groups like Defenders has shown is countered by the fierce, determined and unwavering voice of ranchers and their supporters in congress and the state by state actions that sacrifice wolves at the altar of ignorance.

Ranchers are not playing by the book; they understand the street fight quality of this effort, conservationists would be wise to stop acting like diplomats.

In Washington State, Robert Wielgus, the Director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at WSU, became a target as he spoke out in defense of the Profanity Peak pack and wolf killing. The result of his factual and determined approach, Wielgus now finds himself crosswise with ranchers, lawmakers and WSU administrators — and their lobbyists. He’s lost grant funding for his summer research, has been forbidden from talking to media in his professional role and has been reviewed — and cleared — for scientific misconduct. So his actions in defense of wolves have had a chilling effect on others in the University or professional field that would support wolves in the wild. Ranchers made sure he was silenced, so why would we support them? Why would we shame ourselves in such an effort? Wolves deserve far more. [For more more on this case please see "WSU wolf researcher appears to be partly cleared of misconduct.")

In Washington and Oregon, from the Profanity Peak pack to the Harl Butte pack the senseless killing of wolves and the destruction of their social pack order that results will lead to more cow deprivation, not less, and any conservation group would know and understand this, so why would you support such actions at the very time you are filling your coffers from people across the globe who love and want wolves protected?

The argument is that we must work with all groups and that some wolves must die to allow future compromise and long-term support for wolves. But the continued slaughter of wolves and the ever-growing efforts to block reintroduction, expansion of range, and the uptick of support in the Mid-West from Democratic Senators like Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota and Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, to kill wolves, is a sign that we are losing, not gaining support, with this failed strategy.

The ranching community has shown that you can succeed by saying no, that you can create a fear-based myth of wolves and that it will work, despite science and reason. The issue of wolves is not a scientific one, but rather an emotional and heritage based dilemma. For many in the livestock industry, they are descendants of families that killed wolves, bears and other predators to carve out their niche in a then transitioning west. From an early age these ranchers learned to shoot and to kill anything that they saw on their land that could threaten a cow.

This is the classic example of custom and culture. Groups like Defenders and their entourage from urban settings and moneyed members visiting Yellowstone are, to the rural ranching establishment, the picture of liberal threats to their way of life. Despite Defenders bending over backwards to appease ranchers, the distrust is unlikely to yield positive results in a generation or more. What Defenders and other groups that are cashing in on wolves cannot understand is that an effective strategy for wolves is based on fighting for them every step of the way. Not compromising.

We do not need a hunting season on wolves; they are self-regulating. Allowing them to be hunted and trapped destroys the social network within each pack and leads to, rather than prevent, more depredation. We do not need to support the findings of Game Commissions. These appointments are literally given in most cases to people who are signed off by the livestock industry and will never support true wolf recovery.

On the political front, we are cautioned and cajoled to work together, yet, ranchers have been by definition defiant to compromise on the wolf issue and their legislative support remains strong and is showing signs of increasing.

What Defenders and the conservation community as a whole must develop is a sense of urgency, a determined push in a unified manner to protect wolves and fight on every level for their right to coexist.

If we are to be true to wolves and to the many people who give and support wolves, it means have a unified, not a diversified voice. We must get our hands dirty in fighting for wolves and pressuring elected officials that yield to rancher and farmer interest groups. We must work to end Game Commissions that continue to allow the slaughter of wolves and other wildlife to defend the holy grail of ranching interests. Groups would be wise to pool, rather than hoard, precious resources to smaller groups and on unified efforts to stop the second great slaughter of wolves on our public lands.

Finally, we must end public lands grazing. If ranchers want to use private lands then they have the right to graze. If tribal groups want to graze they have that right as sovereign nations. But the very Republicans that demand balanced budgets and control over spending should be vocal and opposed to the endless government welfare that goes to subsidize grazing on public lands and allows these ranchers to continue to bash the very government that allows them carte blanche to kill wildlife and in turn, make cows the sacred trust of the West. Ranchers need also to accept depredation as part of doing business in a subsidized arena.

Our western public lands belong to wildlife, they belong to wolves. Our lands need to heal from two hundred years of grazing abuse. They need to be rewilded and allowed to flourish, which will only happen when wildlife, not cows, becomes our priority. It is no longer acceptable to allow wolf packs to die at the hand of ranching interests. It is no longer acceptable for large conservation groups to accept enormous funding from well-meaning people and allow wolves to be killed. The policy is a failed one and it takes courage to accept that failure and move forward with conviction to protect, not sacrifice-wolves. We can win this fight and change the culture of the West, but it will not come easy.

The time has come for real action and the moral courage to do so. Let’s work in coordination and with purpose to save wolves and allow our public lands to finally thrive. We can and we must.

Thank you Stephen. He and I are open to the view that "good" people can support and do "bad" things, organizations that do "good" things can also do "bad" things, and the situation with the Washington wolves provides a wonderful opportunity for both individuals and groups to clearly state their opposition to the killing of these (and other) wolves and to stand behind that view.

Until people and groups clearly speak out, and some have for sure, it can only be assumed that not saying "no" or remaining silent functionally translate into a "yes." For some this means something like, "While we don't like it the killing has to be done." For others who speak out it means they are against the killing and there is no reason at all to do it. A fuller discussion can be found in "Who's Really Defending Wildlife As Wolves Are 'Removed'?" (For another situation in which not saying "no" or remaining silent is tantamount to saying "yes," please see a recent essay by Lindy West in the New York Times.)

While silence may be golden to some, there are far-reaching implications of not speaking out, both for the wolves and for human individuals and groups. And, as Gretchen Wyler has aptly noted, "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight."

Not killing is a moral imperative

"Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do." -- Potter Stewart
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." -- Edmund Burke
"Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little." -- Edmund Burke

Returning attention back to Martin Luther King's quotations with which we began this essay and considering the three above, we view not killing wolves as a moral imperative because letting them live is the right thing to do, whereas killing them is the wrong and morally unacceptable thing to do.A simple way to think of a moral imperative is "something that must happen because it is the right thing." It also can be viewed as "a strongly-felt principle that compels that person to act." (For more discussion please see "Zoos Shall Not Kill Healthy Animals: A Moral Imperative.") Perhaps viewing killing the wolves as wrong will help those individuals who are caught in a bind and feel that they cannot express, for one reason or another, their opposition to the slaughter. This view might also motivate organizations to state clearly they are against the killing.

We look forward to the discussions that follow, and can only hope that all nonhuman animals and individuals who are hesitant to speak out will benefit from these open exchanges. We also look forward to more and more individuals and groups who are against the killing to say so.

We are other animals' lifelines and they totally depend on us for their well-being. It bears repeating that no one has to kill these wolves, and by not actively voicing opposition, an individual or organization is complicit in the process.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation; Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation; Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence; The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson); and The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do will be published in early 2018. Learn more at marcbekoff.com.

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