Should Societal Values Be Considered When Placing Animals on the Endangered Species List?

gray wolf photo
photo: Steve Jurvetson/Creative Commons

Though the US Fish & Wildlife Service is tasked with placing animals on the Endangered Species List based on "the best scientific and commercial data available" when it comes to the gray wolf in the northern Rockies, important social science data on how human activity and values wasn't consulted, and it probably would've significantly influenced the decision. That's the word of a group of scientists, writing in BioScience, who say that research on societal values needs to take a higher place alongside biological and ecological data when deciding to list or de-list species.According to Jeremy Brukstotter, from Ohio State University and who led the the group, the Fish and Wildlife Service didn't consider strongly enough the effect of public opinion towards gray wolves and the negative effect this might have on them should they no longer be protected from hunters and ranchers.

Basically, Brukstotter contends, even though Fish and Wildlife said that public attitudes towards wolves had improved considerably since humans very nearly fully exterminated them in the 1930s, if the agency had done a more thorough examination of the publicly and commercially available research on the subject, as well as more closely tracked public attitudes on wolves as reported in the media, they would have found that attitudes had not improved as much as believed.

In the few studies that have evaluated attitudes about wolves over time, Bruskotter and colleagues noted that findings are mixed on the subject. And the only study cited by the Fish and Wildlife Service in its ruling concluded that attitudes about wolves had been "stable over the last 30 years," which contradicts the agency's own contention that attitudes had improved over this time period.

A news media content analysis that Bruskotter co-authored, published in September, suggests that public discourse about wolves in the United States and Canada became increasingly negative from 1999 to 2008, and, according to Bruskotter, subsequent analyses suggested coverage in the northern Rockies was more negative than in any other region. (Science Daily)

More broadly, while emphasizing that FWS shouldn't base its decisions on "public whims", the group says that the agency needs to expand it's thinking on what is the appropriate scientific literature to consult, beyond the "myopic focus" on biological data alone.

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Tags: Endangered Species | United States


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