SRM Conference Yields Surprising Advice for Ranchers
By Frank Priestley, IFBF President
A recent column published in Beef Magazine by noted author, autism activist and animal science professor Temple Grandin, shows significant misunderstanding on livestock interaction with wolves.
Grandin is a well-known and respected consultant to the livestock industry who has done solid work on livestock handling and reducing livestock stress. However, her reporting on a recent meeting of the Society for Range Management (SRM) included a section titled “Four steps to coexist with predators,” that leaves us befuddled.
Step 1 recommending removal and disposal of all dead animal carcasses seems sensible. Step 4 recommends more human presence around herds. Both of those recommendations we can get behind.
Step 2 is where the confusion ensues. The panelists who spoke to the SRM conference included Kent Reeves of Whole Picture Consulting, Montana cattle rancher Hillary Zaranek and Matt Barnes of Keystone Conservation. They claim indiscriminate killing of wolves and coyotes is counterproductive. They say because these animals form stable territories and individual packs develop tastes for specific foods, they shouldn’t be shot if seen among livestock herds. A wolf pack that prefers elk will leave cattle alone and keep other wolf packs out. The same principle applies to coyotes, they said.
This theory sounds humane and progressive in the context of an air-conditioned meeting room at a fancy hotel in front of a group of people with no financial risk in the livestock industry. But to believe a livestock owner should trust that the good wolves and coyotes will protect their herds from the bad wolves and coyotes is beyond foolish. Trying to tell a “good” wolf from a bad one is like looking into a box of chocolate covered candy. You might pick the delicious caramel center, but then again, you might pick the slimy cherry.
Our advice remains the same. Ranchers who plan on ranching next year and beyond don’t have the luxury of trusting one wolf and distrusting another. If you see a wolf – any wolf - among your herd, do not waste time attempting to determine what its intentions may be. Hold the rifle firmly against your shoulder, place the animal in the center of the crosshairs, inhale deeply, and then exhale slowly while applying steady pressure on the trigger. Repeat if necessary.
Step 3 is another that doesn’t seem to bode well for anyone thinking ranching could be a vocation with some longevity. Cattle breeds today are too docile and independent. The experts that spoke at the SRM conference said cattle need to learn to stand together and rekindle the herd instinct that protects bison from wolves. To some readers this suggestion may seem like a step backwards. After all, we haven’t been breeding for traits that make cattle wilder all these years. Most livestock owners appreciate cattle that are docile. We wonder if these experts gave any thought to the longevity of the average cowboy before they adopted the “re-wilding” of cattle policy. How many Americans go to work and get advice like “Hey you need to find some ways to make your job more dangerous?”
In 1996 our government led by Bill Clinton and Bruce Babbitt, turned out wolves and started a war against ranchers in Montana and Idaho. Another perspective might be that reintroduction of wolves was just another battle in a long line of land and wildlife management decisions designed to ultimately ruin the economy of the rural West.
These suggestions for coexisting with predators presented in the Beef Magazine article are examples of how one dumb idea begets another. We’re way beyond fed up with being told to find another way to comply with the dumb decisions that get passed west from Washington D.C. Idaho has the largest wolf population in the lower 48. The government’s count puts wolf numbers at around 800. We believe it could be double that. The wolf population here has grown faster than anyone could have predicted. It’s grown to the point where it has arguably become the greatest success story in the history of the Endangered Species Act. We have complied and we have adapted to living with wolves.
If you take a realistic look at where we are today, according to this article we have a group of our most respected range management experts meeting to discuss ways to comply with dumb ideas foisted upon us by our government. Reintroducing wolves was a colossal mistake. Compounding that mistake by changing management practices to better suit a vicious predator is not a solution to a problem that is much better solved with a hollow-point bullet.