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Wolf Restoration to the Adirondacks:
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Public Participation in the Decision

Disadvantages of Public Participation in Decision Making


Organizations promoting wolf recovery or wolf protection come and go. At any given time there have been as many as 51 such organizations (International Wolf Center 1982). Most were founded by laypeople, although a few employ biologists as staff or consultants. Furthermore most of them actively advocate for the wolf through lobbying or urging members to lobby legislators and government administrators, disseminating information (some of which may not be supported by available research), and writing letters to newspapers. Only one, the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, professes to advocate for the wolf without these tactics, relying entirely on disseminating objective, accurate information about wolves.

Thus the quality and accuracy of the information disseminated by these organization varies widely. Some admit deliberately disseminating false information (Anonymous 1992), whereas others do so out of naivete, carelessness, or failure to check information obtained from other groups.

The misinformation promulgated by wolf advocacy groups ranges from minor technical errors to major deception and fraud (Blanco 1998). Technical biological misinformation, though bothersome to professionals working with wolves, is not as serious as deception about such issues as the status and trends in wolf populations. This latter type of misinformation tends to motivate well-meaning wolf advocates to press their causes through letter-writing campaigns, public meetings, lobbying, and lawsuits. For example, animal welfare and wolf advocacy groups have been advertising for funds in major national newspapers for years, claiming that wolves were threatened in Denali National Park and other parts of Alaska (USA Today 1995, 1998), despite documentation to the contrary (Stephenson et al. 1995; Mech et al. 1998).

These misrepresentations have even made it into conference proceedings. In a non-peer-reviewed proceedings of a nonprofit citizen organization, "Defenders of Wildlife's Restoring the Wolf Conference," undocumented claims were made that the wolf has been eliminated from "95% of its former range" and "95% of its historic range in North America" (Valentino 1998, 47-48). The actual figures are closer to 30% of its global range and 40% of its North American range (Mech 1970; Ginsberg and Macdonald 1990).

In the same proceedings, it was alleged that "wolf populations throughout the state [of Alaska] are being decimated, including those in our national parks and preserves" (Joslin 1998, 90). This conclusion contrasts dramatically with the peer-reviewed, documented conclusions that Alaska's 5,900 to 7,200 wolves have long been well managed (Stephenson et al. 1995) and that in Denali National Park and Preserve, humans kill less than 4% of the wolf population annually (Mech et al. 1998).

A current case involves the issue of removing the wolf from the federal endangered species list in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Wolf recovery there has been well planned, methodical, and well documented. Wolf recovery in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan was the subject of one of the federal government's first recovery plans. The planning process involved many months of meetings, considerable public input, and several revisions based on new information and on changes in the wolf population (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1978, 1992). Detailed criteria were set for the size of wolf populations to be required for formal recovery and the delisting of that wolf population from the endangered species list.

The wolf population in the area at the time included about 650 wolves in Minnesota and none in Wisconsin or Michigan except for those on Isle Royale (Mech 1970). The recovery plan recommended that there should be at least 1,250 wolves in Minnesota and 100 in mainland Wisconsin and Michigan combined for 5 consecutive years, and there was little or no dissent by wolf advocates when these figures were proposed (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1992). As the populations recovered and the population goals were met, however, wolf advocacy groups began opposing the proposed delisting.

Despite the well-documented, thorough, peer-reviewed population estimation procedures (Fuller et al. 1992; Berg and Benson 1999), the wolf advocacy groups claimed, without documentation, that the resulting estimate of 2,450 wolves in Minnesota was too high (Berg, Hatfield, and Brave Heart 1998). Defenders of Wildlife (1998) and other groups maintained that delisting the wolf in Minnesota would be premature.

This claim of premature delisting was made despite the following facts: There are three to four times as many wolves in Minnesota today (Berg and Benson 1999) than probably any other time in roughly the last 100 years (Herrick 1892; Surber 1932), the wolf population has been increasing at an annual average of 3% to 5% since 1979 (Fuller et al. 1992; Berg and Benson 1999), they occupy 46% more range than in 1989 (Berg and Benson 1999), a majority of Minnesota citizens favor wolf recovery (Kellert 1986; Minnesota Poll 1998), and no threat to the well-studied Minnesota wolf population has been identified.

In Spain, an even more extreme situation has developed. According to Juan Carlos Blanco, who has used radiotracking and other techniques to study the wolf in Spain (Blanco 1998; Blanco, Cuesta, and Reig 1990), "radical environmentalists" published in a newspaper results of a fraudulent wolf census that claimed serious declines in wolves. "The information, which has been picked up by all the newspapers, is totally untrue, made up" (Blanco 1998, 2).

Such tactics on the part of extreme wolf advocates are seized upon by wolf opponents as indicative of duplicity and extremism by environmentalists and as reasons to mistrust wolf advocates and wolf recovery or reintroduction efforts. Meanwhile, the views of the majority of the public, who would accept wolves in moderate numbers (Minnesota Poll 1998) receive little attention.

Thus public attitudes polarize, fostering discord and dissension. It is only human nature for politicians and busy bureaucrats to try to avoid situations that promise to be time-consuming and fraught with public dissatisfaction (Mech 1995a). For example, a proposal to reintroduce red wolves to the Land-Between-the-Lakes area in Kentucky and Tennessee was withdrawn because of adverse public opinion (Parker and Phillips 1991).

Blanco (1998, 3) in Spain stated the problem of extreme wolf advocacy as follows: "The worst effect of this campaign is that it will act against the wolf like a time bomb. We will see the most damaging effect within the next few years when the nature conservation movement becomes discredited in the eyes of Society. What will those members of the public who are genuinely concerned about the wolf's future think when they learn that the fall in wolf numbers in northern Spain is nothing but a huge lie?"


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