People with concerns about how wolves are managed in the West should ask Matt Thompson about the impact the predator has had on his ranch. In testifying before the Idaho Legislature for more funding of the USDA Wildlife Services agency, his plea for adequate management of wolves was loud and clear.
He said that at one point seven wolves had “chewed through 40 of my family’s calves.”
The mayhem that brings to mind is enough, with wolves ganging up on calves as the mother cows desperately tried to defend them, but the cost is even more shocking. At today’s prices, a 400-pound calf is worth about $750. At market weight, about 1,300 pounds, each would be worth about $2,440. Forty market weight heifers would be worth $97,600.
To put that into perspective for the urban wolf support groups, that’s equal to about 24,400 lattes at their local coffee shop. That’s a latte a day for the next 66 years.
Wolves are not endangered. More than 50,000 live in Canada, thousands of them just across the border in British Columbia. It is morally and logically bankrupt to argue that any rancher should lose livestock to wolves.
But this predicament — courtesy of the federal Endangered Species Act — is a reality unless Congress gets it together enough to fix it.
Until then, it’s difficult to tell someone facing a loss of nearly $100,000 to grin and bear it. Though states also partially indemnify ranchers for their losses, the full expense is not covered. That’s why proper management of wolves must be part of the social contract between those who want wolves and those who suffer losses because of it. Any reasonable wolf management plan must include a means of getting rid of problem wolves.
In the case of the Thompson’s losses, Wildlife Services provided him with relief. It killed the wolves and the predation of his calves — along with the harassment of his other cattle, which caused them not to achieve normal weight gain — stopped. In a state with about 680 wolves, the seven predators will not be missed.
Wolf managers have found that most wolves steer clear of livestock, which are most often accompanied by guard dogs, range riders, fladry and other non-lethal devices used to warn them off. Many ranchers have done everything except hang disco balls from the trees. But the few wolves that turn to a steady diet of beef or lamb need to killed.
Managers say that’s been the experience with wolves in Montana, Idaho, Washington state and Oregon.
As wolves become re-established across the West, they must be managed in a way that minimizes their impact on ranchers and others. That is only reasonable.