Re-introduction of the Wolf in the Southwest
"If the lobo has any useful qualities or habits, I have not yet learned of them. If it destroys any noxious animal, reptile or insect in appreciable quantity, I have no account of it. It seems to be a specialist in carnage and to have brought professional skill to the slaughter of cattle. Possibly it has usesbut it will require a skilled man with a very high powered magnifying glass to ascertain them." O.W. Williams, 1908, Historical Review of Animal Life in Pecos County.
Evolutionary Scale of Extinction
It has been argued that the Mexican wolf should be allowed to go extinct, based on the following line of reasoning:
- Death (extinction) is as much a part of life on Earth as living. Something like 90% of species that have ever lived on Earth are now extinct.
- Extinction is so certain that Earth has experienced events of mass extinction, where great percentages of existing species went under in a relatively short time period.
- After great extinction events, life on Earth has rebounded with new species and new environmental adaptations.
- Therefore, not only is extinction inevitable, but it can even be considered a positive thing in the long run.
- Consequently, no big deal losing the Mexican wolf, or rare squirrels, birds, snail darters, microscopic plants, sand flies, etc. The expression, "let nature take its course," is invoked.
- Click here for an example of this reasoning with the red squirrel of Mt. Graham.
However, this notion has flaws:
- "Letting nature take its course" is hardly applicable in cases where an entire species has been purposely extirpated. Extirpation isn't a natural event. At a minimum, a common retort to letting nature takes it course is, "but our hands are dirty."
- The temporal scale of extinction by extirpation is different from natural mass extinctions. Stephen J. Gould, a champion of explaining evolutionary theory to the masses, explained this in his essay: The Golden Rule: A Proper Scale for Our Environmental Crisis. Gould's writing can be viewed as occasionally obtuse, but if you stick with these mere 10 pages, you'll probably look at the argument above in a whole new light.
- For listing this source in References Cited, use this:
- Gould, S.J. 1993. The golden rule: A proper scale for environmental crisis. In, Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History.
Bottom line: "Letting nature takes its course," i.e., letting the wolf go extinct and being done with this whole issue already, is weak logic and will not be acceptable in this essay.
Wolf Re-introduction Home Page
Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, The University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721 USA
Comments to Paul Sheppard: sheppard @ ltrr.arizona.edu
Copyright © 2000-2014 Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, The University of Arizona
Revised -- October, 2014