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Wolves in the wild: Room for livestock, too?

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By John Saul
The Seattle Times

Len McIrvin, one of the owners of Diamond M Ranch, says, “Wolves have never been compatible with raising livestock.” But turn McIrvin’s statement around: Raising livestock has never been compatible with wolves. That prompts other questions. Should protection of livestock take precedent over protection of natural wildlife?

Wolves in the wild: Room for livestock, too?

A wolf in Yellowstone National Park. AP Photo by Boris Grdanoski

Len McIrvin, one of the owners of Diamond M Ranch, says, “Wolves have never been compatible with raising livestock.”

From that, the rancher in Stevens County concludes that wolves should be done away with, claiming that 12 of his cows or calves have been killed or injured by wolves. And so, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sharpshooters have been sent out to kill four wolves in the Wedge Pack, one of the groups of wolves that have returned to the state since the re-introduction of the animals to the U.S. West.

But turn McIrvin’s statement around: Raising livestock has never been compatible with wolves. That prompts other questions. Should protection of livestock take precedent over protection of natural wildlife? Especially since McIrvin uses some public land for grazing his cattle?

By the 1930s, wolves had been hunted down and all but wiped out in the United States. Then in the 1990s, 14 wolves were brought from Canada and re-introduced in Wyoming. Since then, they have increased in number and have been taken off the Endangered Species List. Management of them has been turned over to the states.

Wolves are predators, and cattle are generally prey. So the two species often don’t get along very well. But in other Western states, efforts have been made to bring the two into an uneasy coexistence. In Montana, different herding practices for livestock, fencing and patrolling have been used to reduce the number of livestock deaths. Wolf hunts still take place to control their numbers, but the packs have grown large enough that Wyoming and Montana are able to sell tags to hunters. Once a designated number of wolves are killed, the hunting season for them is over.

Wolves belong in the wilds. Maybe livestock does, too, but it is going to take some cooperation on the part of ranchers with the wildlife department to make that happen. Short of that, perhaps the use of public lands for grazing should be re-examined.

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