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Opinion Column
For the week of May 10 through May 16, 2000

Don’t 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 varmints.

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 chasing wolves.

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


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