MTU professor’s lecture discusses wolf conservation

Jon Jaehnig/For the Gazette MTU Professor John Vucetich was the most recent presenter for MTU’s distinguished lecture series. During his presentation, “It’s not about the wolves,” Vucetich discussed the importance and difficulty of interdisciplinary work.

HOUGHTON — As part of Michigan Technological University’s Distinguished Lecture Series, Professor John Vucetich of the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science gave a presentation in the Memorial Union Alumni Lounge on Tuesday.

The lecture, entitled “It’s Not About Wolves: Interdisciplinary Knowledge for a Sustainable, Just and Prosperous World,” drew on Vucetich’s experience as an expert trained in environmental science working with ethics experts in the field of conservation biology. “Environmental ethics and environmental science have the same goal … but that’s about the end of their similarities,” said Vucetich. “They ask different questions and have different understandings of what constitutes a good answer.”

The title of the presentation drew on the recent debate regarding a possible wolf hunt in Michigan, a topic in which Vucetich has been regularly involved.

“There’s not a single wolf biologist who does not become involved with wolf conservation,” Vucetich said.

The title also drew on Michigan Tech’s mission statement to “create a just, prosperous, and sustainable world,” a primary theme of the lecture.

Vucetich’s talk was organized as “a series of vignettes” that illustrated his 15-year career in environmental ethics. The first of these was that of a lion killed by a trophy hunter that set off a debate about the hunting of exotic species.

According to Vucetich, what made this particular lion special was that it was wearing a tracking collar that gave insights into the lion’s behavior.

“To have a history and expectations, that’s essentially what it means to be a human, or to be cared about,” Vucetich said.

Because Vucetich knew the Oxford professor who had been tracking the lion, the two began to work together on the debate regarding hunting as an aspect of conservation: If a lion’s habitat is only maintained because hunting the lion is valuable, then hunting the lion becomes an active part of maintaining that habitat.

“Conservation and sustainability is ethics in action, even if we don’t recognize it, and even if we deny it,” Vucetich said. “”I think we have a misconception that the point of ethics is telling other people what to do.”

Vucetich instead defined ethics as the “formal analysis of propositions pertaining to how we ought to behave.”

The next vignette involved working with an endangered wolf species in the American southwest, which became difficult due to vague wording in legal documents.

“There’s a legal definition of an endangered species,” said Vucetich, “It has this important vagueness that had never been appreciated.”

Vucetich’s work with the wolves eventually led him to present before the U.S. House and Senate on the issue.

To pursue a vision of creating a sustainable, just and prosperous world, Vucetich said, “It’s valuable to become an expert in your discipline because audiences are disciplinary, and those are the people you need to impress,” though he also said, “the limits of our ability to be interdisciplinary are the limits of that vision.”