January 21, 2008

Last Saturday I attended the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Wolf Awareness Meeting in Colville. It drew attendees from all over the 7th District, including one County Commissioner each from Pend Oreille, Ferry and Okanogan counties plus two from Stevens. The fears are real and substantive – loss of livestock and resulting economic loss, reduction in hunting related tourism income, loss of pets, danger to recreationists and those who live in the woods. Although I signed the petition to oppose wolf reintroduction, the wolves are introducing themselves from Canada and Idaho without any human assistance. I rather doubt the wolves will read the petition.

In an environment with no humans, the predator and prey species would reach an equilibrium naturally. We choose to raise livestock (prey) for our own uses, artificially boosting the availability of prey. Therefore, we have a responsibility as good stewards to artificially limit the quantity of predators to match the availability of their natural prey and keep them away from ours.

Wolves have proven themselves capable of surviving and thriving without another predator to counterbalance their population. Without human hunting, they will move aggressively into areas of human habitation. Wolves need to be managed the same way as cougars moving into conflict with humans – by active hunting to teach them where we stand on the food chain.

The economic loss is another big question. Paying ranchers for confirmed wolf kills seems simple, but has flaws. First, Defenders of Wildlife has set unrealistic requirements for precautions to prevent conflict between cattle and wolves. If the requisite lights, whistles and horns have been provided, finding the carcass soon enough to preserve the scene and getting an investigator there as quickly as necessary to have positive confirmation provide additional high hoops to jump through. The hassles and limitations of reimbursement lead directly to “shoot, shovel and shut up” as the best of a batch of bad choices. If the Defenders of Wildlife really want to see wolves active in the wild, they should be paying for numbers of wolves alive instead of numbers of cows dead. Give ranchers a financial incentive to co-exist instead of begrudging them reimbursement for losses. Pay ranchers to manage wolves sustainably on their land, including hunting the ones that develop a taste for beef, horse, lamb, or goat and lose their fear of humans.

I’ll bet some smart producer would take the money and start marketing local, sustainable, free-range, grass fed, wolf friendly beef! If dolphin friendly tuna can become a marketing gimmick, maybe wolves have the same potential. Or maybe not, there’s always that Little Red Riding Hood image and all the bad publicity from Peter and the Wolf performances for children’s music programs. Not quite the same as swimming with dolphins!