SACRAMENTO — The question of whether the federal government should stop protecting gray wolves elicits strong emotions on both sides – even within the ranching industry.
Keli Hendricks, who co-owns a 500-acre cow-calf operation in Petaluma, Calif., fears that ranchers’ well-known animosity toward wolves is hurting the cattle industry’s image among consumers.
She said producers can take non-lethal measures to protect their animals, including the use of dogs, fencing and riding out with their herds.
“The livestock industry is creating more vegetarians than anyone,” Hendricks said. “People are changing. If they have to choose between cattle and wolves, they might just choose wolves. We have to join the 21st century.”
But rancher Scott Murphy, president of the Siskiyou County Resource Conservation District, said even the presence of wolves nearby can stress cattle to the point that it hinders reproduction.
“I’ve been involved in agriculture and producing food for you for 36 years,” Murphy said. “As a livestock producer, I’m concerned about the impact that wolves will have on my livestock should wolves come to California.”
The emotions were on full display during a public hearing here Nov. 22, at which two officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were gathering input on the planned removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list.
Hendricks was among about 100 wolf supporters who held a rally before the meeting, for which vocal advocates on both sides packed a hotel ballroom to give their views. Several times during the hearing, moderator Mike Chapel had to tell critics of the delisting plan to stop cheering each other loudly and jeering speakers who held opposing views.
“I’ll bet you most people here really love their farmers’ markets,” said Debbie Bacigalupi, whose family ranches in Siskiyou County, Calif. “Do we want our food to come from big ag? I don’t think so. These wolves are going to hurt good, family farmers like my parents.”
Jerrie Libby, who co-owns a small ranch in Live Oak, Calif., showed pictures of cows that had been eaten alive by wolves to show that wolves can be vicious predators.
“It does threaten livestock,” said her husband, Rick Libby. “Let’s not just let the animals breed uncontrolled … That will lead to problems with depredation.”
But Linnea Swenson, a sheep farmer in El Dorado County, said she’s never had wild animals attack her herd. She said she overcame a fear of wildlife after she came face to face with a mountain lion as a youngster and it didn’t attack her.
She said that’s why she advocates for animals.