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Know the West

Where's the science?


High Country News has a well-deserved reputation for reporting that explores the complexities and subtleties of environmental issues. "Wolf whiplash" was a jarring contrast that blamed repeated legal action by environmental groups for recent legislation that removed wolves in five states from the endangered species list (HCN, 5/30/11). As the story suggests, this legislation opens the door to further cases of wildlife management driven by politics rather than rigorous conservation science. I agree that this is a bad outcome, but surely it resulted not only from the lawsuits brought by environmentalists, but also from the intransigence of anti-wolf groups, and from anti-government polemics more generally.

Wolf conservation and management in the West involves complex scientific questions about population dynamics of wolves and their prey, but your story hardly discussed these questions. Valerius Geist was the only scientist quoted at length, yet his characterization of environmentalists as "those dickybird fellows" undermined his credibility. The author got several pieces of information from blog postings, but none apparently from peer-reviewed scientific literature. He missed the evidence that wolf populations at relatively high density may be regulated by territoriality or other social factors rather than food supply.

It seems likely that wolves will survive hunting in the Northern Rockies, and that we will learn new and surprising things about their behavior and ecology from continuing long-term research. I'm hopeful that Mike Clark of the Yellowstone Coalition is correct that "the politicians will eventually step aside, or get tired, and the wildlife professionals will still be there" to provide a credible scientific basis for management of wolves and the ecosystems they inhabit.

Stephen H. Jenkins
Reno, Nevada