Last week, in regards to the recent delisting of gray wolves as an endangered species and in conjunction with our Freedom to Roam campaign, we brought you Part 1 of an interview between NRDC’s Senior Wildlife Advocate Louisa Willcox and Montana rancher Becky Weed -- two individuals with two distinct points of view and a shared willingness to engage in
constructive dialogue. Here's the second half of the interview. [Photo: Roy Toft, California Wolf
Q: How common is it to find ranchers who believe there is a way to protect wolves and their way of life?
Becky Weed (rancher): ‘Seems like a simple question, but in fact no one has really good data on this. It is safe to say that many, many ranchers wish wolves had never come back and that wolves are yet another threat to a precarious way of life; that is certainly the dominant stereotype. But it is useful to remind ourselves that quite a few ranchers have already begun “living with wolves” since the reintroduction in the '90s. It has been difficult and has come at considerable cost in some situations, but some ranchers are climbing this learning curve in spite of themselves, and right now we have no systematic mechanism for monitoring that progress. Sometimes I fear the zeal of passionate enviros (and the inflammatory rhetoric that they are fed from distant fundraisers) blinds them to the embryonic progress that is so vital for a long-term conservation ethic that transcends rural-urban divides.
It is also useful to remind ourselves that the sons and daughters of many of today’s ranchers are growing up amidst shifting paradigms of wildlife and agricultural perspectives. Many such young people have no desire to show disrespect for their parents’ traditions but they also know that they need to find their own way, and for some that means a new tolerance for carnivores. I can’t give you an exact figure on how many people are thinking that way, but several have visited our ranch, daring to explore the rancher/conservationist turf. The exact percentage almost doesn’t matter to me; these are the "early adopters," the innovators, the leaders. The numbers will come later – if we as a society do this right.
Even though no one can answer your question precisely, I think we can say that the more ranchers that are encouraged and supported concretely in their efforts to ranch alongside wolves, the more such ranchers there will be. To me this means that some lethal control will be part of the story, but it will not be the whole story. There may be some ranches, or some parts of ranches or grazing allotments where people conclude it doesn’t make sense to run livestock, but I and many wolf advocates do NOT favor simply running ranchers off the land. Such an oversimplified policy would be tantamount to cutting off our nose to spite our face. Ranchers, like wolves, live and work in communities and ecosystems. Thus the most strategic responses to wolf problems and benefits will also operate at that level.
Louisa Willcox (NRDC): More common than you might think from reading the papers. I have met a number of ranchers who believe there is a way to protect both wolves and their way of life. But these ranchers often do not want to be publicly identified as being “pro-wolf” because of the potential for negative repercussions from their more conservative, anti-wolf/rancher colleagues. As long as hardliners like the Farm Bureau are in charge of the debate from the ranchers’ side, there is little incentive for the pro-wolf ranchers to engage. But thankfully, there are a number of tolerant ranchers out there. Without them, we would not have made as much progress as we have towards wolf recovery.