Friday, December 18, 2009

Wildlife management doesn’t make sense

Ann Hill lives in Stanley.


This letter is a result of mounting frustration with the way wildlife and domestic animals are being managed in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

The recent November "harvesting" of seven members of the Basin Butte wolf pack reflects an imbalance in dealing with this situation. Though there are many in the Stanley area who do not like wolves, there are a good many who feel that they are, in fact, a valid part of the wilderness as defined in the description of the Sawtooth NRA. As a taxpayer, I feel manipulated when I pay for the Forest Service to manage, repair and restore public lands, then pay exorbitant amounts to subsidize cattle grazing on these same public lands, then pay to have wolves introduced to the region, and now, amazingly, I'm paying to have the wolves harvested by government agencies for even more dollars. What is wrong with this picture? Am I alone in the wilderness feeling this is a system needing more thoughtful consideration?

It was known going in that wolf reintroduction would carry inherent problems. It seems reasonable that a conflict between ranchers and predators such as wolves would be inevitable. Until wolves can be trained to behave like domestic pets, they will do what they have done for eons: go after the closest, easiest prey available. In this case, it was late-staying cattle, which are usually removed from Stanley by the time this occurred. Were these cows left this year in a deliberate effort to tempt, and then target, the Basin Butte pack?

It doesn't seem far-fetched to think that an equitable arrangement between these two factions can be worked out. It has occurred in Montana. However, since the sentiments of those very pro and those very con run so hot, such an arrangement would need to be brokered by an impartial third entity. For this, I would gladly have my tax dollars at the ready. I would love for my dollars to have as much weight in the "wilderness sector" as in the private sector.

In terms of balancing the expenditure of my tax dollars, why not invite ranchers to pay more to lease my land (like, perhaps the market rate for grazing on private lands)? This would help defray costs incurred in public land maintenance, which currently far exceed the minimal grazing fees. I'm growing weary of subsidizing these folks—some of whom have already taken lots of my money not to develop their lands.

In this time of budget shortfall, why not have our state Legislature address the idea that wildlife can be an ongoing source of major tourist dollars, and recognize that not many people travel to Idaho to shell out tourist dollars to see grazing cattle and sheep (even though they are part of the legend of the American West.) I'd just as soon have elk, antelope and the like on public lands in the Sawtoooth NRA, if given the option. I can go to non-wilderness areas when I wish to view domestic animals. If cattle or sheep ranching provided a major source of revenues to the state, it would be one thing. They do not, and therefore it seems inappropriate for them to wield as much clout as is currently the case—particularly in a changing public arena where wildlife viewing is on the rise. Once again, the numbers in Yellowstone speak for themselves: $3 million each year for wolf viewing. Does that number not resonate with communities looking for extra income?

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