Friday, February 12, 2016

Wolves get a grudging welcome from Northern California ranchers

By Tim Holt February 11, 2016
Wolves such as OR 25, a 3-year-old male, have crossed the Oregon border, and Northern California ranchers are preparing to accommodate them. Photo: Oregon Fish And Wildlife
Photo: Oregon Fish And Wildlife 
Wolves such as OR 25, a 3-year-old male, have crossed the Oregon border, and Northern California ranchers are preparing to accommodate them. 
We are going to have a viable population of wolves in the far northern reaches of California, and it will be with the grudging cooperation of our ranchers.

That was the takeaway from a public hearing held last month in Yreka (Siskiyou County), where the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife invited public comment on its draft plan for accommodating our new four-footed residents, and where there were as many Stetsons in the audience as you’d see at a cowboy poetry convention.
Yes, there was some foaming at the mouth, some evidence of the government-hating libertarianism this region is known for. “We don’t want people in Sacramento telling us how to live our lives,” grumbled one rancher.

But on the whole, there was a lot of thoughtful comment by those in attendance, and the beginnings of a dialogue between those who are charged with facilitating the wolves’ re-entry, and those who will be most affected by it. There was a focus on practical, down-to-earth matters — the threat to one’s livelihood when livestock are killed by predators, and the impracticality of maintaining 24-hour surveillance on sprawling ranch lands.

There was not much discussion of the nonlethal methods that can be used to ward off wolf depredations, although a number of speakers strongly urged that radio collars be put on wolves so ranchers can be warned if they’re getting near their cattle or sheep. That idea is already in the draft wolf management plan, as well as hazing techniques that include spotlights and air horns, as well as guard dogs and mobile electric fences.

Suzanne Asha Stone was on hand as the Rocky Mountain field representative for Defenders of Wildlife. After listening to some of the ranchers’ comments, she said, “This is verbatim what we heard in Idaho 20 years ago,” when wolves were introduced in Yellowstone National Park. Ranchers in that state were naturally concerned about the impact those wolves would have on their livelihoods. Two decades later, through programs Stone and her organization have helped implement, nonlethal strategies have reduced wolf kills of livestock in Idaho to “near zero,” she said. And that’s with a wolf population than now totals 770.

According to Stone, “It takes a while living with wolves before people realize that their worst fears won’t come true.”

I think most ranchers in California’s far north respect the wildlife around them, but their relationship with it is complicated by the need to make a living. Looking closely at the strategies used in Idaho would be a good first step in helping convince them that there are ways to reconcile ranching with the presence of this new predator.

John Wayne has long been a conservative icon, the personification of rugged individualism in the Wild West. In the 1963 movie “McLintock,” made late in his career, Wayne plays a cattle rancher and land baron. At one point he tells his daughter what he plans to do with his holdings after he dies: “I’m gonna leave most of it to the nation, really, for a park, where no lumber mill (can) cut down all the trees for houses with leaky roofs, nobody’ll kill all the beavers for hats for dudes, nor murder the buffalo for robes.”

John Wayne was no tree hugger. But neither, like the ranchers up here, should he be reduced to a simple stereotype.


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