Of Wolves and Huckleberries

By Bob Ferris
There are tons of rumors floating around about the Huckleberry Pack.  Things are being said about wolves, the 2008937557rancher, WDFW and even private property rights.  In this say-anything and believe-anything society we now find ourselves in we have to be discerning and cut the tails off both ends of the information spectrum to find something approaching the truth of this matter.  But there are some things we know and should be concerned about.
The first is the agency behavior.  The public expressed great displeasure at the way the Wedge Pack incident was handled and many of us—including Cascadia Wildlands—were simultaneously critical and stood (and are standing) ready with concrete ideas and solutions for moving forward.   As we look at this Huckleberry Pack situation it was clear that both were ignored. 
Most of my professional life has involved looking at complex ecological, economic and social systems in a conservation context.  And this Huckleberry situation is one of the most complex and myth filled.   Taken in its purest form what the wolves and this huge sheep flock on private timberlands in northeastern Washington State represents is the collision between a nearly two century old effort to transform the West into pastures and woodlots for the benefit of a select few and the desires of the many to see wildlands that are wild.  Both sides of the debate have valid points but rather than searching for solutions many are looking for bigger and uglier conflicts.  That search will ultimately result in poor outcomes for both sides.
In many people’s minds what makes this situation special is that it happens on private lands rather than public because that gets away from the issue of subsidies and below market grazing.  While that is kind of true, rural counties—like Stevens County—are notoriously subsidized by federal monies and by the more urban counties in the state.  Rural road systems and education are two areas where rural residents enjoy amenities far above their federal, state or county tax contributions and there are many others.
2019372475Certainly there are valid reasons for this osmotic flow of tax dollars and there should be no shame in it.  But it also should not be ignored or denied by those whose activities—like ranching and timber harvests—are compromising the water quality, recreational opportunities and ecological services needed or enjoyed by those parties footing some of their bills.  Nor should this situation encourage a sense of self-righteousness or crowing from rural private landowners promoting their reputation for rugged self-reliance, because it only makes these folks look a lot like teenagers plastering their rooms with no trespassing signs. 
On the flipside those in urban areas need also to understand a few things.  First off, animal protein and lumber comes from somewhere.  Only 14% or so of people in the United States are vegans or vegetarians and most of us live in houses so divorcing ourselves from this situation like we are disinterested parties is not productive nor is it honest.  We all have a hand or hands in this. 
We have to be honest too about the wolves and livestock.  Wolves are wild critters and they do occasionally kill livestock and where that happens it is a problem for that producer.  That said, there is really no excuse for comments like those made recently by Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho—a state which seems poised to nominate “lying about wolves” as an Olympic sport.  Leaders should certainly have strongly held beliefs but their leadership should not consist of throwing gasoline on a fire and the complaining about the heat.
Which brings us to sheep.  Domestic sheep are bred to be docile and afraid of their own shadows.  They are as distant in many ways from their canny wild ancestors as teacup poodles are from wolves.  So how truly prudent is it to release these walking, wool-covered cocktail wieners into a rough and rugged, re-wilding landscape?  
Certainly folks should be granted great latitude in the way they manage or use their private lands, but there are limits particularly when those lands often enjoy substantial tax benefits because of their perceived benefits for wildlife and watersheds—which are diminished by sheep and cattle grazing.  Or when the users of these tax-advantaged parcels or public lands expect non-trivial amounts of state and federal assistance to deal with conflicts with endangered wildlife such as the $75,000 cost of controling the Wedge Pack. 
So where does that leave us?  My sense is that this pack was aptly named because huckleberries are fruits used both by humans and wildlife.  When cultivated and over managed huckleberries only provide food for humans and little benefit for wildlife.  And when approached too casually in their wild state there are sometimes conflicts with bears and other wildlife.  But when left in their natural state and sensitively and cautiously approached by humans they yield both a wonderful experience and a tasty treat.
This Labor Day weekend is one of respite for the wolves and is a good time for reflection about this whole affair.  The WDFW, for instance, needs to consider how they move forward and how to repair their doubly bruised reputation with the public they serve. 
This rancher and others need to think about how their businesses can thrive in this re-wilding landscape and how their choices of livestock breeds and management options can lead to conflict and loss or more happy outcomes.  In this they might look at other options such as hardier breeds of sheep and cattle or even bison as Ted Turner has on his Flying D ranch and elsewhere (for more on this latter topic please consider attending one of the Two Talking Wolves tour stops). 
Washington’s Governor Inslee needs to think about how he can help the WDFW deal better with this situation and others.  Our sense is that the best pathway would be what was done in Oregon where the agency, ranchers and wildlife advocacy groups sat down and negotiated rules that were later adopted by the legislators and the Fish and Wildlife Commission.  It took 18 months, but it was worth it.
And wolf advocates must reflect as well.  Based upon comments that I have seen, we need to become more aware and sensitive to the situations faced in rural areas and proceed in an informed and respectful manner.  I know this is difficult—particularly in the face of vitriol—but it is necessary as well as keeping up the pressure needed to get the logical and best parties to the table in Washington.  Please click below to help and share this around the social networks.

