Monday, April 6, 2009
The Wolf Issue, Part II
So, I've now introduced you to the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. I think I want to talk a bit about wolves, their biology, their behavior, and, especially, their social behavior. I want to give you some bits of information, and let you judge, for yourself, whether or not wolves should have a place on the land.
Aldo Leopold did many things during his lifetime but was more notable known as a naturalist/conservationist. (He wasn't always; Do a bit of research and find out what changed his life and his attitude). But I wanted to throw a couple of his quotes in here, quotes with which I think you might agree.
"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." -Aldo Leopold
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." -Aldo Leopold
Now, here are two questions I'd like you to ask yourself and see if you can answer at this point in your life: 1) Are wolves, as a part of nature, helping preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community (the community of all life in the Northern Rockies Recovery Area)? 2) Would allowing or supporting ranchers and hunters to kill off the wolf population in the biotic community, in which they live, help to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty?
What do we know about wolves and this recovery program?
*Since 1996, the wolf numbers have gone up every year, except this year, when it went down. (So, we began with 66; we now have about 1600).
*In 2008, livestock predation cases numbered 523 for all of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. About 245 wolves were LEGALLY killed in those states. (These are the reported numbers. It's expected that there are more killed illegally, which aren't reported).
*The Federal Government, in conjunction with the original reintroduction agreement, and along with other non-profit organizations, compensates ranchers for livestock lost to wolf predation.
So there are conflicts, between wolves and people who don't like wolves, or who do not want them around. That was pretty much a known going into the program. But there have always been efforts to lessen these conflicts, through lethal and non-lethal means. The point is, while there will always be some conflict, we can deal with it, and we can try and make it as fair as possible to all sides. While I want the rancher to be protected as he makes his living, I want tolerance and patience for the existence of wolves.
OK, I'm getting a little fuzzy with where to go from here. (I have a tendency to get off on tangents, regardless of the subject).
Why do ranchers hate wolves? Because wolves eat their livestock. That's the simple answer to it. The complex answer is that they're afraid that wolves will eat all their livestock, even if they've not had any wolf problems yet. And that would be bad for their business. I realize ranching is hard work. I realize that squeezing a buck out of all that work is really hard. But I also think there can be middle ground. I donate to a charity every year that pays into the compensation fund. That's right Mr. Rancher; I want to protect you too. But you have to take some responsibility. You have to assume some risk; That's just part of owning a business. Also, if you summer your animals up in the mountains or on "Free range," you've definitely got to assume some risk. (That's when most predation occurs). You can do things to protect your herds/flocks. Use guard dogs. This is extremely effective. Ride through your herds as often as possible to portray a human presence. (Wolves will avoid humans at almost all costs). OK, here's one of the most innovative things I've heard, but it was done in Europe, not here. Because wolves are fiercely territorial, and are usually pretty staunch about not crossing another pack's boundaries, a sheep rancher put a few loud speakers around his property and played recordings of a pack of wolves' defensive howls, several times a day. It worked like a charm. Zero wolf run-ins. I realize this isn't going to feasible in every case. But put your cowboy hats together. Surely you can come up with something.
Hunters. Oh the hunters. They should call most of you opportunistic killers of lazy convenience. Why do the hunters hate wolves? (Not all hunters do, I realize.) Because wolves are predators and hunters don't like competing with natural predators for game. Hunters like elk. Wolves like elk. The problem for hunters is that a pack of wolves is the supreme killing machine, and wolves don't have to wait until hunting season, or to see if they "drew a tag." I would dare say, and I'm not very naive on the subject, that MOST hunters do their hunting these days, primarily for a nice trophy to hang on a wall, with which to impress themselves and their peers. The meat is secondary, if used and eaten at all. (How about those trophy hunters going on "Safari" in Africa? Talk about a canned hunt. And they don't get to bring the meat home. What a blood-letting waste.) Wolves kill because they have to. If they don't they die. Face it Mr. Hunter; if a 90lb. wild dog can bring an elk down, it deserves that meal. And driving on the dirt roads in your huge truck or on your ATV, sporting your expensive gear, not the least of which is your high-powered rifle and scope, which you'll use to make that 500 yard shot, IS NOT HUNTING. How do I know? Because I grew up hunting. Anyway, while I can get behind the ranchers a bit, I just cannot conjure up anything sympathy for your plight. Sorry.
I think the hostility toward wolves is rooted in the traditions of hunting and ranching in the West. But I also think a lack of understanding and education is a big factor as well. Most of these anti-wolf people have never seen a wolf in the wild. Many of them cannot tell the difference between wolves and coyotes. Really, I think education about wolves and wolf biology would go a long way in quelling the madness. You many want to pick up another book, or visit some good websites, especially if the last pieces of literature you read were "Little Red Riding Hood," or "The Three Little Pigs."
Hunters will argue that their side should trump mine because of all the money they spend on licenses, permits, tags, and such, some of which ends up in conservation efforts. I think that's great. I too spend money on conservation efforts. I think it's a worthy cause. I'm glad you like to hunt. I just wish more of you did it for meat only. (I think you'd be a little less competitive and angry if you weren't so preoccupied with getting a bigger trophy than your buddies.) I'll add this as well: In Utah, according to the USFWS Survey, for every $1 spent on hunting and fishing, $2 are spent on wildlife watching. So, maybe my side trumps yours? No, remember I believe that we can reach middle ground and have everyone win in some way.
OK. I'll end there. There will be a Part III very soon, which will talk about all of the positives of having wolves back in the Wild West.
***Oh yeah, why did I post a picture of my two dogs? I'll touch more on that next time but, it's because our domesticated pet dogs are the same species as wolves. That's right, if it weren't for wolves, the rancher wouldn't have his heelers, the hunter wouldn't have his hounds, and Paris Hilton wouldn't have her tea cup poodle accessories. OH BROTHER!!!