Detective Joe Friday on the old TV show, Dragnet, instructed his witnesses to give, “Just the facts, ma’am.” But, as Joe learned, facts aren’t the only ideas we love to convey.
When we form opinions about controversial topics—say, wolf management issues—in addition to what we think, we also likely add feelings and values to the mix. The facts may not always play the biggest role in deciding, for example, whether wolf hunting should be allowed in our state, but they should play a significant one.
People make better decisions when we are informed about the issues. Solid, fact-checked information should be a major part of the mix. But, because emotions are so powerful, we may have to be strongly committed to making a rational decision in order to invite an array of factual information into the equation.
Almost everyone’s heartstrings are wrenched by photos of wolves dying in traps. Some heartbeats stir with the declaration that, “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands.” Some proponents on all sides of issues pander to our emotions, because they know humans are motivated to promote a cause or send donations by passionate feelings of love, compassion, anger and fear.
Likewise, we rally around values that provoke those feelings. Most people who experienced the 2012 presidential election can identify (and perhaps identify with) the political party speaking by the values expressed in these two statements: “Democracy is based on citizens caring about and empowering all Americans.” Or, “a smaller federal government promotes more individual freedom and responsibility.”
Sole focus only on values and feelings doesn’t lead to sound decisions. Often it leads us to cherry pick our information. It’s fairer to consider all the facts, even those that support other points of view. For example…
‰Fact: A wolf hunt will reduce the numbers of wolves that kill livestock and pets.
‰Fact: Many wolves that will be killed will not be those near ranches and homes where livestock and pets need to be protected.
Relevant numbers can provide useful factual information: The official Upper Midwest wolf population recovery goal was 1,250 wolves in Minnesota, and that number was reached in 1978. The goal of 100 wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin combined for five consecutive years was reached in 1999. When wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2011, the Wisconsin and Michigan populations had increased to 1,200 and growing, and Minnesota’s had increased to 3,000. We can conclude the facts show that wolves in these areas could legally be removed from federal protection and handed over to state management.
When we process these facts, people may draw differing conclusions. For example, do the original federal recovery goals reflect how many wolves people currently think should live in these states? Those opinions can be influenced by wildlife biologists who calculate the carrying capacity for those regions. “Carrying capacity” is the number of a species that an ecosystem can support and sustain with land, shelter and food. But we also need to consider social carrying capacity, the number of a species that humans will tolerate. Both numbers are important, and the second is very likely to provoke debate.
A democratic society requires bringing lots of individual perspectives to the table, no matter how inconvenient and contentious the process. Inevitably, if controversy exists, we will hear about competing values and interests. We may find that some essential facts are grounds for contention, that some data is missing, and that an array of scientific information supports more than one point of view. And in the end, rarely does one answer satisfy all parties.
Many people think wolves are too beautiful, interesting and sacred to be killed for sport. Others believe that hunting is a cultural tradition and right, and that all animals belong to the state and its citizens for legal uses. Some people believe that wolves are good for the ecosystem, for example by keeping deer herds healthy, and that the system should be left alone by humans. Others believe that wolves kill too many deer and moose, so wolf numbers should be limited. Some are afraid of wolves, and because pack numbers have increased near humans, they should be killed. Others think that if humans don’t feed and habituate wolves, people have nothing to fear.
Once you make up your mind on the wolf hunt, what can you do? Information at the International Wolf Center advises participating in the ongoing debate and taking action in these ways:
‰Educate yourself on wolves and wolf management using science-based resources
‰Provide feedback to your state legislators, the governor and DNR
‰File suit against the state Legislature if you believe the law violates state or federal law or constitution
‰Lobby state legislators to change or support the law during the next legislative session
‰Vote for or against state legislators in the next election
‰Do or don’t hunt or trap wolves
One thing that we can all likely agree upon is that people should be respected to make up their own minds on controversial topics, including on whether or not to support or oppose a wolf hunt.