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Standing in another’s shoes

Posted by Mitch Friedman at Sep 30, 2012 11:30 PM |

Despite a life-long fascination with both wolves and the wild ecosystems in which they are essential, I can put myself—including my chicken-defending inner monster—in the shoes of a rancher suffering wolf depredation.

Standing in another’s shoes

My sincere hope is that this does not drive us farther apart, but instead helps stakeholders better understand the roles and expectations all around. Photo: Ranchers, biologists, conservationists at a field tour we hosted in 2009.

Friday, October 5th update: Read Mitch's statement to Fish & Wildlife Commission

In the pre-dawn dark of a spring morning, I caught a possum in my chicken coop. I’m glad nobody was around to see the monster I turned into.

Despite a life-long fascination with both wolves and the wild ecosystems in which they are essential, I can put myself—including my chicken-defending inner monster—in the shoes of a rancher suffering wolf depredation.

It is right that we celebrate the return of wolves to Washington and that we work for their protection and recovery to the extent that they can play their part in nature’s script. Wolves belong here, and the ecological and social benefits of their presence are many. I’ve been so fortunate to experience with my kids the magic of hearing wolves howl in the wild.

But it’s also true that some people, often those who raise livestock, bear a disproportionate cost for the return of wolves. We at Conservation Northwest value ranchers in part for the wildlife habitat their property provides, and we work with them to find solutions for wildlife and agriculture. While there’s no place for people who spread fearful myths of child-snatching mega-wolves or the end of elk herds, not all horrors are mythical.

About three-quarters of Washingtonians support wolf recovery. I believe that the public has the right to expect from ranchers:

  • Respect for the values of those who support wolf recovery,
  • Acceptance that wildlife belongs to the people and that property ownership (and especially the privilege to graze livestock on public land) comes with responsibilities to wildlife and other public resources, and
  • A genuine effort to adopt stewardship practices known to reduce the risk of conflict between wolves and livestock.
The ranchers have a complementary right to expect things from us:
  • Help with new costs of doing business, including learning and employing new techniques to avoid or minimize predation loss,
  • Understanding that ranching isn’t easy and that the economic margin for many ranchers is painfully thin, and
  • Respect for the ranchers’ lifestyle and challenges.

For the most part, wolf recovery is proceeding very well here in the state. We’ve gone from our first pack in 2008 to having likely between 8 and 12 today. All but one of those packs has been largely trouble free.

Conservation Northwest spoke out in August against the state wildlife agency deciding to kill wolves in northeast Washington’s Wedge Pack. Not in blanket opposition: we understand that periodic wolf removal is part of the deal. But in this case we thought the decision was premature and overly aggressive, based more on political pressure than the available evidence. But when additional wounded livestock emerged with telltale wolf marks, we accepted state action in accordance with the wolf recovery plan, ultimately involving the tragic removal of the whole pack.

My sincere hope is that the experience of this incident does not drive us farther apart, but instead helps stakeholders better understand the roles and expectations all around as we move into our future of a Washington with wolves. 

October 5th in Olympia, WA Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting:  Ask the state to expand their proactive, non-lethal efforts going into next grazing season and to develop enforceable standards for ranch operations near wolves. More info.
Please note: Comments to our blogs are moderated, We understand passions run high around wolves, but we aren't publishing any comments that are rude to other commenters or our staff, on any "side" of the issue. As of Tuesday, 10/2 our site is having issues with comments not posting due to a technical glitch. If you don't see a "captcha" your comment will not post. Please come back later.
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