Commentary: Crying wolf

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The headline read: “Wolf attacks on domestic animals subject of public hearing in state House.”

Sen. John Smith (kneeling), Reps. Joel Kretz (fifth from left) and Shelly Short (third from right) pose with the dog attacked by a gray wolf. The context was a pair of bills recently introduced in the Washington Legislature aimed at giving citizens an exemption to kill wolves “in the act of attacking or posing an immediate threat to livestock or pets.”

Rep. Joel Kretz, a Republican member of the Washington House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, told news sources that, “This bill interjects some common sense into this debate and puts in place modest protections for many ranchers and pet owners.”

Added co-sponsor Rep. Shelly Short, the ranking Republican on the Washington House Environment Committee, “Right now, many livestock and pet owners in this state are being held hostage to an unrealistic and unnecessary standard when it comes to wolf predation.”

Sen. John Smith, the sponsor of a parallel Washington Senate measure (S.B. 5187), said that, “The state’s wolf conservation and management plan did not anticipate the extreme concentration of wolves that we see today in northeastern Washington and the resulting catastrophic damage it would render to family farms and rural residents.”

From their comments, and certainly from the news coverage, one might assume that this is another case of ranchers vs. conservationists, another chapter in an ongoing battle between people raising livestock and people who believe wolves have as much right—or more—to occupy the forests and rangelands in the rural Northwest.

That would be inaccurate.

Listen to the comments these legislators made when discussing the subject in-depth:

“What we’re talking about here is when we hear our dog getting snatched off the front porch in the middle of the night and attacked by a gray wolf, we have some recourse to defend our pet,” Kretz said. “Right now, I could catch a wolf in the act of killing a colt or dog in my front yard and not be able to shoot the wolf to protect my animals.”

(Maybe the solution’s to bring Fido inside?)

Or consider the spectacle that unfolded during a House hearing last month, when Twisp, Wash., resident John Stevie testified about a near-fatal wolf attack on his dog Shelby. Stevie brought the injured dog with him to the hearing and news media were quick to publicize photos of the animal, its owner and various legislators posing outside the state capitol building.

Setting a bad precedent

Look, I’ll be the first one to insist that livestock losses as a result of wolf predation ought to be compensated. Ranchers deserve payment for stock they lose to wolves deliberately introduced into a rural region. Despite whatever outcomes are offered up as benefits from a wolf programs, that’s the price that has to be paid: Those who suffer from wolves being wolves must receive compensation. That’s only fair.

But these bills aren’t just about protecting livestock. Those mechanisms are already in place. They’re about giving rural residents—who more likely than not are uninvolved in animal agriculture—the right to gun down a protected species just on their own say-so.

That’s not only a dangerous precedent—in every sense of the d-word—but one that’s counterproductive to the goals of a program designed to restore some of the balance of nature that has been missing across the West for more than a century.

“This bill restores the right to defend one’s home and property against a wolf attack—a natural human instinct and a God-given right,” Sen. Smith said in a statement.

Please. We’re not talking about the early pioneers huddling inside their sod-roofed huts, defending themselves against wild animals with only a hunting rifle and Bowie knife. We’re talking about 21st century citizens who’ve moved into formerly remote areas to take advantage of the solitude and open space and who now want the right to gun down a protected wildlife species just to protect Fido from the remote possibility a wolf might come prowling around one night.

That’s wrong, not to mention counter-productive to the intent of the wolf re-introduction program.

The problem with killing off wolves, bears, panthers and other predators—whatever the rationale—is that, just as happened decades ago, such extermination radically upsets the equilibrium among species that’s critical to a healthy ecosystem. We can forgive our 19th century ancestors for being ignorant of that reality—and doubly so, since they actually were protecting house and home.

However, there’s no excuse for us moderns to pretend that giving ordinary residents carte blanche to kill predators on sight won’t eventually cause bigger problems that a few pets getting chewed on by Canis lupus.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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Cathy Kaech    
Idaho  |  April, 02, 2013 at 05:43 PM

The introduction of wolves has been very costly in so many ways. The question is when is enough, enough.. and who gets to decide? It seems as though the people or groups that are pro wolf, are usually not the people or group of people that are suffering the losses because of the wolves. People need to be able to protect the private property on their own land or lands that they have leased. Would you want someone to break into your place, destroy your property, and then tell you, " Hey, you are just going to have to suffer this loss, as the culprit has more rights than you, the property owner, has? I would guess that wouldn't go over to well.

Bob Villa    
April, 02, 2013 at 06:30 PM

Dan, I'd say you're an idiot - but I'm sure that's not entirely true, seeing that you're a "food-industry journalist." Wait...never mind. You're an idiot.

Ray Dagnon    
washington  |  April, 02, 2013 at 10:24 PM

I know John Stevie, I grew up with him. He is not some rich guy with a mansion in Steamboat or Aspen. He is an ordinary working guy with an ordinary house with neighbors, and a school nearby. If a person can't protect his own family and pets and property then something is wrong. That wolf took his pet off of his porch. What do you think it would do with a small child? Similar legislation is already in place in other states and they haven't been abused. This is about protecting our families, not a hunting license.

Brian    
VA  |  April, 04, 2013 at 09:06 AM

Dan, your article is built on false premises such as our ancestors messed up by destroying the wolves in the first place, etc. The eco-system was just fine thirty years ago without the wolves. There is nothing wrong with a subdued, safe and productive land. Yes, there is a place for wolves-- In a nature preserve. If one child is harmed by a wolf, the price of chaotic reintroduction has been too high. I will leave off on the personal attacks today.

Dan Murphy    
Everett, Wash.  |  April, 04, 2013 at 05:46 PM

We could spend an entire day detailing the ramifications of man-made interference with ecosystems. One fact to consider: In some areas of the Northwest, forests are being damaged because an overpopulation of deer and elk are wiping out new growth, that instead of maturing into another generation of forest becomes tomorrow's breakfast for animals that wolves would naturally hunt. And it's not so simple to say, just issue some hunting permits and let humans handle the overpopulation. Wolf packs tend to take down the old, the weak, the young not strong enough to survive. That helps the herd and improves its genetic viability. Hunters tend to bag the healthiest animals, the trophy bucks, the adults n their prime. That actually weakens the herd and decreases its viability. Yes, you could make the case that no predators should be allowed to live anywhere people decide to make their residence. You could include wolves, cougars, bear, coyotes -- any number of species capable of causing harm to people or pets or livestock. But every intervention like that causes repercussions that often create greater problems. As for the validity of a law allowing people to shoot wolves if they're posing a danger to pets, I would insist that in such a case, the dead wolf carcass better be lying right next to Fido's doghouse. Truth, is however, that almost all recorded wolf kills since several Western states re-introduced them to parts of their original range were done out in the middle of nowhere. Not next to a livestock corral and certainly not next to anyone's home. The bottom line is that we can impose any kind of manipulation upon nature that we want, but even for ones done with the best of intentions, there's usually a price to be paid

Lee    
Dublin  |  April, 04, 2013 at 09:44 PM

In your opinion, is the damage caused by elk and deer in the forest greater than the damage caused by loose packs of wolves? Do you really believe that hunting destroys the genetic potential of deer while the presence of wolves will bring about Super deer?


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