The front-page story in the Jan. 21 Idaho Mountain Express about the Wood River Wolf Project's financial worries provides an opportunity for an important public discussion about who pays for public-lands ranching.
Currently domestic sheep ranchers who hold grazing permits on the Sawtooth National Forest pay the ridiculously low amount of 27 cents per month for each sheep they graze.
Even though the federal grazing fee is more than 80 percent lower in constant dollars than it was in 1975, the discussion about the Wood River Wolf Project focuses on how citizens, Blaine County, the Forest Service and nonprofit groups need to come up with more money to protect domestic sheep from wolves than it is about who should be responsible in the first place for paying to protect domestic sheep on public lands.
In any reasonable business model, ranchers would be expected to pay to protect their sheep from predators, but in the make-believe world of public-lands ranching there is little discussion about that. Ranchers regard it as their right to demand that taxpayers take on costs of their business as if they were a special class of citizens exempted from all risks.
Even if the Wood River Wolf Project continued, domestic sheep grazing on public lands in the rest of Idaho will not be protected like the coddled Wood River sheep. Idaho sheep ranchers continue to rely on an annual $1 million federal handout that pays for aerial gunships to slaughter wolves and coyotes.
The four sheep ranchers in the Wood River Valley could easily afford to pay for nonlethal protection of their domestic sheep. It is time for them to start paying the costs of their business and to stop exporting those costs to taxpayers.
I will be writing the Blaine County Commissioners to oppose any funding for the Wolf Project; please join me.