Blackfoot Valley Dispatch - The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

By Hope Quay
Blackfoot Valley Dispatch 

My Smart Mouth: Wolves at the door

 


One of the hottest debates I have witnessed in this part of the country during my lifetime has been on the “re-introduction” of wolves.

Please note that I place the term “re-introduction” in quotes, because the wolves that were introduced into Yellowstone National Park in the 1990’s are of the Canadian Timberwolf variety - a subspecies larger and more aggressive than the grey wolves that originally roamed the forests and plains of Montana.

According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website, “the gray wolf was extirpated from the western United States during the 1900s, primarily due to loss of habitat and conflicts with people...wolves as a self-sustaining, breeding population were probably extinct in Montana by the 1930’s.”

The first wolf den in the Western United States to be documented in 50 years was in 1986 in Glacier National Park, where a pack of migrant wolves from Canada had settled, denned and reproduced.

Wolves were then deliberately captured and transplanted from Canada into Yellowstone and central Idaho in 1995.

My question is, what did the masterminds behind wolf re-introduction think was going to happen? Right or wrong, these predators were hunted out of the area for a reason - as the West became settled and the bison, their main food source, disappeared, wolves did not coexist peacefully in an ecosystem that had become much more heavily populated by humankind. So, by what logic could reintroduction take place successfully in an altered habitat without once again creating conflict between two deadly predators, to the detriment of both?

Scrolling through social media I see a lot of “liberal” save the wolves advertisements and posts being liked and advocated by people who have never lived or worked an agricultural lifestyle. I do understand the good intentions and desire to undo some of the damage man has done that is behind them. However, facts are facts - the wolves that have swiftly populated Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are not the native wolves that were hunted out generations ago. They are non-native, apex predators that have been introduced into an ecosystem where they are wreaking havoc. 

I know everyone saw Dances With Wolves, and the wolf was so beautiful and majestic, and wouldn’t it be cool to have one for a buddy just like Lt. Dunbar? However, the thing people need to realize is that the West we live in now is not the West depicted by Hollywood. Wolves have quickly become a very real threat to a lot of generational, family businesses that are trying every day to be good stewards of the land and of their livestock, and to bring ethically raised food to your table.

I saw one person’s comment on an Instagram post I came across that read “weren’t wolves just re-introduced not that long ago? How many could there even be?” Well, the answer is, a lot. Probably more than have been accounted for. Definitely enough to change the migratory patterns of wildlife and keep them out of the mountains and in ranchers’ hay all winter and meadows all summer, eating up thousands and thousands of dollars. Enough to change the patterns and behavior of livestock, placing them under stress and ensuring they are not grazing freely and happily gaining the weight they should be. Enough that I would never let my step- kids go out exploring alone on the ranch I roamed freely at their age.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a pretty liberal person, socially. I don’t advocate pillaging the environment or destroying nature. But this corner of the American West is also my culture, my family history and my lifestyle. It is, specifically, my family and our livelihood that are threatened by the poor decision to introduce Canadian Timberwolves. We have wolves - lots of them. We lose livestock and pets to them. We are those people who feel the effects of these predators being introduced to a place where they were hunted out a century ago, and it’s not nice or pretty.

 It's easy to sit back from a distance and have an opinion without really seeing or experiencing the truth of the matter, so I am speaking that truth, from the standpoint of a person who can see the argument from both sides. Facts are facts - this is not good, and it's only getting worse.

Most ranchers are NOT the gloating cattle barons of old, surveying the range they have divided and destroyed from their huge Victorian mansions. While the huge cattle operations do exist, so many of us are small family operations struggling to make ends meet and keep going in a way of life that is an iconic part of the American identity, and is also slowly vanishing from this country.

Running a grass-fed operation takes a lot of capital and most ranchers are barely keeping it going out of a love for the land their family has stewarded for generations. Each loss and setback hits a small family operation like ours right in the bank, and eventually one more will be the last. How would it feel if your profession and livelihood was destroyed and your home taken from you by people who have no idea what that means to you and your family? Ranchers in the American West exist, and our culture and livelihoods matter. We love this land more than anyone, which is why we continue the daily struggle to live on it despite odds that are not usually in our favor. And we’re not lying or exaggerating the wolf problem which is now costing us, and the government, thousands upon thousands of dollars every year.

Twenty-five years ago, ranchers tried to warn the general public that the introduction of wolves was not a good idea, and were ignored by the bureaucrats and do-gooders who will never have to witness a calf slowly dying in agony, it’s entire hind-end torn out then left to suffer by a she-wolf teaching her cubs to hunt.

For an outsider who does not have direct experience of our culture, the knee-jerk reaction might be to assume that we’re all just a bunch of trigger-happy illiterate rednecks who want to kill everything we see. To those individuals I would say, please take a step back and realize that your reality is not necessarily the same as ours and that your information and experience might not be adequate to develop an informed opinion on this issue.

People who will remain largely unaffected by the outcome having strong opinions is, after all, what got us into this mess in the first place.

 

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