Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wolfing down

Over in Idaho, meetings are being held to discuss how their state will handle things after wolves are delisted as an endangered species.

Idaho has 673 wolves in 72 packs -- more than half of the region's total. The federal plan had a target of 15 packs. So hunting is going to commence in Idaho (unless some anti-democratic activists take it to court and win.) But how many is enough?

For sheep grower Harry Soulen, one of the advisory group members, that's too many.

"Zero is really good with me," said Soulen, a third-generation rancher from Weiser, while conceding that's unrealistic.

This is of course unrealistic given the current climate, and Montana Headlines is not in favor of endangering any species -- whether that species be wolves or ranchers. The same cannot be said for all interested observers, on either side of the debate.

Before Soulen and other ranchers who want wolves eliminated again are condemned as heartless and ignorant rubes, critics should consider their position from another perspective. Suppose a business owner is in a neighborhood where his building is being broken into on a regular basis, stealing a percentage of his inventory every year. If the police were to ask him how many break-ins he felt were acceptable per year, what would his answer be? If it isn't "zero," then he isn't much of a business owner.

And keep in mind that in this analogy, the business owner can build stronger windows, install burglar alarms, put up a fence around the property, etc. There are, to say the least, difficulties in accomplishing the same in open-range ranching.

But an interesting bit came from the other side, Defenders of Wildlife, who want hunting of wolves to be delayed for a jaw-dropping 5 years after delisting.

The article says that this group "has paid $700,000 since 1987 to ranchers hit by wolf predation."

What isn't mentioned here is that Defenders of Wildlife will stop their program after wolves are delisted, so they really shouldn't be citing those numbers as justification for telling states not to have any wolf hunting at all.

Defenders of Wildlife pays only for kills that can be absolutely confirmed by government officials, and only pays 50% for "probable" wolf kills. What doesn't get counted at all are the animals that simply disappear, and whose carcasses aren't found (given much of the country in question, that isn't going to be unsubstantial.) Also uncounted are the losses that ranchers haven't even bothered to report due to the complex and lengthy process of getting Defenders of Wildlife to pay up.

None of this is to minimize the good intentions of that organization -- but what became clear over time was that their eyes were bigger than their stomachs. Or rather, those intentions were bigger than their pocketbooks. And you can't blame them. Once they had what they wanted (self-sustaining wolf populations) and knew they wouldn't lose it due to the national political climate, their incentive to act like they care about ranchers was gone.

It should also be noted that hunters and outfitters who depend on elk populations are hit even harder than ranchers by wolf reintroduction.

In any event, left to their own plans, all three involved states would reduce wolf numbers substantially, especially in areas where there is active ranching, but won't by any means endanger the species. No-one will be completely happy with the political solutions that are found, but that is probably the definition of a good solution. Or at least as good a solution as one can find.

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