Wolf debate hits close to home for ranchers. By Matthew Brown. Associated Press
This story has appeared under a number of headlines, but whatever it is titled, Matthew Brown’s recent piece on wolves reveals the difficulty the public has getting information because it has to cut through cultural hysteria and bad statistics on the wolf issue.
Brown begins his piece by telling us of rancher Randy Petrich of Pray, Montana (that’s the Paradise Valley) who has legally shot 7 wolves over the years, and insists “I believe that any wolf on any given night, if there happens to be a calf there, they will kill it.” Brown doesn’t say how many livestock Petrick has actually lost (Brown doesn’t really confirm that Petrich has lost any), only that he has killed 7 wolves.
Is this typical of Paradise Valley? Given the number of wolves killed, my guess is he interviewed the person who has killed the most wolves. So the reporter begins with an extreme case, not the typical person, and someone who might have the right to worry but does not seem in touch with reality. For example, the article says Petrich sees wolf tracks almost every morning. Were Petrich’s belief true — wolves will kill any calf that happens to be there, then he must have lost thousands of calves over the 7 years he has been shooting wolves.
Do we know anything else about this supposedly hard pressed rancher? Were his non-ranching neighbors interviewed? (if you have been to Pray, Montana, you know that most of the people there are not ranchers). Well of course they were not interviewed, because to most of the media, you don’t count in the West unless you are part of 1% of the population that meets their cultural assumptions.
Then Brown talks about the growth of the wolf population since restoration began. 66 wolves have grown to an estimated 1,545 in a three state area. Brown uses Ed Bang’s figures, which were released in mid-year when wolf population is at its annual maximum, not the year end, when the figures are official and always lower than mid-year. This allows him to say the population is growing at 20%.
Anyway is 1500 wolves a lot? Is it too many? What if elk had become extinct in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and 66 elk were released in 1995-6 to try to restore the elk population. If there were 1500 elk after 12 years, would reporters say the number of elk is astonishing, “exploding,” “ballooning?” Would the states call a hunting season to knock this “huge population back” to 450 elk? Would conservationists be condemned for suggesting 2000 might not be too many elk?
Going back to the rancher(s) for a moment, how many coyotes, bears, cougars, and feral dogs are there in the area and how many calves have they lost to these? This is never mentioned. This kind of reporting is like a story on homicides where only the those committed by one ethnic group is mentioned. It think people quickly call that “racism.”
Finally we get to “environmentalists” who, of course, condemn the current plans, but more interesting, it is never reported how many generations the attorney quoted has lived in the West. We always learn right off that rancher Petrich is “third generation.” We always learn that about other ranchers (except then they have not been here for land). I suppose this is intended to prove ranchers have some special claim and at the same time all others a newcomers.
I get quoted in the news. No ever asks how many generations my family lived in the area.
For the record, the Maughans settled in Utah the early 1850s, and my other relatives were all in the area well before 1900. Does that make me and all of them genius’, OR only those who went into livestock?
Finally we learn that biologist Dave Mech thinks maybe the “wily animals will prove too smart for hunters”.
I don’t really know, but I do know a man who has actually managed wolves and shot far more over the years than this rancher. He told me they were very easy to locate and kill.
This article is typical of those written about Western issues.
Western issues have a peculiar character. Students of policy call them “wicked problems,” meaning there is never a clear point where they are settled, and efforts to solve them spawn new problems. There is rarely even agreement on what exactly the problem is or that there is even a problem at all (are 1500 wolves a problem?). The issues are also tied together because the conflict is cultural, not economic. Money is not a solution. We see that in lack of rancher appreciation of Defender’s compensation program and the failure of the MSM to even mention it most of the time.
We will be fighting over “western issues” 50 years from now.