Protecting Wolves with Dr John Vucetich

A quick preface

Out of all that goes into making a podcast, the thing I believe to be the most important is transparency— transparency in the process, the why’s, and maybe most of all, the frame of reference from which I am approaching a topic and the biases that I may hold, even if I’m actively trying to avoid speaking from a place fortified by strong opinions.

So, here’s my transparency for today.

I worked in wolf conservation for nearly 3 years for a MN-based nonprofit organization as the Projects Manager. As a part of that role, a following of my belief and passion, and the mission of the organization, I actively worked to uphold protections for wolves across North America, prevent hunts, invalidate the reasons for holding hunts on a biological basis, and debunk myths through comprehensive education initiatives, especially those relating to wolf-livestock conflicts. I was also actively critical of the work and lethal methods of agencies like USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services and worked with them hand-in-hand to implement more nonlethal methods for long-term conflict prevention. I also exposed some severe methodological flaws or shortcomings in both how the MN DNR was conducting their annual wolf population count and how they were communicating their results.

I could get into the details of the Everest levels of data I have gone through with a fine-toothed comb to justify my stance, but if there is anything that I have learned, which is part of why I left the field to become a high school educator, is that data doesn’t do it. In my conversation with Dr Vucetich, we discuss the elephant and the rider as a metaphor for the brain and communicating with people with different beliefs than you, especially if the reason for those beliefs are based more in emotion than they are in fact. Data is useful. Data provides a strong foundation, support, and at times, the final nail in the coffin, but data is also cold, emotionless, easily manipulated or skewed or taken out of context by people who want it to fit their viewpoint, and requires an assumed level of understanding that isn’t always that common. 

We don’t mend divided with data. We mend divides with compassion, communication, and collaboration. The data may guide the way, and shouldn’t be ignored in an effort to compromise by any means, but we don’t get anywhere without the elephant.

And so, as you listen, you may notice that our conversation is very to the point, and does not take the time to dive into data or detailed arguments against very specific points. That is 100% intentional. I hope that, whatever your viewpoint in regards to wolves, you take the time to listen to our conversation in its entirety, and engage with others with what you learn.

Now, for the episode.

An effort to end protections for gray wolves that began with the Trump administration has come to fruition under the Biden administration. The species, native to much of the US and Canada, was only recently dropped from the endangered species list. In response, a team of scientists is calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to instead continue safeguarding the species. The primary signatory of this letter is John Vucetich.

For the past 25 years, John Vucetich has been the lead researcher of the Wolves & Moose of Isle Royale project. He is newly the author of Restoring the Balance: What Wolves Tell Us about Our Relationship with Nature, a book which meaningfully recounts all that John has learned from these incredible creatures. “A wolf,” John says, “is a living creature, with a perspective, memories of yesterday, an interest in how tomorrow turns out, joys and fears of its own, and a story to be told.”

Today on The Wild Life, why protections were ended, what’s happened since, why hunting wolves is viewed by many as unjustifiable, their social nature and disruptions, the why behind anti-wolf rhetoric, and how protections can be put in place once again.

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