Wolf wars: Can man and predator coexist in the West?
As the gray wolf comes off the Endangered Species list, new questions swirl about whether the animal can survive without federal protection – and its impact on cattle and other wildlife. The view from one ranch.
(Page 7 of 7)
Idaho recently passed a bill declaring wolves "an emergency disaster" in the state to make it easier to eradicate them. The legislation said in part: "The uncontrolled proliferation of imported wolves on private land has produced a clear and present danger to humans, their pets and livestock, and has altered and hindered historical uses of private and public land, dramatically inhibiting previously safe activities such as walking, picnicking, biking, berry picking, hunting and fishing."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Can there be peace in the Wolf Wars?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mr. Camenzind, the biologist, says he believes the public anger and overheated rhetoric – brought on in part by fellow environmentalists who fought the delisting too long – could lead to an overkill of wolves. "We are in the middle of wild swings of the pendulum, and for the next few years we may be having a lot of dead wolves that didn't need to die," he says.
The Robinetts chafe at the extreme views on both sides as well. They see wolves as neither the demonic scourge that conservative ranchers purport them to be, nor the benign wonders of the woods that conservationists ennoble them as. To Jon, a genial man with a whisk-broom mustache, wolves have a right to exist in the West, but their numbers need to be controlled: Ranchers should be able to shoot the ones that get into their herds – something that doesn't easily happen if an animal is on the endangered species list.
"The challenges of coexisting with wolves and grizzlies isn't a fairy tale abstraction to the Robinetts," says Bangs. "Real wolves cause real problems that demand real solutions."
One thing that could ameliorate some of the hostility is for Washington to put more money into managing wolves and other animals after they are removed from federal custody. If compensation for livestock lost to wolf attacks were more generous and the process involved in getting it were less onerous, then some ranchers might be more receptive to putting up with the predators.
Similarly, some states might be less resistant to their presence if they had help with the millions of dollars in expenses of managing recovered populations. But the one thing Washington doesn't have these days is money.
Instead, the enduring wolf war, once the lawsuits are done and the hysteria diminishes – if it ever does – may come down to a test of tolerance. The fact is, more wolves now share the forests and prairies with humans than at any time since the close of the frontier in the late 1800s. The National Wildlife Federation's France says it will require both to adapt. In most places, he predicts that wolves will exist without people even realizing they are there, except for the occasional track in the snow and distant howl.
The Robinetts don't have a problem with that – as long as the howl does, in fact, remain distant.
"My great-grandfather would probably be shocked in seeing what Debbie and I have done to share the same space with wolves," says Jon. "When I was a much younger man, I wouldn't have hesitated to say the answer for all wolf problems is a bullet. But if they're not bothering you, they ought to be given some latitude. We can make this thing work. I know we can."
Editor's note: Staff photographer Ann Hermes produced this video, in which a rancher and retired biologist discuss the difficulties of delisting wolves in Wyoming.