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Monday, June 23, 2014

Of Wolves and Hard Work

Note: On Saturday, June 14, 2014, the Sacramento Bee published an op-ed piece entitled "Hard work remains to keep California's wolves safe" (to read the article, click here). While I'm certain that the Bee's readership is not universal in its support of the listing of the wolf as endangered by the California Fish and Game Commission, the paper has yet to run any alternative viewpoints. I submitted the following essay for consideration last week (and the Bee has decided, apparently, not to publish it). Obviously, this is a complicated issue - I hope others will offer their own perspectives!  

As a rancher and lifelong resident of the Sierra foothills, I read Amroq Weiss’ piece (“Hard work remains to keep California’s wolves safe,” June 14, 2014) with interest. Like Ms. Weiss, I'm always thrilled to see wildlife - including the large predators (coyotes, black bears and mountain lions) in our environment.  I use the word "our" here purposely.  As a sheep rancher, I live in and rely upon the same wild landscapes that these predators call home.  And while I'll admit that I would be thrilled to see a wolf in the wild, I have a different perspective than Ms. Weiss on the hard work involved in co-existing with these predators.


My family operates a small-scale commercial sheep operation in the foothills near Auburn.  We produce grass-fed lamb and provide vegetation management services using sheep and goats for a variety of clients.  We've made a commitment to coexisting with predators.  By utilizing livestock guardian dogs and electric fencing, we have minimized conflicts.  We've seen black bears near our sheep, as well as evidence of mountain lions.  We've also had eagles and owls try to take lambs during our spring lambing season.  The biggest threat to our sheep, frankly, are neighbor dogs that are allowed to run free.


Wolves are a different matter entirely.  The thrill of seeing a wolf, for me, would be tempered by my concern for the safety of my animals.  I know sheep producers in the Rockies who have had livestock guardian dogs killed by wolves - coyotes and mountain lions generally won't attack a guardian dog.  I know other producers who have lost mature cows to wolves.  My commitment as a shepherd is to the well-being and safety of my flock; the sight of a dead lamb (or even worse, a lamb that has been attacked but is not yet dead) is indescribably devastating.


Ms. Weiss suggests that the cattle and sheep "industries" seem to have more political clout than California's 38 million human residents when it comes to wolves.  Looking at the issue from my perspective, I find it challenging to raise livestock in a state that is increasingly abandoning its rural roots.  Land use, conservation and water policies are set by our urban neighbors and their elected representatives, with little regard for the impacts on those of us in rural communities. We must live with the implications of these policies - while producing food and fiber.  And this brings me to the topic of hard work.


In her article, Ms. Weiss indicates that wolf predation on livestock in Oregon has declined because of simple techniques like "monitoring cattle herds on horseback and quickly removing livestock carcasses."  The economics of ranching (whether we raise sheep or cattle) are challenging - increased labor squeezes already thin profit margins.  While I don't discount the "hard" work of advocating for wildlife, quickly removing a 1,200 pound cow carcass that is 10 miles from the nearest gravel road is difficult work in the truest sense of the words.

Furthermore, wolves will change the human relationships around ranching and rangeland conservation in California.  In the last 10 years, we've made tremendous strides in finding common ground between environmentalists and ranchers.  The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition (www.carangeland.org), for example, is a collection of ranching, agency and environmental organizations that are committed to protecting and enhancing habitat by maintaining viable ranches on these lands.  In other states, wolves have proven to be a polarizing force politically.  I hope we have time to strengthen our relationships over the management of rangelands before for we must deal with the arrival of wolves in California.  I hope we can continue to build partnerships that lead to voluntary conservation measures. Unfortunately, the listing of the wolf as a state endangered species (which may or may not actually aid in its recovery as a species), puts this hard work and collaboration at risk.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks Dan. A college fraternity brother of mine is a cattle rancher and breeder in Wallowa County, OR. He has seen all of the Imnaha Pack that he cares to see. The lone wolf that came to California last year (OR-7) is coincidentally from this pack. They have a history of destruction. This is a killing machine and they will kill for sport not need. This is not your average house dog or coyote.

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  2. I'm sorry the paper did not see fit to print your well written comments Dan. BTW we do have wolves coming through Northern Nevada frequently although the local BLM and other agencies are in denial about it. Tracks and sightings abound. I have a photo of a pack of three wolves taken in 1993 on a ranch near Wells, NV.

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  3. In my job as a land manager I walk the fenceline between conservation and agriculture. This is a difficult topic and not one I can even begin to comment on because I'm torn by concerns on both sides of the argument. However, I am happy to read a blog like this because it is well thought out, not antagonistic and reflects personal experiences on the subject as opposed to irrational fears or prejudices. Thanks, Dan.

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