The Pack is Back

But Its Presence and Future Still Debated
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The call of the wild wolf debate has been echoing off the plains of America ever since the first settlers spread across the American West. Once revered by the North American Indian for its hunting skills and devotion to its pack, the wolf's turning point in its relationship with humans came when man turned from being primarily a hunter to being a farmer. Early Americans, mostly ranchers, considered the wolf all but the Antichrist. Thanks to wolf bounties and a constant killing season, the wolf packs were nearly decimated, hounded and hunted into extirpation because of the wolf's tendency to kill livestock.

Although wolf bounties were repealed through the centuries, ranchers' animosity toward the wolf continues today and is stronger than ever, especially after the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. The planet is a much more crowded one than it was when horse and carriages traversed the plains of the American West in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Accidental wanderings of the wolf onto private land were common in those days and the problem has been magnified tenfold today.

The once vast boundaries of the wolf are shrinking and being replaced by planar and linear sprawl, causing wolves and modern-day ranchers to go head to head over livestock. It is unarguably the main point of contention in the debate.

“The wolves live mostly on public land,” says GORP user Pete.“ If wolves are attacking stock on private land, I don't deny a rancher's right to kill a wolf, although there is a fund set up to completely reimburse a rancher full market price for any losses due to wolves.”

He adds that “public land belongs to everyone, not just the local ranchers, and every nationwide poll that has ever been taken shows that the American public favors having wolves on their public lands. The relatively few local wolf haters should not be allowed to control wolf policy or any other policy on land that belongs to 275 million people.”

Outdoorsman, another forum participant disagrees, stating that “there is not enough public land to support the wolf numbers.” And according to him, the value of livestock at the time of a sale is worth more than what the reimbursement fund would dish out at the time of the kill.

In trying to replace the shoot, shovel, and shut-up tactic many ranchers use to deal with the loss of their livestock to wolves, Defenders of Wildlife, the environmental organization who set up the reimbursement fund, is trying to initiate an alternative: prevent and pay methods. Their focus is to prevent predation before it becomes an issue, in the hope that predatory wolves and successful livestock can coexist. Can it be a win-win situation for everyone involved?

D. Anderson doesn't think so. “Where do wolves belong? In the cities? Around ranches? Who should we look out for first, the wolf or the rancher?” he asks other forum guests. “Since man has spread out all over the land they have taken over where the wolves once lived and now it's virtually impossible to reintroduce them to most of their former ranges. Ranchers and wolves are not compatible.”

Another forum guest, Calijo Carr, expressed appreciation of the wolf and the conservation efforts but cited reimbursement a difficult matter. “Sure, ranchers are compensated for their losses, if they can prove it was a wolf. And that isn't easy. You have to reach the dead animal within a few hours, and have the proper authorities notified. Not easy to do when you've got 200 head of cattle running on 1,000 acres. Few ranchers have been compensated.”

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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