Reaction To Popular Super Bowl Ad Reveals Humorless, Factually Challenged Environmental Lobby

Brian Seasholes Policy Analyst, Reason
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The Budweiser Super Bowl commercial, in which a lost puppy finds its way home and is saved from a wolf by its Clydesdale horse buddies, has been crowned the game’s ad that is most popular with Americans — except for the humorless and factually challenged environmental lobby.

The Endangered Species Coalition (which consists of most of the major lobbying groups, including the National Audubon Society, World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Wilderness Society, and Sierra Club) had an online petition trying to get Budweiser to pull the ad because it supposedly demonizes wolves.

Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Defense Council scolds Budweiser while strongly implying Budweiser drinkers are unsophisticated: “So, shame on you, Bud! America’s, um, most sophisticated beer drinkers deserve a better bad guy.”

There is, however, one rather large problem with these rants: each year wolves kill scores of dogs in the U.S., including cute Labradors like the one in the Budweiser ad. Just a few years ago the Minnesota Star Tribune ran an article titled, “More wolves attacking pets, livestock.” According to Adrian Wydeven, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wolf program coordinator, who is quoted in the article, “The number of dog attacks at or near homes was the highest we’ve ever seen. It’s the highest count we’ve ever had.”

The article adds that Wydeven “said increased human-wolf conflicts are due to a rise in the wolf population coupled with the lack of state authority to remove problem wolves. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin are seeking to remove the wolf from the federal endangered species list and return management to the states, which would allow greater flexibility in controlling problem wolves.”

Yet in objecting to the Budweiser ad, the Endangered Species Coalition claims that wolves “only display anything resembling the cartoon-like aggression your advertisement suggests when they are threatened.” Tell that to the hundreds of people in the U.S. whose dogs have been killed by wolves. In fact, wolves often seek to kill dogs, which they see as fellow canines encroaching on their territory. This is the reality of wolf-dog interactions; not the Bambi-like, kumbaya situation portrayed by environmental lobbyists in which wolves and dogs live in peaceful harmony.

If you want a more factually based view of wolves, take a look at the presentation put together by John Hart of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that contains grisly photos of livestock and dogs killed by wolves. Occasionally wolves even go on sprees, known euphemistically as “surplus” killing, in which they kill many more livestock than they can possibly eat.

Despite that wolves can cause lots of damage to livestock, pets and hunting dogs, and force farmers and ranchers to incur substantial costs, groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council ($129 million annual revenue) and the Endangered Species Coalition don’t contribute a nickel to compensating landowners (from 1987-2009 Defenders of Wildlife had a wolf compensation fund that was aimed primarily at garnering public support for wolves, not providing meaningful compensation to landowners, which is why the group terminated the fund). And even though wolves have been federally protected under the Endangered Species Act for most of the past four decades, the federal government also doesn’t provide compensation.

Fortunately, states with wolves have been more responsible and respectful towards the rural landowners who bear the brunt of urban America’s romance with wolves. These states provide compensation for livestock, pets and hunting dogs killed by wolves, but the amount of compensation often falls below the economic value of animals lost, and frequently no compensation is provided for animals that disappear and for which there are no carcasses.

When Wisconsin started its wolf depredation compensation program in 1985 the state paid out a few hundred dollars annually. That amount quickly rose to thousands of dollars as the wolf population exploded. Wisconsin now routinely pays in excess of $125,000 a year. In 2014, Wisconsin paid out $5,300 for three pet dogs and $56,000 for 23 hunting dogs killed by wolves. Over the past two decades wolves in Wisconsin have killed 36 pet dogs.

The ultimate agenda driving objections to the Budweiser ad is revealed by the Natural Resources Defense Council: “The ad comes at a particularly bad time: Gray wolf populations are still struggling to recover after decades of fear-driven persecution, and wildlife organizations are currently battling to keep them protected under federal law.”

Again, a dose of reality sets the record straight. States across the Great Lakes and Rocky Mountain regions have thriving wolf populations. Minnesota’s population has held steady at around 2,500 for the past two decades, and wolf populations elsewhere have skyrocketed over the same time period. Wolves in Wisconsin and Michigan have increased to about 650 in each state, and in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming the total wolf population is around 1,500.

Despite that wolf populations are healthy and have far exceeded their recovery goals under the Endangered Species Act, groups like NRDC and the Endangered Species Coalition are fighting to keep them listed under the Act. These groups object to state management, which includes carefully regulated, scientifically based wolf hunting.  This is ironic because these groups claim the Act is a success due to helping the wolf. Yet advocates of the Endangered Species Act don’t want to let the wolf run free and declare victory because the wolf is such a good marketing, fundraising, and land use control tool. Such is the tawdry reality of these groups that constantly search for attention from the media and politicians, contributions from gullible supporters, but do little if any meaningful conservation work. Which is why these groups should be referred to as a “lobby.”

So the next time you hear something from the environmental lobby about beleaguered wolves, open a Budweiser and toast state-based wolf conservation and this country’s long-suffering rural landowners. This Bud’s for you.