As I've said before, ranchers shouldn't be afraid of the Big Bad Wolf -- now that a small number have established residence in Oregon. Disease and severe weather kill vastly more livestock, so cattlemen's freak-out over wolves returning to our state is uninformed and irrational.
(Political correctness note: I would prefer to say cattlepeople, but ranchers have decided to call their umbrella group the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, so I bow to their preference. And it's good to see that two women have been past presidents of the OCA, one even daring to be photographed -- gasp! -- without a cowboy/cowgirl hat.)
Today the Salem Statesman Journal ran a guest opinion by Bill Hoyt, current president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association. It was titled "Oregon cattle industry needs help to stay strong."
Well, Bill, your members already are getting lots of help from us taxpayers, who are subsidizing cattle grazing on public land in what has been correctly called welfare ranching. As noted in a previous post:
Many ranchers in Oregon graze their cattle on public lands. According to the “Welfare Ranching” book, federal permittees pay only $1.35 per month to graze a cow-calf pair while the average monthly cost of grazing a cow-calf pair on private lands is $11.10. So us taxpayers should have a lot to say about what happens on public ranchland, since we’re the ones subsidizing the ranchers.
Face the facts, ranchers. You're feeding at the public trough.
Government is keeping you in business if you graze cattle on federal land. So this is one reason why you need to go along with the public will regarding wolves. Which currently is saying, "Let them become part of the balance of nature again."
In this regard I agree with Bill Hoyt's call for taxpayer funded compensation for Oregon ranchers if it can be proven that wolves were responsible for livestock deaths. This part of his opinion piece makes good sense:
It is our firm belief that if the political and social will in Oregon is to foster the emerging wolf population, this will not take place in a vacuum. We also feel strongly that the cost of maintaining the wolf population should not be born entirely by one segment of society.
Absolutely. But in states with wolves only 1-2% of unplanned livestock deaths are caused by predators, and most of those killings are by coyotes. So wolves aren't a big impact on cattlemen's bottom line.
Why, then, are ranchers making such a big deal out of a few wolf breeding pairs settling in Oregon? I see several reasons.
One is a general fear of the wild.
Nature is, well, natural. Untamed. Unpredictable. Uncontrollable. (Though we humans do our best to pretend otherwise.) Wolves are a powerful symbol of wildness, causing unrealistic fears among people who expect reality to be all neatly fenced-in and manageable.
Last Friday the Portland Oregonian had a story about Carter Niemeyer: "Former wolf hit man an unlikely advocate." Niemeyer knows a tremendous amount about wolves, having killed and trapped many of them when he worked for the fed's Animal Damage Control (now wrongly named Wildlife Services).
The story quotes him:
"You have a tremendous amount of backlash so that now you have self-appointed wolf experts misinforming the public and instilling fear that wolves are going to kill your kids, wipe out elk herds and spread diseases."
And goes on to say:
None of that is true, he says. Still, he keeps calling for common ground, urging agencies to co-investigate suspected wolf kills, with transparency and oversight. He wants more conversations with ranchers and encourages more nonlethal controls. And he hopes people learn more than the "Little Red Riding Hood" storyline of the Big Bad Wolf.
Me too. I'm going to let Bill Hoyt know about this blog post. It'd be great if he'd inform members of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association about the Niemeyer story, so they could become better informed about what is really true about wolves.
I'll admit, reality is tough to handle. But it's the best place for us to find common ground. Here's another excerpt from the Oregonian piece:
By 1990, he [Niemeyer] was a full-time wolf specialist, investigating and mitigating the wolf problem in Montana. He felt more like a sociologist, mediating between furious landowners and environmentalists, trying to determine whether wolves were responsible for livestock kills. Most of the time, the field investigaton showed they were not.
"I felt people pushing me to simply rubber-stamp what they thought was happening and their entitlements," he says.
So another reason for wolf-fearing is ignorance of the facts, along with attachment to one's current state of illusion.
Ranchers wrongly believe that wolves are a much bigger threat to livestock than they really are, so they jump to an erroneous conclusion -- wolf kill! -- when they see a dead animal.
Again, ranchers need to remember that when they're using public land, they're getting a taxpayer funded benefit, just like welfare recipents do. They should feel grateful for that subsidy of their operations and not complain when reasonable restrictions are placed on their use of public property.