The author of books about wildlife suggests Eastern Washington ranchers be rewarded for having wolves on their property.

Compensation programs now pay ranchers for the value of an animal confirmed killed by a wolf, said Ben Goldfarb, whose latest book is "Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter," about the ways beavers benefit society and how humans can coexist with them.

Goldfarb cites a program in Sweden, where indigenous reindeer herders are compensated for wolverine and lynx offspring born in their herding area.

"The program essentially says you're performing this service — these are animals that we all want them out there, the public cares deeply about them and they're reproducing on your land and you should be rewarded for successfully stewarding these animals," he said.

The amount of the payment is determined according to the monetary damage the offspring are expected to cause during their lifetime.

Such a program might shift the perspective about wolves from a negative to a positive, Goldfarb said.

Goldfarb also cites the Northern Jaguar Project's Viviendo con Felinos program in Mexico, in which rural landowners are paid for photos taken via "camera traps" of jaguars, cougars, ocelots and bobcats on their land.

"If the outcome is ranchers essentially being paid for the carnivores using their private lands or grazing allotments, I don't really see why anyone would oppose that," Goldfarb said.

Scott Nielsen, Kettle Falls, Wash., rancher and president of the Stevens County Cattlemen, called Goldfarb's idea a "novel approach," but said he isn't open to receiving taxpayer dollars for predators attacking or killing his cattle.

If wolves are properly managed, he said, such a program shouldn't be necessary.

"From the ranchers, there is acceptance for predators — we accept them as long as they behave themselves," he said. "If what you're advocating for is acceptance of predators that don't behave themselves, I don't think you can buy that from ranchers." 

What about funding from a third-party organization? Some ranchers would likely participate, Nielsen said.

"For me, it would depend on how I was approached on it," he said. "If I thought someone was vested in my success as a ranch, I might look at it differently."

Nielsen said he wouldn't accept funding from a environmental group that doesn't support removing wolves that attack livestock.

Goldfarb also pointed to the Blackfoot Challenge in Montana, where ranchers, agencies and nonprofit groups work together on conservation projects.

"It does seem to me like in Eastern Washington the wolf politics are a little bit tenser and less congenial than they are in some other places," he said. "My advice would be to look to other states for coexistence models." 

Goldfarb wrote about coexisting with wolves and grizzly bears as a staff writer for High Country News for several years. He has a master's degree in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Management.

A chapter in "Eager" is devoted to wolves and beavers as "keystone" species. 

Recommended for you