The past few days, I’ve been digging back through my thesis research from more than a year ago in order to prepare a poster on it for the upcoming Carnivore Conservation conference, sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife. Condensing a 145-page thesis into a 3-foot by 4-foot poster is not for the faint of heart. Then again, neither is delving into the Mexican wolf reintroduction program. That is, if you care about conserving endangered species.
I learned so much throughout this project my synapses were constantly firing — processing information both about the natural history of the species and about the wild conundrum of balancing its conservation on federal lands that are mandated to allow activities which are not always conducive to wolf conservation or even survival.
Digging back through my thesis, I’m reminded again of how saturated I became in sifting through how this program was affecting people’s lives, and how different the situation was on the ground than I ever could have imagined by studying it from afar. Consider for a moment that many of the major stakeholders disagree over what constitute the basic facts of their shared reality. Yes, disagree. Things that “outsiders” dismissed as rank lies (wolves wait for kids at their bus stops) or anti-wolf propaganda are believed with sincerity by other people living within the wolf reintroduction area; and vice-versa.
I was told by people on both sides of the debate that the other side was using me, “snowing me,” and lying to me to get their agenda across. Several ranchers listened politely to my pitch asking for an interview, took my contact information, and never called to arrange a time to meet. I was admonished by at least two conservationists that my project would give livestock producers “ammunition” against the wolf program. And most of all, I was saddened by the extreme distrust with which each side viewed the other, and me.
In truth, my own perception of the situation was altered by my contact with the ranchers who did grant me time to talk with them. And I am indebted that they opened their doors to me. I wish I’d talked with more. Only by grounding myself in their shoes did I better understand the tug-of-war over wolf policies. It did not change my mind that wolves should be recovered, but it did make me re-think the “how” part. When I have my poster done, I’ll upload an image here…