Keeping Wolves at Bay – Without Killing
Through determination, innovation, and creativity, our society is solving some of the biggest challenges facing animals. Non-animal tests for cosmetics, chemicals, and household products are faster, cheaper, safer, and more reliable than laboratory experiments on animals. Computer-generated imagery is making exciting movies and TV commercials without the suffering and abuse of captive exotic wildlife. Eco-tourism appeals to millions of visitors and is a bigger boost to the economy in African nations than trophy hunting. The food industry is moving away from confining pigs and hens in cages where they are virtually immobilized for their entire lives, cutting the tails of dairy cows, and other cruel practices, and finding better ways to do business. Plant-based foods and faux fur are competing against animal products as an alternative in the marketplace.
One area that could use a lot more of this kind of thinking is wildlife management, where officials too often seem stuck in a 19th century paradigm that prioritizes extermination over cohabitation. That’s why I was delighted to see that USDA’s Wildlife Services agency has begun deploying creative new non-lethal methods to deter predators in northern Wisconsin, to great effect. This is the same agency that has been repeatedly criticized by The HSUS and others for its overreliance on inhumane, indiscriminate “management” tools like steel-jawed leghold traps and M-44 cyanide canisters. This is the agency that just came off its most lethal year to date. So you can imagine what a turnaround it is for Wildlife Services to adopt the use of Foxlights to cheaply, effectively, and humanely deter wolves and reduce human-wolf conflict.
The shift to non-lethal deterrents by Wildlife Services follows The HSUS’s federal court victory in December 2014. That case won an injunction keeping Endangered Species Act protections in place for Great Lakes ecosystem wolves, halting an imminent trophy hunting season that state officials deemed necessary to control the allegedly big bad wolves. Set aside for a moment the fact that the impact of wolves on livestock is routinely overestimated, or that recent studies show that trophy hunting increases poaching and worsens human-wildlife conflict by throwing the animals’ delicate social structures into chaos. And forget that some legislators claimed that the sky was falling after that court decision, threatening to subvert the opinions of scientific experts and federal courts by removing wolves from the ESA through legislative fiat. The important lesson here is that trophy hunting and commercial trapping only seem necessary because they are too often perceived to be the only tools in the toolbox.
We still have lawmakers in Congress trying over and over again to punch holes in the Endangered Species Act and strip wolves and other species of their federal protections, circumventing the courts and the public process. Political riders to force the delisting of wolves are included in the House’s energy bill, the Interior spending bills in both chambers, and other bills moving through Congress. We must redouble our efforts to stop these anti-wildlife riders in their tracks and make sure that politics doesn’t trump science.
While wildlife management is undoubtedly lagging behind other sectors when it comes to humane innovations, The HSUS, our sister entity, is leading the charge with proactive programs like wild horse population control using PZP, humane resolution techniques in “nuisance” control, fertility control with white-tailed deer, and elephant immunocontraception in Africa, as well as legal and policy actions to prevent unnecessary and unjustified killing of large carnivores like cougars and grizzly bears. This is the 21st century, and meeting the challenge of coexistence with wildlife does not have to mean extermination. There are always alternatives – you just have to look for them.
As we are seeing in Wisconsin, wolves can retain federal protections, and we can still solve conflicts and address the practical problems that ranchers and others are having in the states where wolves are present. Trophy hunting and commercial trapping don’t need to be in the mix, and there are better solutions available. It’s encouraging to see the federal agency that is charged with solving wildlife conflicts looking for a better way forward. And it’s time for Congress and for officials and legislators in the states to listen.