Wolves and Ranchers – They Can Coexist

I am fortunately enough to live in one of the most remote and beautiful parts of the United States- the mountains and grasslands of SE. Arizona. Here the horizon stretches for miles with no visible "improvements" like electric lines and paved roads. My husband and I get to share this wild country with critters big and small- eagles, hawks, jackrabbits, javelina, deer, elk, bear, lion, and the elusive Mexican Gray wolf (MGW). This wolf was almost extinct. Only the dedication of many scientists, biologists, and government officials working with a small genetic pool saved the Mexican Gray wolf from joining the ranks of the "once there was" list. Still, there are only about 40 MGW that have been reintroduced and are living out in their native habitat in the US We are fortunately to have three wolf release sites on our ranch.

I am a cattle rancher. For me to consider myself fortunate to have wolves reintroduced on this ranch is unusual I am told. Why is that? Every day that I ride through my Texas Longhorn steers I am grateful for the people who maintained the almost extinct longhorns. Now I am also grateful to the people who are working to preserve the Mexican Gray wolf. The MGW was an important part of this ecosystem. The very fact that it took a huge effort and many years to kill all the wolves that lived here is proof that the wolves were indeed a viable component of this country. No one really can predict the long-range consequences of the loss of any species – including the wolf. I am not willing to take the chance that eliminating the Mexican Gray wolf will have no negative environmental impact. The extinction of any species – microbe, plant, or animal has a ripple effect on the whole ecosystem. No one can really predict every effect.

So I am a pro-wolf rancher – rancher being the noun. Ranchers run the danger of becoming extinct on public land. I think that losing the ranchers would be every bit as bad as losing the wolf. Ranchers not only pay a fee to graze public land, they do many more times that amount in range and habitat improvement. Proper ranching actually improves soil health and carbon sequestration, increases water quality and infiltration, increases plant diversity and the resulting animal diversity, and covers bare ground thereby improving air quality. Plus ranchers help keep the open spaces open – and that is valuable way beyond the financial factor.

Ranchers are like any other group. Some do better work than others. I have no problem with ranchers on public land being held accountable for good grazing and conservation practices. Most ranchers already do a lot of good. And that brings us back to the Mexican Gray wolf. If ranchers build soil, plants thrive. If plants thrive, prey animals thrive. If prey thrives, predators thrive – including the wolf. Seems like – and is – plain old common sense. But everyone wants to manage for their interest – whether it be cows, wolves, or turkey. What we need to manage for is ecosystem health – Mother Nature will take care of the balance of life and life processes.

Back to the point – wolves and wolf / livestock interactions. We have never had a wolf kill on our ranch. Many of my neighbors are not so fortunate. I feel this lack of predation is due to our cattle herding. We spend countless hours riding the herd. Our scent and the scent of my dogs deter the wolf from staying around our cattle – and eating them. Preventing cattle kills is far more beneficial than paying for losses. It not only saves cattle and money, it keeps the wolves themselves safe by never having them learn livestock killing behaviors. I would like to see funding to help ranchers cover the extra expense involved in herding cattle. It takes a full-time person with horses and dogs to herd cattle daily. But it would reduce and hopefully eliminate wolf predation on livestock. Plus herding with high density, short duration grazing is the key to range improvement and health. A healthy watershed is priceless – period.

Right now ranchers have no help in our herding and range health projects. I am one person. Every time I go to the grocery store (a full day trip), I am not herding cattle – or repairing erosion damage, removing old wire, cleaning campsites, etc.