Ignorance isn’t bliss in agriculture

Scientific research is the only way agriculture will continue to progress, despite the opinion of some that they already know it all.

Published on July 17, 2014 10:37AM

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

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Montana ranchers helped pay for a recently released economic study of what happens when wolves take up residence near a herd of cattle. The researchers found that some previous assumptions ranchers made were correct and some weren’t.

In the study, which took place over 15 years on 18 Montana ranches, University of Montana researchers tried to determine the economic impact of wolves on cattle operations.

In part, what they found was surprising. Contrary to previous thinking, wolves that share a grazing area with cattle didn’t cause the calves not to gain weight. Other factors, such as forage quality and rainfall, were more important.

On the other hand, herds that had been attacked by wolves showed a huge reduction — 3.5 percent — in the overall weight gain of calves, the researchers found.

Such a scientific study adds to the body of knowledge about the behavior of cattle and wolves and will help policy-makers and wildlife managers do a better job in the future.

But a comment from a member of a pro-wolf group caught our attention.

He said the money used for the study “might have been better spent on assisting ranchers in implementing preventative measures to avoid conflict between the livestock and wildlife.”

Welcome to the latter-day Flat Earth Society, whose members believe there’s nothing new to learn about wolves and livestock, because they already know it all.

We couldn’t disagree more with that closed-minded approach to a topic so important to everyone involved.

We have long supported all sorts of ag-related research, including studies of how wolves and cattle interact. Every dollar that goes toward research is well-spent. It allows scientists, wildlife experts, ranchers and others to better understand the world around us.

Ultimately, the result will be more effective management of wolves and cattle. Our only criticism is that more research was not done before wolves were reintroduced into the region. It appears to us that scientists and state and federal managers have been caught flat-footed time and again as the wolf population mushroomed over the years.

We apologize to those who believe they already know it all for trying to inject more facts into the discussion about wolves.

Ignorance may be bliss to some folks, but we prefer the facts.


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