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Progressive Wildlife Policy Should Reflect Public's Values

For me, it's not so much that wolves should remain on the Endangered Species List for biological reasons, although that argument is valid, but certainly they should remain on the ESL until democracy and transparency exist in both state and federal wildlife and agricultural agencies. Those howling for delisting of the wolf in the Western Great Lakes would be better served by joining efforts to support democracy in wildlife management so that reasonable compromise could be met on deciding how wolves should be managed. There are no prime habitat protection zones, no tribal authority and no voice of wolf advocates or cultural consideration of the Ojibwe people written into the wolf hunt law.

The crisis we see now with environmental protection scale backs and attacks on the Endangered Species Act make reform of state and federal wildlife management a priority. There appears to be widespread recognition of financial crisis within state agencies nationwide. To me, the crisis is one of legitimacy, best available science, and representation. We could most readily find common ground with agency personnel and leaders on restructuring the ways that these agencies are funded. Wildlife advocates could also find common ground with promoting revision of the North American Model so as to be more inclusive of non-hunting stakeholder interests, including greater involvement of the full public.

And leaders of wolf management within our state agencies should be enthusiastic allies of such efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, recognizing that some sportsmen groups, such as the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association for example, are aggressively organizing to prevent financial and political reform, to protect their current privileged status. We saw this first hand at the Wolf Summit a few weeks ago. In Wisconsin, for example, there are zero checks and balances. The Dept. of Natural Resources is a political agency with a secretary appointed by the governor. On top of that the DNR has made clear that public opinion plays no role in how their decisions are made. How does any of that provide a service and equal protection for state citizens or our wildlife?

Wisconsin's DNR continues to be dominated by a narrow demographic of older white males who support sport hunting and fishing over all other management outcomes, and who tend to disregard the input of non-traditional stakeholders, even when the financials and demographics of wildlife use are changing towards non-consumptive use. This chronic dismissal of other interests may explain why groups and citizens feel the only way to have a voice is with litigation, such as the back and forth on protected and delisted status for the grey wolf. And until the day where the public trust is embraced and that the notion of wildlife as a resource for all is accepted, we can’t change the political discourse and energize a new constituency for wildlife, with the prospect of progressive policy outcomes. The public trust doctrine is an extraordinarily powerful means for change and potentially important common ground with progressive thinkers inside state wildlife agencies. At the very least, we should invoke this doctrine as justification for keeping wolves protected.

Melissa Smith is the Western Great Lakes Field Representative for Endangered Species Coalition. She has a special interest in the role that sociology plays in wildlife management and diversity of values, and is dedicated to wildlife agency reform and transparency, representation and democracy within these agencies. She also is a hobby farmer of Katahdin sheep and uses non-lethal, predator-friendly practices. Melissa also serves as president and executive director of Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf & Wildlife, is a delegate to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, and is a board member of Alliance for Animals and the Environment.