I’m reminded, yet again, that in so many cases, government edicts or actions don’t necessarily have anything to do with the problem they claim to address. Instead, they’re an attempt to impose greater control over part or all of the populace, so that bureaucrats and special interest groups can force their will upon them. Gun control? It’s about control, not guns. Obamacare? It’s about centralized control of health care and those who need it, not about medicine as such. Draconian traffic rules and regulations? It’s all too often about “revenue generation by cop”, rather than road safety.
The latest example may be wolf conservation. This article admittedly appears to be biased in favor of ranchers grazing their cattle on public lands: but it also presents some interesting facts.
The proposed ballot measure forcing introduction of wolves into Western Colorado has touched off another debate pitting ranchers and livestock advocates against proponents (primarily the Sierra Club and a coalition of outside environmental organizations calling themselves the Southern Rockies Wolf Restoration Project.) They argue the supposed benefits, and the dangers, of bringing in wolves. But it seems clear to me that this debate is not about wolves – it is about cattle.
This has almost nothing to do with wildlife. The canine predators are merely the latest tool in a generation-long campaign to stop ranchers from raising cattle, and Americans from eating beef.
. . .
For years, environmental industry websites have used language like this: “… do not want to eliminate all grazing, but instead, we advocate for management that ensures grazing practices are sustainable, allowing lands to remain ecologically diverse with healthy, functioning ecosystems.” Translation: we want to ban cows on public lands, but can’t admit it because that might be unpopular.
Indeed, it would be extremely unpopular if people understood its impact on the food supply.
. . .
Almost 20 years ago, the “Foundation for Deep Ecology” published a giant full-color book railing against cattle grazing. “Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West” was dedicated to those “who have had the courage and insight to challenge the use of America’s public lands as private feedlots, and who have dreamed of western landscapes made wild and whole again.”
Still, some anti-cattle leaders understood Americans were not about to give up beef. But they knew how deeply people care about wildlife, so they devised the wolf strategy. Knowing wolves and cattle don’t peacefully coexist, if they could reintroduce wolves into the mix, nature would take care of the “cattle problem.”
Mike Phillips, director of billionaire land magnate Ted Turner’s Endangered Species Fund, outlined that strategy in a wolf symposium speech in 2000. He spoke about wolf reintroductions in the south, and in Yellowstone. But the climax of his wolf speech was an attack on the cattle industry.
There’s more at the link.
I have a particular interest in the wolf problem because, as part of writing my Ames Archives Western series of novels, I’ve studied the historical evidence about the relationship between predators and cattle. There’s more than abundant evidence that wolves killed and injured thousands of cattle every year, particularly calves and nursing mothers, until the predators were brought under control through a determined program that amounted to extermination in many districts. (You’ll find a few infamous cattle-killing wolves listed here: follow the links for more information.) I think extermination programs went too far: but, if I’d been a rancher back then, watching my herds (and my livelihood) decimated by such predation, I’d probably have been a lot more sympathetic to them.
Advocates for the wolves tend to gloss over that historical reality, or even deny it altogether. I went on a tour of one wolf sanctuary in Colorado where the guide, in so many words, insisted that wolves are delicate, sensitive creatures who’ve been misunderstood by ranchers, and there was no reason why they couldn’t coexist with cattle. I think ranchers and farmers of my acquaintance (and yes, I know a few of each) would have a rather different and more sulfurous opinion!
Be that as it may, I’m deeply skeptical about the actions of the pro-wolf lobby in this clash of interests. The former appear to be trying to ride roughshod over the objections of the ranchers (who surely have an equally valid say in the matter), and force the reintroduction of wolves to areas where they’d long been eradicated, regardless of the effect of such a step on the farmers and ranchers who’ve taken over the area in the interim. They refuse to deal with the reality on the ground: they’d rather ignore it, and/or compel it to change under the impact of legislated force majeure measures. “The people have voted for this – therefore, you’ve got to do it, whether you like it or not!” The fact that the people doing the voting are, in most cases, urban residents who know little or nothing about ranching or farming, but are casting their ballots with their emotions stirred up by heart-rending propaganda videos about the poor, misunderstood wolf, is never mentioned.
That perspective is also evident in the language of the ballot proposal. It says merely that in the event of wolf predation of cattle, the rancher and the State of Colorado shall attempt to negotiate a figure for compensation. If that negotiation fails, or is not undertaken in good faith by either side . . . what then? The matter reverts to the courts, and that’s too expensive for most ranchers and farmers to do in every case. It seems to me like they’d be on a hiding to nowhere.
It’s a dilemma, to be sure: but I think there are few efforts being made to seriously listen to, and/or accommodate, the interests of both sides. Instead, it’s coming down to control, yet again. “Do as I say – or else!” Unfortunately for the environmentalists, the practice known as “shoot, shovel and shut up” is as applicable as ever. I know it’s been applied to unpopular conservation programs more than once. I expect it will happen again. There’s no controlling that!