Gorilla in the room

 

Pay for Prey” (HCN, 7/23/18), written by Gloria Dickie, nicely detailed Oregon’s efforts to manage both ranchers and wolves. Economic compensation programs exist in other Western states grappling with ongoing wolf colonization. Concerns raised in both camps with regard to data accuracy and program graft also persist. Still, cultural divides have always best clarified this issue, as well as the remaining questions. Often the loss of traditions and family values are cited, along with dire economic consequences, as concerns regarding limiting range grazing allotments or charging actual market rates. The cultural losses are quite real, but it is misleading to suggest that all economic consequences are shared equitably. Similar losses were also experienced by other homesteaders, primarily sheepherders, whose lifestyles and incomes were effectively eliminated in Oregon during earlier settlement. 

The Stock Raising Homestead Act and the Taylor Grazing Act all resulted in substantial land ownership shifts from Indigenous people and earlier immigrants to U.S. citizens. A total of 10.5 million acres were homesteaded in Oregon, on what in many instances had been Mexican land grants. Families whose fortunes were lost still voice bitter remembrances, but today it’s drought and fire anxieties that fuel most frustrations. 

In the Pacific Northwest, the “snowpack drought,” combined with high temperatures, has led to extremely low flows in streams and rivers. Related drought and fire risks — and any economic mechanisms that might serve to mitigate these concerns — are not operating freely. Public-land management decisions in response to drought remain affected by the cultural perceptions of early homesteaders. During droughts prior to settlement, free-ranging grazers would have migrated out of the impacted area, but since that is no longer an option, the U.S. Forest Service has recently identified the need to reduce cattle numbers on drought-impacted public lands. Predictably, this alternative has not been widely embraced. 

Losses experienced through wolf predation are quite real, and I accept that reality, but I would also ask that the economic realities and shared costs of ranching also be accepted. Without that understanding we’ll never find a balance. 

Erick Miller 
Salida, Colorado

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