The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)’s recent decision to lift the federal regulation protecting wolves in Wyoming – and allow hunters and ranchers to shoot wolves on sight across 90 percent of the state – has reignited the decades-old conflict between wildlife conservation objectives and the ranching industry. Native predator species, such as coyotes, bears, wolves and mountain lions, are critical to the functioning of ecosystems, helping to keep nature in balance. But as livestock farms and ranches have expanded, problems have often occurred where large predators come into direct contact with farmed animals, such as sheep and cattle. The FWS’s decision will allow anyone to shoot wolves on sight across most of Wyoming, although wolves will still remain off-limits inside the state’s national wildlife refuges and national parks, such as the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the Wind River Indian Reservation. But therein lays the crux of the problem: Most people still see “conservation” and “ranching” as two very separate – and often incompatible – objectives. In the pursuit of maximizing food production, we have done our utmost to eradicate the threat posed by nature to modern farming systems. At the same time, growing recognition of the damage that human activity is inflicting on the environment has fueled campaigns to protect and conserve threatened species and wildlife habitats.
The guerilla street artist Banksy has just unveiled a new exhibit in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Featuring self-dipping chicken nuggets and other animatronic oddities, this is an artist’s take on cultural and utilitarian attitudes towards animals-on the farm and in the home. A sign posted outside the shop proclaims, “Open for Pet Supplies/Rare Breeds/Mechanically retrieved meat.” In a statement distributed by his publicist, the secretive artist stated, “I wanted to make art that questioned our relationship with animals and the ethics and sustainability of factory farming, but it ended up as chicken nuggets singing.” Banksy brings up an issue that is often uncomfortable and rarely addressed in polite conversation. Should the animals we eat be afforded the same regard as the ones we depend on for companionship? A depressed Tweety bird brings to mind the current debate over California’s Proposition 2 and the controversy of confining farm animals to cages that prohibit natural movement. The exhibit will run until October 31 and is free and open to the public.
Image courtesy of http://flickr.com/photos/sabeth718/sets/72157607890649410/