Wolves were introduced two decades ago and with the passage of time, it seems there has been no softening of positions. Supporters make their annual pilgrimages to the park to see new litters of pups in the spring and to see wolves hunt in winter. Their economic impact to the regional economy continues to grow. Wolf detractors continue to argue the social and economic costs they are forced to absorb. The symbols both sides use have changed very little. Entrenchment of their relative positions seems deeper and more “wicked”.

Even as the numbers of individuals increases, the future of both bears and wolves is in no way certain. If bears are delisted, which seems imminent, there will be pressure for a hunting season in the region. That will result in the death of breeding age sows and cubs will lose mothers they depend on for their first 2-3 years. Climate change, a blister rust, and mountain pine beetles are threatening the whitebark pines (Pinus albicaulis Englm) whose seeds act as an important food source for grizzlies.  Energy development in the GYE and the associated roads fragment habitat. Human caused mortality due to hunting conflicts is rampant in parts of Wyoming.

In the bear’s favor however is our reorientation of how we think about them. The fact is, people of all political persuasions are increasingly tolerant of bears. This suggests that, if we leave them alone, these generalist feeders will probably get by and maybe even prosper.

For the wolf, Doug Smith is less sanguine. National parks are likely their last refuge from the rapid pace of rural sprawl.



One way to help resolve wicked problems is to understand the stories and who is telling them. In many cases, there is often a nugget of truth to most perspectives. As Doug Smith says – sometimes managers have to listen and then listen some more. Bob thinks this is perhaps the most important administrative skill for any public official but especially one dealing with a wicked problem. Even if it is about the most pedestrian of issues – sand.


Bob's advice is important at multiple levels. Science and policy have a culture and language that is often a source of divisiveness. Policy wonks speak in terms of costs and benefits that can be quantified or in the legalistic terms of the Endangered Species Act. Non scientists often speak to issues of family, culture, change and, loss. Listening to locals speak in nonbureaucratic terms challenges the public land manager to think beyond the regulatory world in which they reside. Respect for others often results in respect back, and as Bob points out – sometimes they are right and sometimes they just want to be heard.

Lessons from the recovery of the Yellowstone Grizzly bear and Grey Wolf reintroduction efforts may be useful in the consideration of wicked problems. Clearly, with the right institutional structures, eventual resolution of the conflict can be achieved – as has been the case with bear recovery. Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have their detractors but most residents accept them as the neighbor we rarely see, one deserving of vigilance and respect. One rarely hears the sort of vitriolic language toward bears so often aimed at wolves. The institutions and attendant culture of science that recovered bears clearly played a role in how we perceive them today.  

Wolves now occupy our space and until we realign institutional structures toward reconciling how to live with them, they will remain a wicked problem searching for a solution. The often overly sentimental attitude held by pro wolf advocates is qualitatively different than that held by those who internalize the true costs of having wolves as neighbors. Neither side listens to the other. It is the role of the manager as honest broker to foster that conversation.

Bob is optimistic that the managers of the future will be up to the task.




Further Reading