17 thoughts on “Of Wolves and Huckleberries

  1. April Jacqueline Smith says:

    Please help this pack by signing.

  2. Judy Rose says:

    Please let common sense prevail. Oregon has set a fair example for resolution. It is worth the effort to find acceptable answers for both sides. Thank you.

  3. vivek singh says:

    I not an american though but as an indian i have my reapect and sympathy for the wolf packs although their numbers have dwindled my request to the american stop supporting your hunting lobbies and rifle associations that are hell bent on dwindling wolf population s for the wrong if I were a citizen of USA I would never set an example for my children by killing a wolf fox or big cat for that matter for trophy inside I would indulge their in a constructive cconsciousnes. By support ing your hunting lobbies you are only making the future for your children a disastrous embroiled in civil strife and war for resources I would never use excess water for swimming pools through lakes this a Celtic virtue and a pagan virtue. Governor insle stop madness at once before nature disaster becomes a plague for our future

  4. shirley denning says:

    Please dont kill the wolves, they have more right to the wild than we do.

  5. Patricia Scherrf says:

    Please do not kill any of the wolves.  Please, please see them for the beautiful, social animals they are and let them live on the earth as all creatures have the right to do. Thank you!


  6. Prashant Rana says:

    Dear Sir/ Madam,

    i would like to request to stop killing wolves. 

    Thanking you,

    prashant rana

  7. Wendy Harris says:

    Bob, I think you leave out one major issue here.  The wolves are public property, to be managed in the public good, and they remain public property even when they cross on private property when they are subject to special state and/or federal laws for protection.  So the ranchers are not free to do what they want to with wolves regardless of whether conflicts occur on public or private land.  We can find other sources of protein, but we can not as easily replace the limited number of apex predators.

  8. Julie Gaines says:

    Please recind the "kill order". It has been proven time and time again the wolves can live side by side with us…perhaps implement the one of the many proven methods first. We have so few of these majestic animals left…they have a right to live!

  9. Jeff Pitts says:

    Two things appear to be evident in your post. One, rural Americans are not near as smart as you, and two, timberland owners, such as Hancock get tax breaks and subsidies. Both wrong. Tell me how private timberland owners don’t pay their own way.

  10. bob says:

    I would suggest that you start here.  http://ext.nrs.wsu.edu/publications/pdf/forestry/EB-1822.pdf


  11. Ryan Simmons says:

    Great write up. I came across an article from yesterday and think it adds a bit to what Bob is saying here as it provides a behind closed doors look at what's being said by the ranchers within their own ranks. I think this quote from the rancher and head of the Cattle Producers of Washington Dave Dashiell speaks volumes: “The Huckleberry wolf pack needs to be removed, not our sheep. By making us leave we are only passing the problem along to others in the area when the wolf finds their pets, animals and livestock.” With that mindset, what good would actually come of negotiating or helping ranchers? If he is the representative of that group and is speaking on their behalf then this debate is really going nowhere. It just adds to the mounting frustration with these people and the perceived entitlement they feel they have. Article: http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20140903/rancher-left-high-and-dry-by-canceled-wolf-hunt#.VAi8TDwQuxQ.facebook

  12. ernie meyer says:

    ranchers who take their livestock out into the wilderness and expect them to remain unscathed aren t very smart.. I resent the fact that we as taxpayers have to make up their loss financially.  Trying to watch 1500 sheep in the wild is close to impossible and having some wolves nearby who for one reason or another are not hunting their normal prey using this opportunity to feed themselves; if that is indeed the case, is the normal course of events in nature.  If, as a rancher you are surprised by this or think that the twenty sheep are a terrible loss you should try to find another trade. Perhaps this rancher should try and pay for some proper grazing area and stop being so cheap and acting like a welfare rancher.

