Thursday, April 21, 2016

Open Range: A deal’s a deal, including the wolf plan

By Barrie Qualle
For The Cheiftain
Published on April 19, 2016

My Dad was odd in some ways. I never heard him cuss, he didn’t drink, never smoked a cigarette and never lied. He did, however, really appreciate a good looking woman, the only thing I might have inherited from him. This was a personal code he had, not because he was afraid of going to hell or because he had any deep religious convictions.

As far as I know he never attended any church and never talked about religion to anyone I remember. Your word and a handshake sealed a deal and was honored more than any contract would be. This was how things were done in ranch country and to a great extent still are. The biggest deal I ever made was on a handshake. For this reason ranchers are often naive in that they continue to take someone’s word as their bond.

Oregon’s wolf plan was a deal agreed to by environmentalists and ranchers. The problem has been that whenever the plan was followed and a rogue pack was supposed to be dispatched, the environmentalists sued and stopped the whole thing.

The recent elimination of part of the rogue Imnaha pack has probably saved a lot of wolves’ lives. This is the pack that continuously killed domestic livestock on both public and private land and trained their pups to do the same. The reason I think it will save wolves lives is that the ranchers have tried to follow the wolf plan at great personal expense. When the environmentalists go back on the deal by suing to stop the agreed upon enforcement, the ranchers’ frustration level soars.

Ranchers have shown considerable restraint so far. That will not last if the other side continues to go back on the deal. You cannot expect someone to continue to adhere to their obligations if the other side never does. I would predict that if this time the plan had not been followed, open season on wolves would have followed.

In the past few years cowboying on the Zumwalt I have personally seen eight wolves within rifle range. It would have been simple to dispatch any of them and the likelihood of my being caught are practically nil. Most people have no idea how big and lonesome that country is. You can ride around all day and never see anyone other than the occasional aircraft.

I would give anyone 100-1 odds that any rancher that is a little careful could kill a wolf and get away with it. For this reason I think environmentalists should reconsider their adversarial position and instead court the good will of the ranchers and maybe save some wolves’ lives. A good start would be to spend their seemingly unlimited funds paying for depredation instead of trying to run some pretty honest and decent people out of business and using it to lobby their agenda. Any other group that imported a pest to destroy an industry and people’s livelihood would be sued and probably lose.

I wonder if environmentalists have ever considered changing the wolf plan in some ways. If, for instance, they agreed to pay for all depredation unless they could prove it definitely was not a wolf kill instead of the rancher having to prove it was. Probably the best change would be that if an area was declared wolf habitat, any depredation or missing cattle there would be considered a wolf kill. If a rancher’s cows’ conception rate or body score drops he should be compensated appropriately.

These changes would bring a lot of good will to the range, be a lot cheaper than fighting and save a lot of wolves’ lives. If on the other hand the wolf lovers just want to fight, they may lose what they are trying to save.

Columnist Barrie Qualle is a working cowboy in Wallowa County.

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