Opinion

Idaho’s livestock industry is crying wolf

Contrary to the Idaho Cattle Association’s assertions, wolves aren’t ravaging Idaho. The Sept. 20 opinion piece in the Idaho Statesman claims wolves killed 88 livestock or guard dogs last year in Idaho, but there are 2.6 million cattle and sheep in the state. The livestock industry is crying wolf in an effort to justify a massive federal wildlife-killing program, with 1.3 million native wildlife killed last year alone at taxpayer expense. This killing destroys the integrity of the West’s mountain ecosystems.

The Cattle Association neglects to mention that Wildlife Services, the federal agency tasked with killing native wildlife for the agriculture industry’s benefit, has been actively promoting a program of exaggerating wolf kills by classifying dead livestock lacking any bite marks as wolf kills. This is an agency struggling to justify its own existence, inflating wolf-kill numbers to create an artificial crisis. Color us skeptical, and we would be happy to take the association up on its offer of joining them out in the field.

Between July 2017 and May 2018, this federal agency spent over half a million taxpayer dollars and killed at least 53 wolves in Idaho to avenge livestock depredations, despite mounting scientific evidence showing that predator killing doesn’t reduce livestock losses.

Moreover, most of Idaho’s beef cattle get shipped off to feedlots at year’s end, and from there, to the slaughterhouse. Since beef cattle are bred and raised to be killed, it is hard to ask the public to accept that in rare instances when a cow ends up on a wolf’s menu rather than a human one, that this is somehow unfair and represents a moral outrage. Much less a reason to try to kill the “offending” wolf, or any other wolf they can find, in retribution.

We humans should try harder to fit in with the natural order of things. If livestock are to be pastured in the untamed West, a few losses to the native predators is just part of the cost of doing business. Cattle and sheep would be much happier and more productive grazing on pastures with deep soils and abundant rainfall east of the Mississippi, instead of damaging the arid lands — and fragile fish and wildlife habitats — of the West. And in these more ecologically suitable areas for non-native livestock, cattle and sheep producers can find pastures far from the nearest wolf, if wolves are really an overwhelming concern.

Nonlethal methods to discourage wolf predation on livestock are also a workable alternative. In the Tom Miner Basin of Montana, just outside Yellowstone National Park, cattle producers have avoided high levels of predation by native wildlife despite burgeoning populations of both wolves and grizzly bears.

The West is a wild and untamed place, and Westerners like it that way. We are hardy, self-reliant folk who aren’t afraid of “the big bad wolf” of fairy tales. In fact, wolves, grizzly bears and other native predators are an important part of that untamed legacy. We neither need nor want a taxpayer-subsidized agency to kill off our native wildlife.

Erik Molvar is a Laramie, Wyoming-based wildlife biologist and Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit conservation group working to protect and restore watersheds and wildlife throughout the West.
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