Friday, June 1, 2012

The facts of life after wolf reintroduction

Idaho has learned a lot about wolves in the 17 years since they were reintroduced into the state on federal lands.

One thing that immediately became apparent is that the mere mention of the once endangered species fired up passionate emotions and caused perfectly rational people on both sides of the issue to take leave of their senses.

Unfortunately, when passions rage, facts get lost; hyperbole overheats and evaporates common sense. The smoke generated obscures opportunities for people of opposing views to work together.

This happened last month when wolves killed seven sheep belonging to Flat Top Sheep Co. outside of Carey, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game issued a kill order for two wolves in the area.

Wolf advocates joined with grazing opponents and came out swinging. They attempted to use provisions of The Nature Conservancy's new conservation easement on 1,100 acres of the 25,000-acre ranch as a tool to prohibit killing wolves that were killing sheep on the ranch.

That's simply an untenable position, especially if conservationists hope to continue to protect wildlife with conservation easements on private land.

Conservation easements—through which private property owners accept restrictions on future development in exchange for cash and/or tax reductions—do not automatically confer rights of access or control on the public, even when public funds are used to pay for them.

Blaine County contributed $200,000 of its Land, Water and Wildlife fund to The Nature Conservancy's purchase of the Flat Top easement. The easement protects an antelope migration corridor as well as habitat for other species.

The county's participation doesn't give the public the right to tell the ranch what it can and can't do when wolves kill its sheep or cattle. The ranch's options are set out in state laws and rules.

The facts of life after wolf reintroduction are that it's inevitable that the big predators will encounter grazing domestic sheep because they roam many of the same wild areas. It's inevitable that ranchers will lose livestock to wolves periodically and must have tools to stop depredation. It's inevitable that wolves that acquire a taste for domestic livestock will be killed.

This doesn't mean that wolves—or ranchers for that matter—will become endangered species. It means that ranchers must find ways to operate successfully with wolves in the picture. It means that wolf advocates must come to grips with the fact that wolves that tangle with domestic livestock are on the road to certain death and that this will save the species as a whole from extinction.

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