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PR or Good Will?

Written by Jennifer Womack
“Since 1987, Defenders of Wildlife has paid out more than $1 million in livestock compensation to ranchers throughout the West,” says an early April article appearing on the cover of a statewide daily newspaper. “Wyoming stockgrowers have received more money over the years – $331,642 – than stockgrowers in any other state.”

The shortsightedness of the paragraph made me cringe, as has the Defenders of Wildlife program in recent years. I cringed again when I saw the program was being continued in the predator area now that wolves are under state management in a dual classification system.

First, let me admit, that I’m coming at this from a public relations standpoint and haven’t personally lost livestock to wolves. For those people who have, I think the opportunity to get fully compensated for their losses to a predator forced upon them by the federal government makes sense. If I turned a pack of dogs lose on your ranch and it killed your sheep or calves, I suspect you’d hold me responsible and rightfully so.

I don’t, however, think the Defenders program is about Wyoming ranchers. For starters….$331,642 for a predator that’s kept western Wyoming ranchers up nights and will spend the summer chasing their cattle across mountain grazing allotments? While wolves have become part of life in parts of Wyoming, we all know the losses by the ranching community far surpass a few hundred thousand.

“Not all ranchers just want to kill a bunch of wolves,” Suzanne Stone, regional representative of Defenders of Wildlife, said. “A lot of ranchers are working hard to make sure they can coexist with wolves. We want to help support those ranchers.” I haven’t talked to a single rancher that “just wants to kill a bunch of wolves.” What they wanted was the right to protect their livelihoods. The federal government turned wolves loose on their private property for Pete’s sake!

To be eligible for compensation under the post-delisting Defenders program, stockgrowers must try to employ nonlethal methods of avoiding conflicts with the canines. Those include removing dead or dying animals from grazing areas in a timely manner, doing more range riding when possible and corralling the livestock at night when practical.

At first blush, those measures seem okay although not practical in much of the state. But, here we are trying to measure up to criteria set forth by an entity that really doesn’t understand our industry.

I question a program that encourages wolf populations to establish at any significant level outside of the current trophy game area. Wouldn’t this be further encroachment of a program that has already more than surpassed its requirements on the State of Wyoming? Plus, if one rancher agrees to “wolf-friendly management” to meet the Defenders’ requests, what about his or her neighbors?

On one hand I have to give the group credit for putting their money where their mouth is so to speak. On the other hand I predict modification of an old problem. Up until now Defenders has been able to stand up and say that the state’s ranchers are compensated for their losses even thought that’s fallen short on most occasions. I fear the message to the unsuspecting public moving forward will be something along the lines of good ranchers are being compensated for their losses. Looks to me like Defenders has launched another PR campaign to gain footing for expansion of wolves to more areas, not an effort to help the state’s ranchers.

Jen