Wolves are the planet’s most widespread land-based large mammals. They used to be humans’ most direct competitors for meat. As a result, the Big Bad Wolf occupied a center stage in our psyche as a demon character in many cultures. Humans fought wolves for ages. Relentlessly shot, poisoned, and trapped, wolves were completely defeated in these old wolf wars. In Yellowstone National Park the last gray wolf was killed in 1926. In the continental United States (except northern Minnesota), the gray wolf was completely exterminated by 1950. However, winning the wolf wars made (some) humans feel guilty. In 1995 and 1996, the US Fish and Wild Life Service deliberately reintroduced 66 wolves captured in Canada into the wild by releasing them into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho’s wilderness. By 2009, more than 1,600 wolves populated the northern Rocky Mountain states (primarily Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming), and smaller packs penetrated northeastern Washington (state) and Colorado. “The West is getting wilder by the hour,” declared National Geographic. Wildlife enthusiasts and tourists were elated. In Yellowstone, thousands of tourists came to watch wolves every year, adding millions of dollars to the local economy. The revival of the gray wolves was viewed as one of the most resounding victories of the Endangered Species Act enacted in 1973. In 2008, gray wolves in Wyoming were declared no longer endangered by the Department of the Interior. In 2009, gray wolves in Montana and Idaho started to enjoy such a status. Finally, in 2011, gray wolves in eight states across the West and upper Great Lakes were delisted. Will humans and wolves live happily ever after? Not likely! “Packs are back,” wrote National Geographic, “Westerners are glad, scared, and howling mad.” Other than the group who are glad, a lot of people are scared. Small children, cats, and dogs are no longer safe in wolf-infested areas. A pleasant walk in the woods may result in unpleasant encounters. But two groups are howling mad. First, hunters complain that too many elk have become wolf food. In a region struggling with economic hardship such as lumber mill closures, wolves are direct competitors for meat to feed the family. In some places, “Howdy?” is replaced by “Get your elk yet?” Some folks openly talk about taking the matter into their own hands by shooting the wolves as their forefathers did. A popular bumper sticker sports a crossed-out wolf with the caption “Smoke a Pack a Day.” The second group that opposes the reappearance of gray wolves is ranchers who raise livestock such as cattle and sheep for a living. Wolves literally eat into the thin profits of ranchers and jack up the price of beef, lamb, milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream that all of us have to pay. A pack of wolves (generally about 3 to 10) typically kills a (wild) elk or a cattle calf every two to three days. In a single night, a pack of three adult wolves and five pups killed 122 sheep on a ranch in Montana, consuming little to no meat— the adults were probably teaching the pups how to kill. Wyoming and Montana compensate ranchers for livestock loss to wolves (for example, about $600 a calf) if ranchers can prove that such losses are due to wolf kills. The trouble is that if ranchers do not find and document a carcass right away, scavengers such as grizzly bears may drag off or shred all the evidence. For every wolf kill that is compensated, several more are uncompensated. In addition, surviving cattle harassed by wolves over one season can lose 30 to 50 pounds each. Further, livestock with injuries scratched by unsuccessful wolf chases or with infections from wounds are not marketable, and ranchers have to eat such losses. Finally, stress results in a lot of livestock miscarriages. Some ranchers are aware of their CSR. One was quoted as saying: “We have to realize that the general US population wants wolves. That population is also our customers for beef. It’s not a good idea to tell your customers they don’t know what they’re doing.” But, the other side of the debate argues: “Isn’t the thinking that the CSR of cattle ranchers is to tolerate their livestock being wolf feed going too far?” Frustrated ranchers cannot defend their private property by shooting wolves. Instead, they vote politicians on a pro-wolf platform out of the office and fill state legislatures in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming with candidates who vow to make wolves go away. After gray wolves were delisted from the (federal) engendered species list in Wyoming, the state government immediately labeled them varmints (or pests), allowing virtually unlimited shooting and trapping. A resulting lawsuit filed by environmental and animal-protection groups forced the Department of the Interior to temporarily put wolves back on the endangered list. Taking the lesson, Montana and Idaho, after wolves were delisted in their states, labeled them game animals and set quotas for the first legal wolf hunts in their history—75 in Montana and 220 in Idaho. In addition, Idaho started shooting wolves from helicopters to kill predators that biologists say are harming elk herds. In response, angry environmentalists went back to court again, arguing that the legislative removal of wolves from federal protection was unconstitutional and that wolves would be annihilated again. Overall, the age-old wolf wars continue to rage. But in this new chapter, wolf wars are not waged between wolves and humans— instead, they are waged between different groups of humans with opposing views (the rural folks populating the cattle country versus the urban types who vow to protect wild animals at all costs). So stay tuned.
1. ON ETHICS: Do ranchers have any CSR to help preserve the wolves by tolerating livestock losses? Or does their CSR lie in their efforts to get rid of the wolves from their private property? (By doing that, they also generate the social benefits of bringing down the costs on beef, lamb, milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream for all of us.)
2. ON ETHICS: If ranchers cannot make a living, they are likely to sell the property to developers, who will facilitate more urban sprawl. Urban land almost never goes back to agricultural or ranch use. Should CSR advocates help ranchers make a living, or should they push ranchers to accept more losses from wolf predation?
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3. ON ETHICS: Compensating ranchers for wolf kills is a solution. However, as state budgets shrink and economic recession bites, should taxpayers (including many who do not hunt and do not make a living by ranching) foot such an escalating bill? (An expanding wolf population will need more food, which will result in more livestock losses.)
4. ON ETHICS: While “wolf wars” take place in the United States, “elephant wars” in Africa (elephants leave protected areas and destroy crops) and “tiger wars” in India (tigers leave protected areas and attack livestock and children) feature similar tensions. Answer Questions 1 to 3 above, using either “elephant wars” or “tiger wars” as your background.