Caption: Gray Wolves have become very controversial in the past decade because of the different viewpoints ranchers and conservationists have on them. Photo via The US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The gray wolf has been a subject of debate for many decades all throughout the United States. This controversy started when their population almost went extinct in 48 states in the 1940s. However, through many federal actions that were endorsed by conservationists, the gray wolf was reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. The reintroduction of the gray wolf in Yellowstone inspired other states like Oregon to take action through similar methods. While the population of the gray wolf has highly benefited from the reintroduction programs, they are causing an ethical dilemma for ranchers and conservationists.

Conservationists have been fighting heavily for the protection of gray wolves since they were almost eradicated from the Northwest in the 1940s. However, because of a new proposal drafted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), conservationists in Oregon have decided to pull out of the plan. Danielle Mosier of the Oregon Wild Organization states that protecting gray wolves should be a collaborative effort by both the rancher and the conservationists, but “ODFW did not take into consideration a single suggestion from conservation groups. While we initially hoped to work with ODFW to ensure the protection of gray wolves, we feel that the current process is too flawed.” Currently, the biggest issue being discussed among all stakeholders is at what point can someone kill a wolf.  “Killing wolves should be a last resort, but oftentimes that is the first and only solution that many groups consider,” says Clara Soh who has worked with conservation groups to help for the protection of wolves. On one side, there are those who argue that killing should never be an option because it is harmful and unethical. On the other hand, there are those who continue to wake up to their livestock being injured or killed.

Ranchers have argued that wolves are hurting them financially because of the loss of profit when a wolf kills or injures their livestock. Ranchers get compensation for dead and injured animals and some argue they should not be complaining as this is a fair trade. However, in many states, compensation for animal losses depends on availability of federal or private funds. This ends up being an unfair solution for the ranchers, as their profits may decline according to the compensation the state can give them.

Yes, there are methods that can be used to reduce the numbers of accidents and attacks that occur, but this will take agreement from both sides. Conservationists have been collaborating with ranchers to come up with effective means of protection for their livestock. Soh believes that “an ethical solution is one where we restore wolves to their natural habitat in healthy numbers while taking into consideration the many stakeholders who live, work, and recreate in Oregon.” One solution that has become very popular is bringing in guard dogs and llamas. Certain breeds of dogs like the Maremma and Great Pyrenees are fit for the job, as they are big and very loyal to the livestock they are guarding. Llamas are even more effective as they are bigger, a strong deterrent for the wolves. Certain groups like Defenders of Wildlife even work with ranchers on the ground to implement non-lethal measures. During the wolf plan negotiations, there were many efforts to structure policies that would both benefit ranchers and protect wolves, like giving the ranchers resources to implement non-lethal measures on their property. Another effort that conservationists have taken on is de-stigmatizing the gray wolf.

For centuries, the gray wolf has been portrayed as big and bad. Fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs have been plastered into people’s heads. “There is a lot of misunderstanding of the role that wolves play, and these are used to rile up emotions where people miss the actual facts of the benefits and potential threats of these important animals” Soh says. She knows that many people are shaped by the books they read and wants the image of the gray wolf to be redefined. Wolves are naturally scared of humans, but because humans have come and destroyed their original territory, they come and prey on the livestock that occupy their old homes. While conservationists are debunking this stereotype at every opportunity they can, they have to realize that many people still believe these stories.

The fate of the gray wolf has to be one of collaboration and integration from all stakeholders. Although these types of collaboration have been encouraged from Oregon governor Kate Brown, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have “continued to drive the process through their biased lens which has impacted the relationship with the ranchers and the conservationists,” says Mosier. New plans need to be put into place that include all perspectives and all agendas. The gray wolf is a species that is crucial for the present and future ecology of this planet. By unraveling the stigmas and listening to all sides affected, hopefully, ranchers and conservationists will be able to come together to create a more cohesive plan.

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