Oregon ranchers, who I’d think would be pretty tough guys, are scared to death of the mere possibility that a few wolves might one day find their way into this state. No wolves yet have crossed the border from Idaho, but the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has been laboring on a plan to deal with them if they do.
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association is freaking out about the plan, which is slated to be voted on tomorrow (December 1). They want ranchers to be able to kill wolves that even look cross-eyed at livestock, notwithstanding the fact that so far there are no wolves in Oregon and no livestock being threatened by the non-existent wolves. So it’s difficult to understand what the Cattlemen’s Association is so frightened about.
Yes, I realize that most of us grew up listening to the song, “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” If you’re a pig who lives in a house made of hay or twigs, and there’s a big-lunged wolf at the door, it’s reasonable to start quaking in your porcine boots. However, for the rest of us—which includes Eastern Oregon ranchers—wolves aren’t a threat to be much concerned about.
Check out these wolftrust.org statistics: Minnesota is estimated to have 2500 wolves. In the 22 years from 1979 to 2001, wolves killed 1200 cattle and 879 sheep. So each wolf killed less than one livestock animal per year. Idaho has only several hundred wolves. Oregon, zero.
So even if a few dozen wolves decide to come to Oregon, that’s no big deal for ranchers. Wolftrust.org shows that in states with wolves, predation from all types of animals (coyotes, mostly) accounts for only 1-2% of unplanned cattle and sheep deaths. Disease and severe weather kill hugely more animals.
Ranchers should chill about wolves and spend their energy worrying about other more serious problems. Like, how much longer is the public going to let them get away with welfare ranching?
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.
And I say, let the wolves alone. I don’t object to setting up a state-funded program to compensate landowners for wolf-caused livestock losses, but ranchers shouldn’t be able to kill wolves—whether or not a few livestock have been lost. That’s just the cost of doing business in a state that values wildlife and the environment.
I don’t see Oregon vineyards demanding that all birds be shot because they lose some of their grape crop to them. And I don’t see Oregon timber companies demanding that all deer be shot because they lose some young plantings to antler rubbing. So why shouldn’t Oregon ranchers accept that in the future they might lose a few cattle and sheep to some wolves?
Again, they’ve got other things to worry about. Like, as noted here, people are eating less beef for health reasons, the nasty environmental problems caused by cattle on public lands are becoming increasingly obvious, and more beef is being imported from other countries.
The big bad wolf should be one of the least of Oregon ranchers’ concerns. Let him be.