Elk Foundation, Pro-Wolf Groups Need to Walk the Talk

By Beacon Staff

For about three years now, I’ve been wondering how something so easy to do just can’t get done.

Pro-wolf and anti-wolf groups really aren’t that far apart on a compromise that could end the seemingly endless wolf debate. Yet nobody, it seems, wants to risk showing weakness by making the first move. So I will. I’m weak. I’m blinking. I’m saying let’s settle this debate right now.

Last time I wrote about this issue, I criticized state and federal wildlife agencies for not getting together with the pro-wolf groups and working out a deal. That was two years ago, and they still haven’t done it, even though I thought I laid out some fairly simple numbers that could make both sides happy – and all of us who haven’t taken sides, too. But as far as I can determine, the only time the two sides of the issue ever see each other is in the courtroom.

Clearly, the agencies aren’t going to do anything that seems like they’re giving in to pro-wolf groups. They will only do what their scientists tell them is the right thing to do, even if it means extending the wolf controversy into the 22nd century.

Now, we have another chance to work it out. I recently received two long letters on the subject. The first was sent to David Allen, CEO and President of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), by two pro-wolf groups, Defenders of Wildlife and Western Wildlife Conservancy, in response to a fairly pointed press release sent out by RMEF in late February. In the release, Allen blasted pro-groups in general (and naming these two groups) for “disingenuous use of data” in claiming that wolf restoration has “somehow translated to growing elk herds in the northern Rockies.”

In 2009, RMEF joined wildlife agencies as a “friend of the court” in the big legal fight over delisting the wolf from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, and RMEF has been quite active in the debate ever since, representing both members and outfitters worried about wolves decimating elk herds. The second letter, a long and detailed document, was Allen’s response to criticism from the two pro-wolf groups.

“Remember,” Allen said in the February press release, “pro-wolf groups make their living by prolonging this conflict. There is no real incentive for them to admit that wolves are overly recovered. Fundraising is their major motive and they’ve built a goldmine by filing lawsuits and preaching that nature will find its own equilibrium between predators and prey if man would just leave it alone. That’s a myth.”

Is it or isn’t it? It’s sort of amazing to see how the two sides of the debate can use the same data to arrive at exactly opposite opinions about what’s happening.

The key point, though, is what both sides aren’t doing. They aren’t talking. Writing letters is easy. The hard part is getting in the same room, actually talking to each other, and working out a compromise on the wolf issue.

In both letters, the authors suggest having a meeting and starting to talk about settling the issue, but has it happened? No. Why? I wish I could answer that question.

Groups like RMEF that believe delisting is long overdue and the wolf population has recovered long ago say pro-wolf groups simply don’t want to compromise. These groups are, critics claim, using the wolf debate to build membership and amass donations and don’t want to see that gravy train end, but I don’t buy that reasoning.

Instead, I believe pro-wolf groups would very much like to see the wolf removed from the endangered species list so it be claimed as an epic environmental victory, as it should be, akin to the bringing back the bald eagle.

I suspect the agencies might accept such a brokered settlement by these groups because it wouldn’t appear like they were kowtowing to environmentalists. Instead, it’d look like they joined in a reasonable compromise to end wolf impasse.

Having had long conversations with people on both sides of this issue, I personally believe the sides are close enough to arrive at a settlement that would prompt pro-wolf groups to withdraw their lawsuit and allow delisting to proceed, but this will never happen if the two polarized sides don’t talk to each other.

So, if you wonder why the wolf debate never seems to end, well, now you know. Would somebody please make the first call.

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