An Aug. 28 letter asserts that wolves “have been introduced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).” This is blatantly false. All wolves in this state arrived from Canada or neighboring states to the east via their own feet. It is time for him and others to give up the erroneous notion that this so-called “experiment” is the result of anything other than natural immigration of wolves and that they are somehow different from those that lived here prior to the arrival of European colonists/settlers (truly non-natives). Wolves have not been “imposed on cattlemen by people who live in cities,” any more than cattlemen impose T-bones on vegetarians.
I am not an agricultural economist. I will focus on federal lands since that’s where most of the wolf-livestock conflicts have occurred.
The letter writer states that “…wolves are predators and have no value.” He’s got it half right; wolves are predators. The WDFW Wolf Conservation and Management Plan cites four public opinion and attitude surveys conducted in Washington from 2007 to 2009. All reported overwhelming support for the presence of wolves, including the most recent, which noted; “Among respondents living in eastern Washington, most preferred a situation in which wolves become reestablished in many, most, or all eastern Washington counties (68.4%) vs. in no or fewer eastern Washington counties (27.8%).”
Western Washingtonians are just as desirous to have wolves. It seems that times and attitudes have changed since that of his “great grandfathers.” I certainly hope so.
Federal grazing fees have not gone up. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service updated in March 2019, fees were $1.35 per Animal Unit Month (AUM; 1 AUM = the amount of forage consumed by a 1,000-lb. adult cow and her suckling calf in 1 month). This fee is identical to that of 1985 and has been at that figure for 14 of the past 26 years. In that same time frame the highest fee was $2.11. The fee has decreased each year since 2016. The contention that “…fees have increased” does not hold up.
In fact, federal grazing fees are far below fair market value, amounting to a taxpayer subsidy of ranchers that graze on government-owned lands. The Congressional Research Service also reports that “…most federal agencies charge a fee based on competitive methods or a market price for forage,” which the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service do not. The report goes on to say that prices in the 11 western states for state-administered 2018 fees ranged from $3.50 (New Mexico) to $65-150 (Texas). Comparable private-land AUM fees ran from $11.50 (Oklahoma) to $39 (Nebraska). Per Washington Department of Natural Resources, one AUM on their land in 2019 sold for $13.80. No matter how one slices it, cattle ranchers on federal grazing allotments are getting their cows’ grass for a song.
That’s bad business, except for the public-land-grazing cattleman, when one considers that the Commission on Government Operations states that only 2% of the U.S. beef supply is produced from federal land, yet taxpayers ponied up about $100 million in 2014 alone to make up the difference between the government’s costs of administering the grazing program and its receipts collected (Center for Biological Diversity 2015). It’s likely that eliminating that 2% of beef would have little effect on grocery prices for consumers but would save them hundreds of millions in a short time.
Poking around the Internet, I found that an adult cow eats 113 lbs. of forage per day (https://www.producer.com; I did the math to reduce the amount to the AUM-defined 1,000-lb. cow). I will assume the calf eats, on average, half as much. Over the course of a month that single cow/calf AUM gobbles up just over 2.5 tons — for the low, low price of $1.35. I challenge anyone to feed a 3-ounce pet gerbil for that amount. Yet, if I were to purchase a single ton of mixed-grass hay it would set me back $175 (www.hayexchange.com).
Since the first wolf pack became established in northeast Washington in 2009, cattle producers in Ferry, Pend Oreille, and Stevens counties have received about $690,000 in further direct subsidies from taxpayers (https://farm.ewg.org). And none of that money was for wolf-related issues. When WDFW decides to “manage” wolves, those bills, which are substantial, are also footed by the taxpayer. For 2018 the total was nearly $600,000 for non-lethal activities and range riders, payment of lost livestock claims, and to kill wolves (Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2018 Annual Report). There is a lot of money going from the paychecks of taxpayers into the wallets of private cattle producers.
University of Montana economist Thomas Power found way back in 1996 that federal public lands grazing contributed “…only $1 out of every $2,500 in income received in eleven western states” and “only 1 out of 2,000 jobs.…” Unfortunately, things have probably become more dire for cattle producers since then as consumers opt for less red meat in their diets and ranchers’ children don’t stay on the farm, but this downturn cannot be laid at the paws of wolves.
I like a big, juicy beefsteak as much as any cattle producer, and my sympathies to all those hard-working agricultural families, and others, that are struggling economically. Wolves are not, and will not be, the straw/grass/alfalfa that breaks the cattle industry’s back.