Pointless Petition

Yesterday, this petition was circulated to a number of people involved in wolverine conservation:

The email that accompanied the petition ran as follows:

Dear…..

Wolverines have been on the U.S. Endangered Species List for almost two years. But apparently that doesn’t matter in Montana — the only state where it’s still legal to trap them.

Tell the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to not open wolverine trapping season!

There are no more than 300 wolverines left in the West, and warming temperatures in future years will only reduce the population further. Of those, up to two-thirds live in Montana. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that wolverines if aren’t protected in Montana, it”s almost as if they aren’t protected at all.

Trapping season starts Dec. 1. That gives us just over a month to get through to state wildlife officials.

Urge wildlife officials to protect endangered species and shut down this year’s wolverine trapping season.

This petition contains a couple of glaring errors, as well as some questionable statements. First of all, wolverines have never been on the endangered list, and the implication that Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks would continue to trap an endangered species does a disservice to the attention that this agency pays to maintaining Montana’s wildlife. Second, we don’t know how many wolverines actually live in the Rockies, and making appeals based on numbers is not the way to discuss wolverines – or, I would contend, any wildlife species. These things should be discussed in terms of population trends, demographics, and ecological process, not numbers. (And the cut-and-paste of the earlier inaccurate statement that wolverines were once “prolific across the West” is also aggravating, if strictly on vocabulary grounds, but the misuse of vocabulary has implications for what is being said about past and current population trends.)

I’m asking people NOT to sign this petition. I am fully in favor of individuals expressing their opinions, but non-experts make appeals based purely on emotion, and when those appeals are inaccurate to the greatest degree, they do more harm than good. These acontextual animal-rights based pleas tend not to register with decision-makers, and when they are as full of errors as this one is, they make all of us who are contextually and scientifically working on this issue look bad. And they make the originators and signers of such petitions into laughingstocks, further discrediting the idea that people who attach themselves to such efforts have even the remotest clue what is going on.

If you want Montana to shut its trapping season prior to a listing decision – I’m strongly doubtful that they will, but there’s always a chance, and again, I’m fully in favor of freedom of expression – please write them a respectful letter that discusses the science. Do not accuse them of incompetence (this does nothing to endear you to the people you’re trying to influence); this includes subtle accusations such as use of the phrases “get through to” and “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist…” And do not get into your moral position on trapping. These things are counterproductive. (If you’ve already signed….I don’t mean to make you feel badly. Just read things carefully next time.)

I’m going to write more about this soon – I’ve been promising a series on the science/ advocacy interface for awhile, but it will be posted over the next week. I am sure that people who are inured to the usual script for “action” have trouble understanding my objections to these tactics, and I want to explain in a more thorough way why the script needs to be rewritten in the case of wolverine conservation. For now, though, take my word for it, and please don’t engage with these efforts.

(While I’m ranting about other people’s inaccuracies, I should acknowledge that this petition did make me realize a mistake of my own; I previously stated that Montana’s trapping season begins on December 15th. It does in fact begin on the 1st. I’m mildly numerically dyslexic, and the season ends February 15th, so that was the number that stuck in my head. I don’t want people to think I’m hypocritical in throwing a fit about other people’s errors in precision while not acknowledging my own.)

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2 thoughts on “Pointless Petition

  1. I would agree that the petition has some errors and that an animal-rights based appeal is probably the wrong approach.That said, I agree with the premise of the petition; that allowing the take of a species that is going to be facing monumental challenges as climate change sets in doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. When they said the wolverine is endangered, they are probably referring to the fact that USFWS did conclude that they warranted protections as a threatened or endangered species. I personally did not sign the petition as I don’t think it will have any effect whatsoever. I think our best chance right now to end trapping is the lawsuit that has been filed in MT State Court or an ESA listing in January. Do you have a position on Montana’s trapping season?

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