  13. Don Phipps says:

    I would be remiss if I didn't respond to your comments.

    WDFW as well as your ODFW can't do their jobs like they were hired to do. It's people like you and organizations like yours that control or do your best to control every action they try to do. 

       It's amazing  that you are  telling the Washington DFW how to do their jobs, when (YOU) haven't got the Eastern Oregon wolf problem fixed yet as you profess…From the reads that I've seen, Eastern Oregon ranchers are having just as much trouble getting answers and payments for animals killed by wolves  as the folks in Washington… 

       It's truly amazing that a professed manager like yourself, can't publish one article with out critisizm  and cutting down the rural folk, like we are the ignorant step children…      

       I've decided that I like the wolves because I can respect them, unlike so many others that have to lie and deceive to show their importance.. just sayin'.

     Again, for a bruised reputation of the WDFW, it isn't all their fault and your know it as well as I do….     as for a great write up, your opinion of it is much higher than mine….  

      When every one including you stop accusing others of not trying to work these problems out, that is when there might be some solutions.. Remember you are the  intualectual that isn't suppose to stoop to such low comments as mine.


  14. Don Phipps says:

    Ryan, You can read what I had to say about Bobs write up, but that's another story.  

           Remember the Dashiell family has farmed in that area for their entire life. The wolves showed up about 7 years ago ,The world is telling the Dashiell family to live with them or quit ranching. we both know how that is working out. If a cougar or bear was killing their animals, they could shoot them and the problem would be over.. With all the hunting seasons and special hunts, the bear and mountain lions are still doing just fine. The wolves are going to do just fine as well, regardless if we hate or love them.

  15. WiZaRd Of The Wolf Nation says:

    WDFW, you ought to ge given a taste of your own medicine!!

    What you have done, was a flagrant act of animal cuelty

    and high treason against Nature and the American people!!

    You might try to escape justice here on Earth,

    but you will never escape Great Spirit's justice

    when He renders His final Judgement against you

    and YOU WILL BE DESTROYED, when the Creator

    casts you into the fiery Abyss of Eternal Death!!

    You are just as evil as Satan himself and what you have

    done to our wolves and other wildlife, shall be a curse upon you,

    and it's a curse that shall haunt you for the rest of your life 

    here on Earth!!

  16. Harold Johnson says:

    Less than 1% of the country is vegetarian fella.  You obviously are the destroyer of livelihoods.  The people are here NOW and not going anywhere.  Oregon and Washington were historically poor wolf habitat anyway.  The only reason the prey species they eat are there now is because of modern agricultural and forestry management that have allowed deer and elk to populate the area.  You will soon lose this if you keep pimping wolves.  

  17. bob says:

    Mr. Johnson: You might want to take a little bit more time on research and a lot less time on unsubstantiated rhetoric.  The percentage of vegetarians in the US at this point (and I am not one) is about 14%, which is higher than the percent of hunters and way higher than the percent of trappers in the US.  But these figures have no bearing on this situation because this is a case of an agency charged with protecting wolves and advancing wolf recovery enabling poor decisions and behavior on the part of a rancher grazing too many sheep in too poor a habitat in known wolf habitat.  This is not about meat production as you imply because these forest clearcuts are notoriously poor in terms of putting weight on sheep particularly when sprayed with herbicides as these were.  And if anything is knocking down deer and elk populations it is management practices that remove available browse and graze materials via the employment of herbicides that knock out broadleaf vegetation needed for winter food followed by grazing that knocks out the grasses and forbs needed in summer.  And Oregon and Washington had robust populations of wolves, deer and elk prior to modern agricultural and forestry practices.  You might take some time to read Theodore Roosevelts accounts of wolves in the Pacific Northwest (see http://www.cascwild.org/teddy-and-the-big-assed-wolves/) or the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition that lived on elk and deer when they were at Fort Clatsop in Oregon.  

    Bob Ferris

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