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for people who care about the West

Why wolf recovery is a failure

  Dear HCN,

The recent article by Steve Stuebner about wolves in Idaho demonstrates why wolf recovery is an ongoing failure (HCN, 5/22/00: Activist calls for cease-fire on wolves). If it were not for a few livestock-free safe havens like Yellowstone Park and the core of central Idaho wilderness, there would be no wolf recovery whatsoever.

Lumping in wolf populations in these few safe havens with the rest of the wolf numbers biases conclusions. A more honest approach would be to look how many wolves are surviving and reproducing outside of fully protected landscapes. There is not a single wolf pack that I am aware of whose territory largely overlaps livestock that has avoided lethal control or removal of at least some of its members.

What no one wants to say is that these on-going wolf losses are the direct result of the livestock industry's irresponsible animal husbandry. There are no problem wolves; rather, there are only problem ranchers. Instead of reducing predator opportunity by use of guard dogs, herders, penning animals at night and removing carcasses immediately from the landscape, ranchers have successfully avoided these costs by extirpating the wolf from the West. They have successfully externalized what should be a cost of doing business in the West - protecting one's livestock from predators by reducing opportunities for predation.

Leaving cows untended for weeks without direct supervision is simply incompatible with wolf recovery - especially if the standard way of dealing with resulting depredations is to kill the wolf instead of fining the rancher.

It's like allowing campers to leave picnic baskets out at night and then blowing away the bears for eating the food. We don't allow campers to leave picnic baskets out, but no one is willing to tell ranchers that it's no longer OK to leave their four-legged picnic baskets out to tempt wolves.

Trying to restore wolves to the West without changing the basic way ranchers operate or even removing cows from more of the public lands is analogous to trying to restore salmon without talking about protecting riparian areas, leaving tree buffers along streams, or removing dams. We are treating the symptoms rather than the causes of the problem. We capture depredating wolves and move them. We put shock collars on them or play sirens to make them avoid cows. We try to frighten them with helicopters or firecrackers. Usually we just kill them.

All this manipulation is done merely because no one has the guts to stand up and say the real problem is cows.

George Wuerthner
Eugene, Oregon