Welcoming Wolves Back To California – A Rancher’s Perspective

My husband and I live on the Bar C R ranch in Petaluma, CA where we run 300 mother cows using predator friendly ranching methods. I am also an advisory board member of Project Coyote — a coalition of educators, scientists and predator-friendly ranchers who promote coexistence between people and wildlife. As someone who understands the importance and benefits that predators provide to both ranch lands and entire eco systems, I want to see the wolf recover in California.

Last week I spoke at a rally in Sacramento in support of maintaining federal protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)- and against a proposal put forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist wolves from the ESA. To delist wolves would be wrong in so many ways; these important canids are keystone species and necessary for the balance and health of wild creatures and wild places.  To delist would be unscientific, counter-productive, and financially wasteful.

As important apex predators, wolves need and deserve protection across their historical range. And as they try to expand into their former range, they run the gauntlet of misinformed management that results in their needless death. Wolves are unaware that they are crossing political boundaries where they will face ever-changing policies ranging from excessive killing to nearly full protection. If they are not consistently protected with sound conservation strategies now, how will delisting improve their peril?

Many management tools and techniques have proven successful in preventing attacks on livestock. Ranchers who use non-lethal methods report lower losses from predation than those who use lethal methods. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as USDA Wildlife Services and State Fish and Game departments can promote and improve non-lethal methods.

Unfortunately, old traditions—even bad ones—die hard, and some ranchers will continue to engage in their war on wildlife, however real or imagined the threats might be. Delisting wolves sends ranchers the message that it is unnecessary for them to have systems in place to help prevent wolves from attacking their livestock in the first place.

Why are Wildlife Services, State Fish and Game department and hunters allowed a functional open season on wolves? They are ready and willing to kill any wolf that is considered a problem. The truth is, the wolf really isn’t the problem- rather it’s lack of coordinated management where wolves cross from a protected area to a kill zone: lack of effective management that provides good healthy habitat with sufficient game populations that together deter wolves from killing livestock and; lack of cost-effective management that should promote and implement non-lethal control measures.

In the last two centuries, we have shot, gassed, poisoned, trapped, and snared: bison, prairie dogs, badgers, grizzly bears, coyotes, wolves, foxes, bobcats and more, all because they pose some sort of threat to livestock.

Meanwhile, the American public has started to see that these animals we are killing actually play a valuable role in our ecosystem, and maybe the slash- and- burn way we are ‘controlling’ wildlife isn’t sustainable. We overharvest the natural prey for predators like wolves; we take away their habitat and replace it with domestic livestock with little protection. We create the very problem that wolves are being killed for.

Ranchers should welcome the wolves back into California, not only for the ecological benefits they bring but because wolves were in California long before our sheep and cattle, and if we force the public to choose, they might decide that wolves are a more valuable resource than our livestock. If we devoted just half the money, time and energy towards learning to coexist with wolves as we have towards our war against them, livestock producers could save countless lives on both sides of the fence, while also building a new reputation as an ecologically responsible industry that has learned from its mistakes. We all would win.  And then and only then might you might consider delisting the wolf from the endangered species list.

Keli Hendricks
Keli Hendricks

The article above was written by Keli Hendricks, a predator friendly cattle rancher from Petaluma, California who serves on the Advisory board of Project Coyote 

(Photo at top of page Great Pyrenees protecting its flock at the Marcia Barinaga Ranch in Marin County, CA – Keli Hendricks/ProjectCoyote.org. See the related article here.) 

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