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Wolf advocates not as sheepish as NYT claims

Is there a new dynamic playing out between ranchers and the defenders of wolves since they were taken of the endangered species list? The New York Times thinks wolf lovers and watchers have been chastened by the delisting and are newly compromising. “Aghast, some environmental groups had a moment of reckoning. Had they gone too far in using the Endangered Species Act as a cudgel instead of forging compromises with ranchers?”

Yeah, there’s a new dynamic: ranchers, hunters and government agents can kill wolves like they haven’t in a century. Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity points out that delisting wolves means that the USDA’s Wildlife Services unit, which kills wildlife for farmers and ranchers at taxpayer expense, will now be able to kill even more wolves for even more reasons. Like to promote elk hunting. Even though biologists say the wolves aren’t really hurting the elk.

Only about 1,100 wolves survive out west, but Wildlife Services kills an amazing number: 452 in FY2010 and 481 in FY2009. Wolves didn’t get kicked off the list (this time) by a bizarre political deal until April. In Idaho 169 wolves have been killed so far this year: 122 for hunters, 42 for cows and 5 for elk. Montana has already killed 136, more than half by hunting.

Leslie Kaufman’s story has some sense of history, but the entire premise seems based on a fabulist rancher’s point of view. I don’t know any wolf people who feel they have “gone too far.” Nor do they–we–feel we have been the ones overpowering the meek. The whole premise seems based on one quote: “‘I personally look back and say there were a number of things that conservationists did that were not effective and which blew up on us,’ said Lisa Upson, executive director of Keystone Conservation, which teaches ranchers non-lethal control methods.

Sure, maybe rhetoric gets overheated. Pat Goodman, senior wolf handler at Wolf Park in Indiana, says, wisely, that “it is very easy to bring shame on your cause and harden the attitudes of people on the other side by losing your temper, and making ad hominem attacks. Wolf advocates can help, she says, just by listening respectfully to ranchers and trying to work out ways to lessen the real impact of wolves. “Defenders did a very good thing in offering to pay stockmen to allow wolves to raise pups on their land, unmolested,” she says. “This turns wolves into a “cash crop” in that stockmen get paid even if the wolves do not take domestic prey (and not all wolves take domestic animals).”

For decades the biggest tactic of wolf watchers has been to develop non-lethal control and share the cost. Defenders of Wildlife paid for livestock kills until 2010 and studies how to use non-lethal methods–like disposing of carcasses or using shepherds. (Ranchers says the criteria to prove losses are too high and the payments too low.)

But the New York Times balances the whole story on a single quote about a non-specific regret: “‘I personally look back and say there were a number of things that conservationists did that were not effective and which blew up on us,’ said Lisa Upson, executive director of Keystone Conservation, a Montana-based nonprofit group that offers ranchers help with nonlethal control measures.” It’s not like wolf advocates were out there shooting cattle on the sly. Upson even says she tried to share the cost of someone to guard cattle only to have ranchers use the money to hunt wolves by helicopter. Defenders says only 0.1% of cattle losses are from wolves.

What the story doesn’t get at is the sense of imbalance and injustice wolf lovers feel. I don’t think anyone, even ranchers, thinks that the convoluted budget rider that took wolves off the list by Congressional fiat, with no hope of judicial or scientific oversight, is how we like to run the country. And, in fact, the Center is fighting whether that’s Constitutional.

“This is an attack not just on the protection wolves, but also an attempt to undermine the Endangered Species Act as a whole,” Robinson says, sounding not particularly timid or bowed.

The federal government supports opponents of wolves–whether they are ranchers or elk hunters. Wildlife watchers far outnumber these groups, but we don’t get the kind of federal love. A rancher can graze cattle at a far reduced rate on federal land, then get another branch of the federal government to go out and kill wolves on their own land. That doesn’t even take into account all the lax meat inspection rules that favor meat producers over American families.

Yes, we lost that battle–for now. (The Center for Biological Diversity is appealing.) But wolves got defeated by stronger political opponents, not by science or deft arguments.

Check out the Center for Biological Diversity


wolf Where to SEE WOLVES (plus coyote, coywolf and any wild canid)

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