This West Is OUR West

Opinon: Have doubts that wolves are ravaging Idaho? Come see for yourselves

gray wolf is seen at the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minnesota.  Dawn Villella  - AP

By Cameron Mulrony

September 19, 2018 

Reporters from McClatchy News Service in Sacramento, California, sure got duped in writing an Aug. 20 story about wolves in Idaho that showered the Statesman’s readers with misinformation.

One of the biggest misrepresentations in the article was that USDA APHIS Wildlife Services killed 691,895 animals from 2015-2017. What the article neglected to say is that 97 percent of those “animals” were starlings.

The story began with factual information about wolves killing three mother cows and a calf at the Davis Ranch in Cascade in a single week. At that time, USDA APHIS Wildlife Services had confirmed 88 instances of wolves killing cattle, sheep and guard dogs so far this year. Just a week later, Wildlife Services reported 107 confirmed wolf kills out of a total of 145 investigations so far this year.

Seventy percent of these confirmed kills have occurred on private ranchland. Sadly enough, this is most likely a fraction of actual depredations, as the cattle that provide our livelihoods graze vast areas, many ranchers have unaccounted for livestock each fall and a portion of those have a likelihood of also falling victim to predators such as wolves.

It may be easy to cast doubt about wolf kills in a “he said-she said” type of article, but we invite doubters to tag along with Wildlife Services in their next necropsy investigation and see it for yourselves. Sad but true, wolf kills are real. It is a very ugly scene for any rancher to experience. And it’s happening almost every day in Idaho ranch country.

It has been 23 years since Canadian gray wolves were reintroduced to Central Idaho, with an initial goal of 10 breeding pairs or roughly 100 wolves. Idaho surpassed that goal in five years (2000). By the time wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2011, the wolf population had exploded to more than 1,000 animals throughout Idaho, from I-84 to Canada. Wolf advocacy lawyers changed the goal posts for wolf-recovery forever.

Hunting and trapping seasons have helped keep the numbers in check to a small extent, but Idaho wolf numbers are still very high. Ranchers continue to see chronic wolf-depredation of livestock in 7 rural counties – Lemhi, Custer, Valley, Idaho, Washington, Adams and Boise.

Wolf depredation is soaring to levels never seen before across the entire state of Idaho. Seasoned reporters in Idaho know Wildlife Services is the ranchers’ first line of defense when a wolf kill occurs. These trained professionals respond to livestock kills in a timely manner to skin the animals and determine the cause of death. This has been going on in Idaho since 1995.

Idaho cattle and sheep ranchers who live in chronic wolf depredation areas never know when they’re going to get hit by wolves. August is always the month with the most depredation losses. So these folks get up in the morning, with a gnawing feeling in their gut, wondering if they’ll run across a dead animal or a prized guard dog lying in a pool of blood.

Running a ranch is a business. The Idaho beef industry generates $2 billion in cash receipts each year. We make up 20 percent of the state’s economy. Each rancher has a business plan for the year. You work to efficiently raise livestock to the best of your ability and provide Americans with a safe, nutritious and delicious source of protein. You must address all the details necessary to ensure animals stay healthy and comfortable. You work to put pounds on those animals to make a net profit at harvest time. You get one annual calf crop. The sales of those animals represent an entire year’s blood, sweat and tears.

When wolves steal our livestock, they harm our bottom line. It’s true that ranchers can get partial compensation for a confirmed wolf kill, from the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation. However, you never recoup the total opportunity cost of an animal. Then there are a host of other ancillary issues that wolves are causing to cattle herds in Idaho that were unanticipated and unexpected.

Wolves are more than fully recovered in Idaho. You have seen wolves spread into Washington and Oregon, and they are killing livestock there, too. California, Utah and Colorado will be next. We will be living with wolves forever. Therefore, we need proper management to keep Idaho ranchers in business. Wolf management happens in three ways:

  • Wildlife Services responds to livestock kills and takes action to stop the repeated killing of livestock. Wolves that kill livestock once are likely to kill livestock again.
  • Sport hunting of wolves, managed by Idaho Fish and Game.
  • Sport trapping of wolves, managed by Idaho Fish and Game.

All of these tools are critical. We have to keep wolf numbers under control. Gov. Butch Otter and the Idaho Legislature understand the gravity of the situation, and they provide general taxpayer funds, paired with funds provided by our industry, to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board to help Wildlife Services respond rapidly to wolf conflicts and depredations.

We’re kind of mystified as to why wolf advocates are trying to second-guess the impacts. Come and see for yourselves. We are all in this together. We hope that most people in Idaho can see that we need to protect our people, livestock and economy first and foremost. Or, should special interests such as wolves run our state? When is enough, enough?

Cameron Mulrony is executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association.