By Rosemary Parker | Kalamazoo Gazette
It appears the backbones of wolves on Isle Royal are beginning to deteriorate. Read a study of the problem here.
Likely because the population has become so inbred — every wolf is related to others on the island — offspring are showing up with deformities in the bones of their backs.
The genetic anomaly is similar to a problem found in domestic dogs that can cause paralysis, trouble moving the rear legs and tail, and back pain.
Should humans intervene, undertake a “genetic rescue” by introducing some unrelated animals to bring some new blood to the island’s pack, widening the gene pool?
Wolves often kill outsiders, so there’s no guarantee the plan would work.
And even if it does, might human intervention have other, unexpected, consequences?
A social scientist from Michigan State University has used the situation to study how people make ethical decisions about the environment — not to find an answer to the wolf problem, but to help environmental scientists better understand how people form their opinions. Read the researchers study of ethical questions here.
“My study attempted to explore what people think about the appropriateness of mitigation and explored the ethical arguments associated with genetically rescuing Isle Royale wolves,” said Meredith Gore, an assistant professor who works in both the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and also the School of Criminal Justice at MSU.
By looking at what ethical arguments are used for or against humans intervening “one of the most interesting things we found was the many different types of arguments that people were using,” she said. Some would invoke divinity — God will handle it or God wants people to be stewards of nature; others would invoke authority — “my veterinarian says,” or “biologists say;” many use cause-and-effect reasoning, such as “if we do this, the result will be…”
“How people support their opinions was was much more diverse than one might think,” Gore said. “That’s noteworthy because the diversity in our ethical arguments is another way to think of our own human diversity.”
When agencies strive to assure all stakeholders are represented in controversial environmental decisions, she said, “it’s not just age, gender, (or similar measures of diversity) that matter,” Gore said. “We must think of the ‘whys’ to assure stakeholder representation.
It’s helpful to know how we are similar and how we are different,” she said. “When you you clump ideas by the ethical arguments (used to support them) you can come up with better ways of resolving conflict or predicting where conflict may occur.”
“It’s enough to know what people think, must learn why they think it.”
The study will be published in the October-November edition of Conservation Letters, an open access academic journal October November.