Tonight, I testified at the last of three hearings held by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding its draft Gray Wolf Conservation Plan. A number of stakeholders worked with the Department on the plan, including the California Wool Growers Association (of which I am a member and an officer). The draft plan is over 300 pages; members of the public had 3 minutes to provide oral comments. At the risk of boring most of you, here's what I said:
"Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments tonight. My name is Dan Macon, and like most bald guys, I wear a number of hats! I am a small-scale commercial sheep producer in Placer County. I'm also the treasurer of the California Wool Growers Association and an assistant rangeland specialist in the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department. Tonight, I am speaking for myself as a small producer. We have practiced non-lethal predator protection (raising sheep, goats and cattle) for 25 years. My comments reflect this frame of reference.
"I'm glad to hear that the Department will be working to collar the wolves in California and to provide location information to local producers. This is critical to any non-lethal predator management strategy. I currently rely on Wildlife Services and my county trapper for information about the predators in my area. For example, the trapper will let me know if he's had reports on mountain lions where I have my sheep - not so that I can take lethal steps, but so that I can adjust my strategies. If I knew there were wolves close by, I would increase the number of livestock guardian dogs and adjust my grazing management. If there were no wolves, there would not be a reason to incur this extra expense.
"Expense brings me to my second comment - direct and indirect costs of wolves. The conservation plan does a good job of addressing the direct costs associated with livestock kills. Indirect costs are more difficult to quantify. First, a wolf kill represents the loss of genetic potential. My sheep, like most herds and flocks, have been bred specifically for my environment and operation. I can't simply go out and replace a ewe that has been killed with something from the sales yard and expect similar productivity. This has multi-year ramifications. Any investment in new genetics takes several years to provide a return. Then there are the life-time productivity losses - in my flock, a ewe might have 12-15 lambs during her productive life. If she's been killed, I lose that as well.
"The plan refers to losses in productivity due to stress, but this needs more attention. Producers in other states report reductions in reproductive rates and weaning weights, as well as increased labor costs (looking for missing animals, for example). UC Davis and UC Cooperative Extension are ramping up to collect baseline data on these issues. I encourage the Department to support this research effort.
"Finally, wolves may result in a loss of grazing land. I graze in proximity to recreation land. Wolves, based on my research, will require me to use more and more aggressive livestock guardian dogs - which may not be acceptable near hiking and riding trails and rural residences. I may incur more expense for liability insurance - and it costs more to run more dogs with my sheep. Our operation, like many, isn't big enough to justify hiring a herder to stay with our sheep 24/7. These lands are critical to my operation (and others like mine), and the services I provide are critical to managing the fuel loads and ecological conditions of these rangelands.
A couple of observations on the hearing itself:
1. I've been around a long time (in other words, I'm on my way to becoming an old fart). CDFW's Wildlife Branch Chief, Eric Loft, has worked for the agency since I worked for the California Cattlemen's Association in the early 1990s. A good lesson - paths may continue to cross!
2. The process of taking testimony must be incredibly difficult for agency staff. I can't imagine having to look engaged and interested without appearing to agree with a particular speaker!
3. Well-organized and well-spoken people get a little more leeway with the 3 minutes time limit than people who are nervous, disorganized and rambling.