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Montana Politics

Predator Droning

At Left in the West there’s an interesting post about a bill to limit the number of wolves in Montana. I must admit I’ve never understood the strategy of anti-wolf politicians. If anti-wolf forces in Wyoming were more prone to compromise, Montana and Idaho would probably be managing their own wolves by now. Instead, both environmentalists and their opponents seem to keep upping the ante – the former continuously turning to the courts for defense of wolves, the latter trying to use politicians to secure what they want.

But the reason this all amounts to so much carrying on, in my opinion, is the relatively minuscule role wolves play in livestock predation. Far more livestock are lost to coyotes than to wolves, despite the fact that coyotes don’t have the legal protection that supposedly is the problem behind wolf kills.

Moreover, coyotes, being mesopredators, generally have their numbers suppressed by the existence of wolves. This effect has been documented , though not in regard to livestock losses. But it still seems like an awful lot of political effort being expended to save such a tiny number of livestock.

It seems more likely that efforts to eliminate wolves stem from a desire to find a hot-button issue to make environmentalists look bad. Most of us benefit from clean air, clean water, lack of asbestos, etc., and thus support environmental regulations. But few of us benefit directly from the presence of wolves, and the protections afforded wolves at the expense of ranchers paints a good political contrast for the right.

The idea that the government would be protecting predators and restricting the rights of ranchers conflicts with our Western libertarian, rural self-image and has a way of getting people riled, even if the actual numbers are nigh insignificant. The political imagery involved is hard to beat. Which is exactly why we here so much more about wolves than coyotes – it’s a political winner that accomplishes little, even for ranchers and hunters, but raises a lot of ire against environmentalists. Until we get some actual progress on wolf management, wolves will continue to be a convenient way to demonize the ESA and environmental movement in general.

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  • I think this is exactly right. Wolves are an easy symbol that politicians can use to demonize both environmentalists and those damn federal bureaucrats.

    I rather suspect politicians are glad for the reintroduction, because it gives them something to campaign on.

  • Not so fast with the libertarian ranchers. Libertarians don't run screaming to government, state or federal, to save their bacon. Authoritarianism runs deep in the mythology of the West That Never Was. And wolf mythology is age-old. Time to step back and reassess what it is our politicians don't want us demanding of them. How about wars, poverty, trade policy/outsourcing jobs and health for starters?

  • PW, I believe those politicians represent constituents who are either directly affected or who fear that wolves are just another proxy for other policies which are antagonistic to their livelihoods — ranching, farming, big game guiding. The fear may be that wolves are nothing more than today's snail darters to stop damns in Tennessee or some other fish to stop irrigation near Sacramento.

    Consider again the statistics. Spreading wolf kills vs. coyotes to counties where there are no wolves is misleading. It is also misleading in those counties where they is YET NO significant wolf population. But the wolves are moving east. Last May I saw a pack of 5 wolves just south of the highway along Duck Lake. Over the hill was a herd of cattle with calves.

    There is no need to search for "…a hot-button issue to make environmentalists look bad." They do it to themselves with their antics including fraudulent bidding at oil and gas leasing auctions, pounding spikes in trees, or burning buildings.

    • Regarding fraudlent bidding here is the recent case:

      SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher knew what he was doing when he made $1.8 million in false oil and gas drilling bids at a federal auction. He knew he couldn't possibly pay for them. And he knew he could end up behind bars.

      But he did it for the cause. On Thursday, a federal jury convicted him on two felony counts of interfering with and making false representations at a government auction. He now faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $750,000 at his June 23 sentencing.

      It was a case that became a cause celebre among avid supporters and Hollywood celebrities such as Robert Redford and Daryl Hannah.

      The 29-year-old made the bids to run up the price of 13 oil-and-gas leases near Utah's Arches and Canyonlands national parks and push the land beyond the reach of buyers.

  • Though I *strongly* disagree with Craig's last paragraph, he does make a good point to open with. It seems to be a blind spot of the leftward and the Democratic mindset that every once in a blue moon the GOP is actually driven by the concerns of their constituents. That's instead of the usual 'whipping the base' or dog-whistling. What makes this issue kind of unique and scary is that there is also broad based independent and Democratic concern over the control of wolves in Montana.

    I would also point out that it's a mistake to play a numbers game with this. "Such a tiny number of livestock" isn't meaningless if they're yours, or a friends or even potentially yours.

  • Points well taken. Targeted hunts on private land could be a useful tool, and a new potential source of ranch income. This, coupled with rancher discretion to defend their property (cows, sheep, dogs, whatever)also makes sense too. These measures, however, need an offset, some major consessions on public lands, where wolves could learn quickly to feel more secure from constant pursuit by FWS assassins, general hunting, and poachers. If wolves are nothing more than a proxy for who controls public land, then we have another case, like with buffalo, where this probably won't be solved by this generation of Montanans.

  • Craig – I agree that the numbers aren't really comparable because coyotes are so much more widespread than wolves, but I also think that it makes an important point – Coyotes are not protected by the Feds and yet they are able to take millions of dollars worth of animals every year – so how is removing protection for wolves going to make a significant difference? But coyotes aren't the focus because their kills can't be blamed on the government. A wolf kill is a bigger deal because it has political implications.

    On a psychological level, I imagine it's also much more infuriating to lose animals to wolves than coyotes, because at least you can try to suppress the coyotes.

    I appreciate the point about their actually being a constituency, but the impact of wolf elimination on the constituency is likely to be small. It's political importance, however, is much more acute. For that reason, it will take both education and compromise to prevent this issue from spilling over and harming the rest of the environmental movement. Unfortunately, both extremes (a faction of environmentalists and…Wyoming) seem more content to keep escalating the situation until the only options left on the table are ones that are completely unacceptable to the other side. Which is not how good policies are made, but it is how bases are mobilized.

  • Pee Dubya, I can shoot and stack yotes without batting an eye… they killed two family dogs. However, I could never shoot a wolf until they commit injury to an interest of mine. They are truly magnificent animals.

    You write: "But coyotes aren’t the focus because their kills can’t be blamed on the government. A wolf kill is a bigger deal because it has political implications." When wolves were reintroduced there were expectations, and possibly representations, regarding the size of the recovered population. Those with the expectations feel cheated. The problem was that there was not a defined management plan to compliment the reintroduction plan. That should not have happened. That's why wolf "environmentalists" are not trusted.

    • 1) You can 'shoot and stack yotes' all you want and they'll still be more expensive than wolves – hence why I don't see the rationale behind lobbying to de-list wolves as a serious effort reduce livestock losses.

      2) I agree that some environmental groups are also complicit in this escalation, and would be unhappy with any amount of wolf management. However, most immediately, the biggest problem is that Wyoming has failed to propose an acceptable wolf management plan.

      The sooner either a) Wyoming does so or b) an agreement is reached (this would have to be in congress, since the courts can't rewrite the ESA) whereby wolves can be managed separately in Montana and Idaho while being protected in Wyoming, the sooner we in Montana can reduce federal government involvement. And because of the current anti-Federal sentiment, I think only then can we have a reasoned discussion about the actual impacts of wolves on the environment and on livestock, rather than one held primarily to 'prove' that environmentalists shouldn't be trusted.

  • First of all -Props – That's a pretty awesome title to your post there polish wolf. I had written something about how in Idaho there's just a ton of apathy towards environmentalists and wolf-killing (i.e. – "who cares what the rules are, lets just go shoot some wolves!") but then i realized it's been way too long since I've been back West. I've got nothing to say on the subject except BRAVO for "predator droning".

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