Wolf Killing is an Unfair and Destructive Subsidy

The killing of a wolf pup near Corral Creek outside Sun Valley, Idaho was done to protect John Peavy’s business, Flat Top Sheep Company. Once again this raises the question of why public wildlife should be killed to increase the profitability of private enterprises operating on our public lands.

It is especially disconcerting that Peavy did not implement minimum measures to protect his own sheep, instead, used a taxpayer-funded “hired gun,” i.e., USDA Wildlife Services to kill our wolves.

Grazing on public lands is a privilege, not a right. Why should Peavy sheep, and his business interests be allowed to jeopardize, harass and kill public wildlife? If I were to harass his sheep when I discovered them polluting our streams or otherwise damaging our public lands, I would be arrested.

It’s important to note that Peavy’s sheep (and all other livestock on our public lands) are creating ecological damage to our property. His sheep pollute the water. Many studies have documented that sheep grazing can change vegetation favoring some grazing tolerant species at the cost of others sensitive to grazing pressure. Sheep also promote the spread of weeds and alien plants like cheatgrass.

The presence of domestic sheep can transmit diseases to wild bighorn sheep. And this is the primary reason bighorn sheep are absence in many mountain ranges that once inhabited.

Domestic sheep also trample and compact soil, reducing water infiltration.

The forage going into Peavy’s domestic animals is vegetation not supporting native herbivores and other wildlife. Everything from marmots to elk has less to eat, while insects that rely on flowering vegetation, including bees and hummingbirds are harmed by domestic sheep.

Yet businessmen like Peavy do not compensate the public for all these impacts. Instead, they get to graze their animals on public lands for a pittance, paying a paltry $ 1.41 an AUM to feed five ewes and lambs. Not only is this a direct subsidy to Peavy’s bottom line, but the fact that we accept and allow his sheep to degrade our public lands and kill our wildlife at so little cost is absurd.

Worse, according to the report in the Mountain Express, Peavy’s herders did not even implement well-known predator deterrents like camping near the sheep band. The herders were 2 to 3 miles away from the sheep band.

One must say again why it’s OK for private businesses to harass our wildlife for their profit. Whether it is shooting guns or using noisemakers to scare wolves, these actions disrupt our wildlife use of public lands. While Peavy can graze his sheep elsewhere by renting or buying private pasture, public wildlife like wolves and other predators have no place else to live.

I do not believe we should continue to subsidize private businesses on our public lands, but if we do continue to permit welfare ranchers to operate, then at the least, we should demand if there’s any conflict, the domestic animals are removed, not our wildlife.

It’s time to stop subsidizing welfare ranchers like Peavy with the destruction of our wildlife and the degradation of our plant communities.

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.