Data about values are beneficial for resolving disagreements over conservation policy choices because values influence policy acceptance and compliance with conservation rules. Empirical conservation ethics integrate social science methods with conservation dilemmas to determine the origins of values and contribute new solutions to resolving debate. Using the case of genetically rescuing an inbred population of wolves as a policy exemplar, we explored (1) ethical paradigms invoked in justifying policy choices; (2) objects of moral relevance related to choices; and (3) ascriptions of responsibility for action. Discussion board posts revealed diverse ethical paradigms and ascriptions of responsibility, a strong tendency toward collectivism, and associations between some policy choices and ethical paradigms. Conservation ethics can help the conservation community better understand key human dimensions of conservation problems by providing a novel diagnostic framework for policy debate, structuring stakeholder engagement, and informing evaluation.