The recent decision by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill members of the Profanity wolf pack because they have killed a few cattle grazing public lands in NE Washington is more than sad. It is an outrage. That any wolves are killed merely to benefit the profit margin of private businesses utilizing public resources is reprehensible. The real tragedy is that this slaughter of wild predators is repeated over and over throughout the West.
Keep in mind that alien domestic livestock have been imposed upon our wildlife. The real crime is that these wolves will be killed to benefit the bottom line of ranchers grazing livestock on public lands. Shouldn’t a prerequisite for ranchers getting subsidized forage on public lands be the minimum requirement that they must accept any losses to predators? If they don’t want such losses, they can take their cattle and sheep home.
Rather than killing wolves for doing what wolves do—preying on large ungulates—we should be eliminating the source of the problem whenever there is a conflict—that is removing livestock.
If you leave your cooler on the picnic table in Yellowstone, or food accessible to wildlife in many backcountry areas, you can be fined for potentially introducing wild animals to human food sources.
Yet we allow ranchers to place four-legged picnic baskets across our public lands—typically without any supervision. Worse, if these predators, whether bears, cougars, coyotes or wolves, have the audacity to snack on these movable food treats, we kill the predators instead of holding the ranches accountable.
Keep in mind that the mere presence of domestic livestock compromises the habitat quality for public wildlife, including wolves in many ways. For instance, when domestic animals are released on public lands, it socially displaces wild ungulates like elk. In other words, when ranchers place their private animals on the public land they are creating a natural conflict because wolves have fewer wild prey to hunt.
Wolves raising pups cannot merely move to other lands to find prey. So when elk and other prey are socially displaced, they often resort to the only other available food source—which can domestic livestock.
There is no free lunch (though admittedly public lands ranchers do pay almost nothing for the forage their cattle consume). When domestic animals consume grass and other plants on public lands there is that much less to support native grazers like elk and deer. Since the vast majority of forage on public is routinely allotted to domestic livestock, this reduces the overall carrying capacity of the land to support native ungulates.
Domestic livestock also can transmit diseases to wildlife that can reduce prey for predators as well. For instance, domestic sheep can transmit pneumonia and other diseases that can ravage wild herds, again reducing potential prey for predators like wolves.
In effect, domestic livestock are essentially appropriating and limiting the natural food of native prey that sustains wolves, bears, cougars and coyotes.
The idea that our public heritage and patrimony should continue to be sacrificed for the private profit of individuals is no longer acceptable. By not challenging this paradigm, we all perpetuate the continued slaughter of public wildlife at the behest of private businesses.