A WEST WITHOUT WOLVES……The Livestock Industry Hamstrings Wolf Recovery

On public lands in the great western ecosystem, livestock will not have priority. The grazing of livestock will and must be subordinated to the natural order of the bison and the predator……

 Former secretary of the interior Bruce Babbitt, speaking at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, January 2001

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Ranching has tremendous power and influence in the West, shaping policy and politics in the region. This has effected wolves for over a  century and until the balance of power shifts, wolves will continue to be caught in the crossfire.  

Michael Robinson explains how the livestock industry has done everything in it’s considerable power to rid the West of wolves. Their influence hangs over wolf recovery like a shroud, hampering it’s progress and causing countless wolves to lose their lives.

The article is dated but it clearly makes the case wolves are considered pests by agribusiness to be eliminated not recovered.  He wrote this piece while he was finishing his ground breaking book,Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and The Transformation of the West, published in 2005

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The Livestock Industry Hamstrings Wolf Recovery

By Michael Robinson

In the early twentieth century, the livestock industry lobbied for a government-sponsored campaign to eliminate wolves from the West. Today, the livestock industry is the major obstacle to wolf recovery. Cases in the northern Rockies and the Southwest illustrate how wolf management remains highly biased in favor of stock growers, even on public lands. Wolf predation was once a significant ecological force in many western ecosystems; public lands livestock grazing is at odds both with full wolf recovery and with ecosystem restoration.

Wolves were exterminated from the American West by a concerted campaign mounted by federal hunters and funded with local, state, and federal revenues. Using poison, traps, and bullets, the government pursued each wolf with the avowed goal of wiping the species off the face of the Earth.

The livestock industry was the sole beneficiary of, and the greatest political impetus for, this campaign. Today, the livestock industry stands at the heart of the opposition to wolf recovery and has blocked, hampered, and sabotaged reintroduction programs throughout the West. Unfortunately, the industry’s political clout has profoundly shaped wolf recovery programs that are supposed to be guided by science. (*instead it’s guided by pressure from ranching and hunting lobbies)

The Northern RockiesWolf reintroduction in the northern Rocky Mountains of Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho was contested by the livestock industry and its supporters in Congress for over two decades. Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat for a listed species is supposed to be designated, and the species protected from being killed-whether it is reintroduced or recovering through natural recolonization. However, because of the power of the livestock industry, the plan to reintroduce wolves to parts of Idaho and Wyoming resulted in a compromise that designated the wolves as an “experimental, nonessential” population. This designation meant there would be no special protections for wolf habitat and that wolves that preyed on livestock would be killed or removed from the wild. Provisions were even made to allow ranchers themselves legally to kill wolves rather than waiting for government agents to show up and do the job.

The fact that cattle require huge quantities of water means they will always be vulnerable to wolves in the American West. For in this largely arid region, water and water-loving vegetation are so scarce, and scattered over such wide areas, that cattle must be similarly spread out, and that makes protecting them from wolves uneconomical; thus, as their forebears did, ranchers rely on federal agents to kill or remove wolves. Domestic sheep, much less numerous in the West than cattle, are even more vulnerable to predators, especially when flocks are not well protected. Thus, although wolves are a federally listed endangered species, their containment and control by the federal government constitutes one more subsidy that taxpayers provide the livestock industry in the West. (Some ranchers would no doubt happily dispense with this subsidy, as long as they were free to kill wolves at will, including putting out poison baits for them, as was common in the nineteenth century.)

Since gray wolves were released into Idaho and Wyoming in 1995, the federal government’s “Wildlife Services” has executed numerous “control actions” because of wolf-livestock conflicts, killing a few dozen wolves (now thousands of wolves) either known or suspected of attacking cows or sheep. Particularly egregious has been the capture or “lethal control” of wolves on public lands. Privately owned livestock grazing on public lands clearly take priority over endangered gray wolves, restored at public expense. In addition, somewhere between ten and twenty wolves have been killed illegally in the reintroduction areas. In most of these cases, the perpetrator was never identified or charged.

Read the rest of the article:

Wolf Photos: Courtesy SigmaEye Flickr

Cattle Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Posted in: Public Land Degradation by Livestock, gray wolf/canis lupus, ranching and hunting influence, Wolf Wars

Tags: Wolves or livestock, wolf intolerance, Revised 10j rule bad for wolves, cattle, wolves in the crossfire

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