Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Tragedy of the Commons by Pat Hozbach

While the Battle Rages
Pat Holzbach
Environmental Studies, PHS 100A
Warner Pacific College
June 14, 2011

While the Battle Rages
In Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968), he put into perspective an ever-growing demand on a finite quantity of natural resources. His theory was that each individual, left to their own doing, would use all the resources he wanted for his own gain, regardless of the impact to the total environment. I believe that there is much merit to his theory.
While there are some who will voluntarily sacrifice for the good of the whole, most will do what serves their own best interest. Paul, in the book of Romans 7:21 (Contemporary English Version), confirms this human trait: “The Law has shown me that something in me keeps me from doing what I know is right.” Unfortunately, because of our human nature and the limited resources, it has become necessary for laws to be passed to preserve the environmental essentials and assets we have been given.
The future of the gray wolf, a keystone in its ecosystem, has been caught in a battle between federal and state regulatory bodies for nearly 100 years. (See attached timeline.) The latest effort by Congress, which was a rider attached to the 2011 Budget bill to remove the gray wolf from the endangered list, is even now being challenged in court. (Greenwald, 2011)
Some of the controversy stems from the definition of a recovered population. According to the Fish and Wildlife Services, there are at least 1,645 gray wolves living in the Northern Rockies. The goal set back in 1974 was to have 300 wolves in the area; however, many scientists believe that a population of 300 is too small to prevent genetic loss, that a population of 2,000 to 2,500 is required. {Platt, 2009) In addition, since the gray wolf was deliberately killed off in 1915, and strong animosities still exist, recovery of the species will take more time. (Harrison, 2009)
When wolves are part of the equation, they help to bring balance and diversity to their ecosystem. When the wolves were removed from the Yellowstone National Park in the early part of the 20th century, the elk population expanded; there seems to be a correlation between the growth in population of elk, and the demise of aspen, willow, and cottonwood trees, which were abundant prior to the 1930s when the last wolves were killed. Elk like to feed on small young trees, so the new shoots of aspen didn’t have a chance with the increased numbers of elk. Without young trees, beavers have no food, they don’t build dams, the rivers don’t pool, and the trout population is smaller. The trees also help to stabilize river banks and reduce erosion. (Robbins, 2004)
Wolves bring significant value to their environments; however, ranchers want to be able to protect their livestock. More research can offer ways to help environmentalists and ranchers both achieve their goals. The Defenders of Wildlife organization is working with Idaho ranchers and biologists in just such an effort to help keep wolves alive and out of harm’s way. They have discovered that guard dogs and range riders help to deter wolves, and save their lives. Also, flaggery seems to keep them at bay. “Flaggery” is a rope fence set up around the livestock, with red flag strips 3” wide, 18” long, 18” apart hanging from it. The motion of the strips flapping in the breeze, surprisingly, scares off the wolves. (Defenders of Wildlife, 2009)
By researching and learning the behaviors of the wolves, we can develop techniques that will protect both the livestock and the wolf, and allow the wolf to resume his role as the keystone species. Environmental regulations help keep the wolves from becoming extinct while we are learning.

The following timeline is from the Idaho Fish and Game website:
• In 1915, Congress allocated $125,000 to destroying wolves, coyotes and other predators throughout the west. It is believed that the last wolf in Idaho was killed in the 1930s.
• In 1967 (and again in 1974 under a different act), gray wolves were listed as an endangered species.
• In 1980, Congress approved a plan to reintroduce wolves in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.
• November 1990, Congress established a national Wolf Management Committee to develop a gray wolf reintroduction and management plan for Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho wilderness area.
• In 1991, the Wolf Management Committee submitted its plan to Congress. In November 1991, Congress directed the US Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare an environmental impact statement on the plan.
• In 1992, the Idaho state legislature voted to enter into a cooperative agreement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in preparing the impact statement. A seven-member Wolf Oversight Committee was established to guide and advise the process.
• In July 1993, the draft environmental impact statement was released; 160,284 comments from public citizens, agencies and interest groups were received.

• In 1994, the final impact statement was completed, proposing to reintroduce wolves into central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park as a nonessential experimental population. The Secretary of Interior signed the plan, and directed that it be implemented as soon as possible.
• In 1995, wolves began to be released in central Idaho, twenty-eight years after being listed as an endangered species, and 15 years after Congress approved their reintroduction. By December 1998, it was estimated that 115 wolves existed in Idaho.
• In March 2001, the Idaho legislature sent a written request to Congress and the President demanding that wolves be taken off of the endangered list, that recovery efforts be stopped immediately, that wolves be removed from Idaho by whatever means possible, and that the Federal government make financial restitution for damages created by wolves.
• In September 2001, 30 pairs of wolves were documented in the three-state area of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, setting the stage for de-listing the wolves.
• In 2002-2003, Idaho and Montana prepared a plan for preservation of wolves once they were de-listed. Wyoming prepared a plan, but it was not accepted until 2004.
• In January 2006, an agreement was reached between Idaho and the US Department of the Interior to allow day-to-day wolf management responsibilities to be held by Idaho.
• In February 2008, gray wolves were removed from the list of endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In March 2008, Idaho legislators voted to allow ranchers and pet owners to kill a wolf that was attacking their animals, and began planning for future wolf hunting seasons.
• In July 2008, a Federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in favor of conservation groups challenging the de-listing based on the still relatively small population of gray wolves in Idaho. Plans for hunting season were put on hold. In October 2008, the lawsuit was dismissed. Two weeks later, the US Fish and Wildlife Service reopened the public comment period for the de-listing.
• In April 2009, the US Fish and Wildlife Service de-listed gray wolves in the Northern Rockies. Idaho established wolf hunting season dates for September 2009 through March 31, 2010. 188 wolves were killed.
• In August 2010, the US District Court ruled that the de-listing does not comply with the Endangered Species Act, and gray wolves in Idaho and the Northern Rocky Mountains were returned to the endangered species status. In October 2010, the governor of Idaho returned wolf management responsibilities to the federal government.
• In April 2011, when Congress passed the budget, senators from Montana and Idaho attached a rider that required the US Fish and Wildlife Service to de-list the wolves within 60 days, and return the management of wolves to the states. In May 2011, the wolves were removed from the endangered species, and hunting tags were sold.

Defenders of Wildlife (2009). Keeping wolves out of harm’s way (video). Retrieved on June 10, 2011, from
Greenwald, N. (May 5, 2011). Lawsuit challenges constitutionality of anti-wolf rider. Center for Biological Diversity. Retrieved on June 10, 2011, from
Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, December 13, 1968. Retrieved on June 10, 2011, from
Harrison, E. (2009). The gray wolf: Out of the woods? Scientific American, January 15, 2009. Retrieved on June 10, 2011, from
Platt, J. (2009). Wolves dropped from U.S. endangered species list—again. Scientific American, May 8, 2009. Retrieved on June 10, 2011, from
Robbins, J. (2004). Lessons from the wolf. Scientific American, May 24, 2004. Retrieved on June 10, 2011, from

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