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.