Wolves, Mosques, and Other Environmental Problems

Most environmental issues involve resource conflicts. One person wants to use a river to carry away her waste products, while another one wants to swim and fish in the same stream. Often these uses conflict and collide. A modern example of how “enviropreneurs,” or environmental entrepreneurs, come to see these conflicts involves wolf restoration to Yellowstone National Park. Since wolves were exterminated from the park by rangers in 1922, some people have worked like crazy to get them back against all odds. Ranchers of cattle and sheep despise the wolf for what it does to their herds. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Defenders of the Wildlife created a viable solution to the wolf predation problem, and the wolf now roams that part of the American West again. Defenders, and the hard work of Hank Fisher, created the wolf compensation fund to pay ranchers when there was a demonstrated kill of calves or lambs. In the early 1990s wolves were released back in the park, and they now thrive there. The plan isn’t perfect, but it has worked now for almost 20 years.

Hank now works with the National Wildlife Federation trying to solve similar resource use conflicts over grazing rights in the Montana, Wyoming, Idaho area. Ranchers with valid steer grazing permits issued by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have the legal right to put their cattle on certain public parcels of land for foraging, but grizzly bears and wolves like to use these same lands. Again, a resource conflict. The people who like wild wolves more than domestic cattle are frustrated, but Hank and his group have come to the situation with a bargaining solution. They buy the grazing permits from the ranchers, and with the aid of the Feds, they retire the permits. The rancher voluntarily gives up his rights, and the wildlife admirer gets what she desires: wildlife roaming and grazing free of domestic cattle. Win, win.

Now comes to us the thorny situation of a group of Muslims desiring to build a mosque on land that some others would like to use differently. Specifically, they would prefer that a mosque not be stationed so close to the site of the Trade Towers which were destroyed nearly 10 years ago by terrorists. To many on both sides of this resource use conflict, there are moral imperatives and all manner of ethical concerns, the right to worship and the right to “life, liberty…” to name two.

Yet, the land is owned by the Muslims, and there seems to be no question as to their proper title to the property. What would Hank Fisher do? I don’t know; I haven’t asked him, but I can suggest to those who want the mosque situated somewhere else, try to negotiate a deal or contract to either buy the land, or buy some other suitable land where the mosque might be alternatively located. Just like the friends of the wolf who want to use the land for their desires, why don’t those who oppose the mosque near Ground Zero, offer to buy the mosque site, or purchase some land elsewhere suitable to the Muslims wishing to worship in that part of Manhattan. Isn’t this better than a national political fight?

Those who fear the desecration of Ground Zero can use the newly acquired land in a way more to their liking, and the Muslims who wish to worship in Lower Manhattan can get their mosque without the rancor and resource conflict that has reached presidential proportions. Free markets, contracts, and property are often better tools than screaming, fisticuffs, and endless zoning commission meetings for solving resource conflicts among competing users.

UPDATE: Reason’s Ron Bailey provides more background on the wolf controversy.


  1. Randy Simmons says:

    Too bad Defenders have forgotten the lessons that Hank taught them. Now that wolves are firmly established they have shut down their Wolf Compensation Fund, leading some critics to believe the Fund was part of a bait-and-switch plan all along. Hank is an honorable person, I worry that the current leaders of Defenders are not honorable.

  2. According to Hank, Defenders had always planned (and told ranchers) that they were going to stop the compensation fund once the wolf was delisted. i am not sure exactly why, but probably because once delisted, the ranchers, and others, could hunt.

    I surely don’t know for sure, but i don’t think they intended to mislead anyone as they had always stated that they would end the fund once delisting took place. i’ll ask around about why they made that policy.

  3. Priscilla Terry says:

    I recently returned from the Pine Butte ranch west of Choteau Montana, where we visited with a rancher. He said that ranchers are getting along well with the grizzlies, but the wolves are a different story. In terms of compensation, he said it is very difficult to show actual proof that it was a wolf that killed a calf.

  4. I understand you are trying to bring a new light to this debate, but I chafe at the rough analogy. The predatory wolf and ranchers cattle bear almost no resemblance to the peaceful muslim worshipers and the memory of the victims of 9/11. In one land is more at issue, while in another it’s about people, who are rarely comparable to animals.

  5. Bryan, my use of analogy was solely meant to say that resource conflicts, wherever they might occur can sometimes be resolved through negotiations, contracts, and exchange. i did not mean to compare people to animals, but one conflict to another.

  6. It is interesting to note, and i doubt he got the idea from this blog, that Donald Trump as precisely proposed the same solution as discussed above. Apparently, the land owner has rejected his offer. see the story at!2345

    which also discusses the idea that Trump is proposing a long term solution as well. i am hardly a fan of the publicity seeking Mr. Trump, but in this case, i think he has put his money where his mouth is, and good for him.