Rocky Barker: After wolf attacks, rancher regrets time in middle ground

Idaho StatesmanSeptember 2, 2013 

Nature was hard on Idaho ranchers in August.

First, the Pony and Elk Complex fires in the Mountain Home area killed more than 250 cows, according to some firefighter estimates. The Elk Complex Fire also killed about 100 head of sheep, just about the time they were ready to go to market, state officials said.

Meanwhile, 176 sheep died on the west slope of the Tetons in Idaho when wolves panicked them and they ran over a ridgeline and were trampled or suffocated. The sheep were part of a 2,400-head band owned by the Siddoway Sheep Co., grazing in the area of Fogg Hill near Tetonia.

Wildlife Services confirmed that wolves were the culprits, based on eyewitnesses, bite marks and tracks. At about $200 dollars a head, the Siddoway’s loss is about $35,000.

For Cindy Siddoway, the wife of Idaho Sen. Jeff Siddoway, this incident and another wolf attack on their flocks last week are the latest in a long string of losses, personal attacks and death threats that have made wolf reintroduction a nightmare.

“It’s painful,” she said.

Siddoway, who often was a voice for working across the philosophical divide, remembers all the meetings and all the political discussion on wolves. She always opposed reintroduction, but tried to find common ground in the 1990s with its main advocate, Hank Fischer, the Northern Rockies Representative of Defenders of Wildlife.

Today, she doesn’t blame the animal-rights groups who are trying to stop wolf hunting. She doesn’t target the people who were so intransigent about keeping wolves on the endangered species list that Congress stepped in. She blames Fischer, who left Defenders and often was critical when the group did not live up to his commitments.

“I’m angry with Hank Fischer and Defenders of Wildlife,” Siddoway said. “I wish we would have fought harder in the first place.

“You learn lessons from these experiences.”

Fischer spoke with Siddoway after my blog on this issue ran last week. He now works for the National Wildlife Federation and helped negotiate a grazing retirement for the Siddoways that helped them reorganize their operations several years ago.

It was one of 20 agreements reached between conservation groups and ranchers that have reduced conflict. He started Defenders’ compensation program, which paid more than a half-million dollars to ranchers over its 25-year life.

He’s troubled that Cindy blames him, but he’s more concerned that “a reasonable, intelligent person like Cindy” regrets her past efforts to seek common ground.

“I fear such a reaction from an opinion leader like Cindy only takes our local politics to a place similar to what we’re seeing today in the U.S. Congress, where people on the extremes have the most traction,” Fischer said. “Balancing wildlife needs with human needs is a never-ending challenge that can frustrate all parties.”

He’s not giving up, and I hope Cindy Siddoway doesn’t, either.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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