Protection of Wolves: Biological Ecosystems and Human Interests

grey wolf
Claudia Khourey-Bowers, Kent State University
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


After being extirpated from Yellowstone Park and other western habitats in the 1930s, gray wolves were reintroduced during the 1980s. The recovery effort has been so successful that gray wolves may no longer be considered a threatened species and may be subject to unrestricted hunting.

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Learning Goals

Students should explore questions related to wolf populations. Do the ecological relationships of predator and prey populations, specifically gray wolf and elk, warrant a return to hunting of the gray wolf? What are the economic issues surrounding the hunting of wolves, such as effect on ranchers, hunters, and eco-tourism? Can humans and wolf populations co-exist?

Context for Use

The topic of this structured academic controversy may be appropriate at the middle school, high school or college level. As with any structured academic controversy, advance preparation by the students and instructor is essential. The Town Council itself will take 40 - 60 minutes, depending on the depth of arguments that you expect from the students. Students should be given significant out-of-class preparation time to do the necessary reading and to construct their presentations, and they may need some in-class time to prepare with their teams. Students should have the guiding questions ahead of time as they prepare their comments.

This structured academic controversy topic may not have immediate relevance for many students, but it brings to focus the larger issues of sustainability and stewardship. This activity could be used in studies of ecology, wildlife policy or environmental studies.

Description and Teaching Materials

The purpose of this exercise is to provide an opportunity for examination of different perspectives on why the gray wolf was reintroduced into many western states, the success of the reintroduction, and the benefits and problems from the recovery of the gray wolf population. As a result of its increased population in the last ten years, the gray wolf may no longer be considered "threatened" under the Endangered and Threatened Species Act and may be subject to hunting.

Students will be given opportunities to learn about the life history of the wolf, its place in its natural ecosystem/s, and the interconnections between populations of wolves and native herbivores and human predation or protection. Groups of students will be expected to learn about these concerns from multiple perspectives, including the following:

  • Fish and wildlife agency
  • Ecologists
  • Eco-tourists to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon
  • Hunters and ranchers

Outline for using this activity

  1. The class will be divided into 4 groups. All students are to read from the listing of suggested electronic resources provided. Each group will be given a specific perspective to become "experts" on for the Town Meeting. Each group is expected to become expert representatives of their group's position, yet remain open-minded about the worth of what each other group has to contribute to the discussion. (worth 25 pts)

  2. Each group will prepare a detailed, yet concise written summary of their position [fish and wildlife agents, ecologists, tour guides, and hunters & ranchers] on wolf protection. Your group's summary should be typed, 2 - 3 pages, and can be used during the Town Council. (worth 20 pts)

  3. During the town meeting, each group will present, according to the protocol, their summary information, as well as prepared responses to Question Sets A & B (in handout below). These prepared responses should be typed, and represent in-depth thinking of all group members. (worth 30 pts) 

  4. Following the town council, each student will be asked to respond to open-ended questions about the instructional value of the process of structured academic controversy, as well as a personal reflection on the broader issues.

Town Council Agenda (Microsoft Word 24kB Oct8 08)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This SAC may initially be remote from students' interests unless they live in one of the Western states that is currently affected by the proposed changes in wolf hunting regulations. Some students, depending on their position to hunting in general, may also have preconceived positions about this issue. Regardless of students' sense of conviction regarding the issue, it is important to emphasize the instructional goals: to expand individuals' perspectives and to promote understanding of other points of view; and to develop deeper understanding of the complexities of predator/prey relationships.

At the conclusion of the SAC, students may be eager to talk about how the SAC changed their way of thinking and more importantly, how the exercise gave them insights into others' points of view.


Multiple approaches to assessment are possible with SAC.

Students are expected to prepare their comments ahead of time, so those can be assessed with criteria that would be used with an essay or research report. Student or team performances during the Town Council can be assessed from the standpoint of effective communication, presentation style, respect and listening to other perspectives, or quality and organization of information.

Students will be expected to research and discuss the following questions related to wolf protection

  1. How did the status of gray wolves prior to the 1980s - 1990s influence their re-introduction and recovery?
  2. What have been some of the results of reintroduction of gray wolves in the 1990s - 2008?
  3. From your perspective, what have been benefits and problems from the reintroduction and recovery of gray wolves?
  4. What criteria should be used to determine if Gray Wolves should continue to receive protection under the Endangered and Threatened Species Act?
  5. Should restrictions be placed on types of hunting or length of season?
  6. Should keystone predators, including the Gray Wolf, be protected under a different set of criteria than for other species?

More importantly, use of SACs can change student beliefs and attitudes. Student beliefs and self-knowledge can be assessed through a short written response about the instructional value of the process of structured academic controversy, as well as a personal reflection on the broader issues. Student understanding of the complexity of predator/prey relationships could be assessed with construction of a food web specific to a particular biome or habitat.

References and Resources

International Wolf Center:

National Public Radio transcript from Jan. 2008 about change in government protection:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

Experimental (essential and non-essential) populations:

Wolf Recovery Foundation:

Wolf information index: (link may be unavailable)

Wolf Song of Alaska:



Guard dogs help ranchers protect livestock against wolves: