Dont stereotype Custer County on the volatile wolf issue
Commentary by ANNA MEANS
There's a popular perception that everyone in Custer County has the shoot,
shovel and shut up attitude about wolves. It's like all 4,000 residents have a "Save
an elk, kill a wolf" poster hanging right next to the electric co-op calendar.
Contrary to popular opinion there are moderates and even liberals in the
county with various opinions on the subject of wolves. It's safe to say a majority of
county residents are opposed to wolf reintroduction, but not necessarily because they hate
One issue that's just recently received press attention is the right to
defend one's property.
Given the rules of the recovery program a landowner cannot take decisive
action against a wolf unless it attacks livestock or humans. It can attack the family dog
and still the landowner can do little other than run out and yell, "Shoo" or
shoot over the wolf's head.
In some cases a "frightening device" is loaned out when wolves
are consistently hanging around calving grounds or barnyards, but it only works with
collared animals. Wolves don't get the message that they should stay off of private land
when they're captured (or sometimes shot) miles away from the site of their trespass.
Another issue is the federal government's inability or unwillingness to
fund the program adequately. While the wolf population in Idaho has grown fourfold the
funding has only doubled. This leaves a lot to be desired, especially when management is
required to keep a pack out of trouble with the human community.
There are those who oppose the program just because of the cost. Custer
County residents have voted on two override levies in the last 10 months to cover basic
medical and educational services. In the case of education, the federal government only
contributes three percent to the total budget, yet it spends beaucoup bucks to fly around
Even wolf proponents within the county question the need to spend all the
dough for reintroducing a species that might have recolonized by itself if natural forces
were given enough time.
One of the hardest pills for everyone to swallow is the national
perception of the situation. Alienation grows as a certain part of the public is more
interested in emotion than the facts. They cry all Easter weekend because the alpha male
in the White Clouds pack is killed, but don't give a rip about the hours of effort to keep
that wolf from harm. The nights of lost sleep and anxiety associated with keeping
livestock safe isn't assigned any value.
Residents of Custer County empathize with their neighbors no matter what
their opinion on wolves. To cast ranchers as villains protecting their own selfish and
limited interests at the expense of a noble animal is neither accurate nor fair.
The fact is a few people live with the wolves while an entire nation sets
policy. That's a tough position for anyone, regardless of the issue.
Anna Means is a reporter for The Challis Messenger