No one wants to kill wolf puppies. You might as well kill dog puppies. So we have thoughtful, well-meaning people demanding our state Department of Fish and Game, as official policy, refrain from such behavior.
Their thoughts should run a little deeper.
Despite the understandable revulsion virtually everyone feels toward the idea of killing innocent puppies, it is hardly a forbidden act. Sometimes taxpayers even ask public employees to do the job, if necessary or justified by circumstances. That job - animal control, as its neatly termed - is one almost everyone understands has a broader benefit that outweighs the immediate distaste we feel toward the actual physical task.
The same understanding should apply when we consider whether the state should be allowed to kill wolf pups as part of its predator control efforts. The state should retain this option, not because killing wolf pups is an intrinsically "good" thing, but because doing so can serve a broader public purpose.
To see this clearly, we have only to look at the situation on the Alaska Peninsula where this latest wrinkle in the predator control debate flared up. The state's program to kill wolves in one area already has made a dramatic improvement in the calf survival rate of the local caribou herd. That's a broader public good, one that can be appreciated by both caribou hunters and caribou watchers.
While the state in the above example focused on killing adult wolves, employees did kill some pups whose parents had been shot. The incident created much outrage in some quarters. Most of it reflected the sentiments expressed by our colleagues at the Anchorage Daily News last week. They noted that "it seems inhumane for humans to kill utterly defenseless creatures."
"Utterly defenseless creatures" is a wide category that encompasses, for example, cows in a pen bound for slaughter. If the moral problem with killing them arises from their defenselessness, must we give our market-bound cows more of a fighting chance?
Of course not. We allow the killing of animal life where it serves a purpose. When our public officials are given the task, we try to ensure that it be done swiftly and efficiently. Killing wolf pups as part of a well-considered predator control program falls well within those guides for good public policy.
Some note that state law prohibits such "denning" of wolf pups by private individuals. The prohibition arises not from a desire to defend defenseless creatures but from the need to prevent undetected over-harvest. That's not a concern when state biologists are doing the job.
Our Anchorage colleagues lamented that wolf policy seems driven by a Board of Game whose seats are occupied only by hunters looking out for hunters. If this is true, then in a few years, if our colleagues visit the Alaska Peninsula on a wildlife-viewing safari, they should avert their eyes when they see a newly abundant caribou herd with a rebounding wolf pack trotting behind.