Front page, below the fold in today’s Denver Post was an article regarding the decision by the State of Wyoming to file suit against the federal government over the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s refusal to accept the state’s so-called wolf management plan (click here to jump to the article). In an uncharacteristic move for the Denver Post, the article makes absolutely no attempt to present the issue with any sort of journalistic scrutiny, but instead reads like a puff piece for Range Magazine (a propaganda rag for the livestock industry).
The level of hysteria and misinformation spun-out in the piece is truly disheartening. In the coming days, I’ll be working on an op/ed piece that will work to put the lie on much of what is stated as fact in the piece. Here are a few things to consider:
- The article cites industry and individual assertions as fact, with no critical analysis.
- The majority of livestock production in the West takes place on public lands, enjoying huge subsidies. These lands belong to all of us, and we have a right to demand that these lands host healthy and free-roaming wolf populations.
- The article incorrectly states, “Reintroduction of the gray wolf . . . has been among the most successful recoveries of an endangered species ever in the United States.” To the contrary, nearly thirty years after wolves were first listed under the Endangered Species Act, the species roams less than 5% of it’s former range in the lower 48 states. In contrast, in less than 20 years of federal protection, the American Alligator has been restored to nearly 99% of its historic range. Congress made clear in the language of the Endangered Species Act that the purpose of the law is to bring about recovery of imperiled species throughout, “ . . . all or a significant portion of their former range.” How is less than 5% “significant”? We owe our grandchildren better than that.
- The number of livestock lost to all predators in the U.S. annually is very small. The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicate that mammalian carnivores killed 0.18% of the total U.S. cattle in production and 3% of the sheep in production in 2004 (see Footnote 1). With regard specifically to wolves, data do not indicate that depredation on livestock is growing in-pace with the number of wolves. To the contrary, since about 1998, wolf depredation incidents have leveled off at about 1.0-1.2 ranches/pack, despite the fact that the number of wolf packs (and wolves) has increased markedly.
- From 1995 to 2004, only 1.9% (285) of the ranches within the wolf recovery zones in ID, WY and MT experienced depredation; scaled to the entire three-state region, only 0.6% of the ranches in the region experienced depredation (footnote 2). Even if we imagined those numbers to be three-times as big, it hardly indicates that the sky is falling.
- Of the 285 ranches that experienced depredation from 1995-2005, 56% experienced but a single episode of depredation.
- Despite the notably small amount of annual loss of livestock to all carnivores, the U.S. government continues to spend tens of millions of dollars every year to kill tens-of thousands of native carnivores, with no accountability for the ecological damage incurred, and no independent data indicating that this war on wildlife actually benefits livestock production. It’s time for the livestock industry to own-up to this dirty little secret, and time for Americans to demand an end to this insane waste of tax dollars.
- The article hysterically quotes rancher Cat Urbikit as being afraid for her son’s life because a wolf was watching the band of sheep he was herding. Notably, data from the U.S. Department of labor indicate that Ms. Urbikit’s son was a far greater risk of being killed by the livestock he was herding than by the big, bad wolf (footnote 3).
- Ranchers have much more to lose from the rampant expansion of Dick Cheney’s “energy program” as it gobbles-up the wilds of Wyoming. For more on that, see Ralph Maughn’s article at wolves.wordpress.com (click here).
Stay tuned. This article presents a great opportunity to help elucidate some of the realities about wolf recovery in the lower forty-eight states.
- Sources: 1) U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2005a. Cattle. 2) U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2005b. Sheep. 3) U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2005c. Sheep and Goats Death Loss. 4) U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2006a. Cattle Death Loss.
- Haney, J. Christopher, et. al. Ranch metrics improve scaling the real socioeconomic impact of gray wolf Canis lupus depredation on domestic livestock. From: Proceedings of the 20th Society for Conservation Biology Annual Conference. San Jose, CA. June 25, 2006.
- Drudi, D. 2000. Are Animals Occupational Hazards? Compensation and Working Conditions. Fall 2000.