The second panel from the Predator Conservation Alliance conference.
PCA ANNUAL MEETING
“BEYOND THE BIOLOGY:
Why and How we live with Predators”
Levi Hold – wolf manager with the Idaho Nez Perce tribe
Bill Orsello – hunter
John Robinet – ranch manager, Diamond G Ranch (Dubois, Wyoming)
Becky Weed – owner of Thirteen Mile Lamb and Wool and manufacturer of
predator-friendly wool products
Shawn Regnerus – Predator Conservation Alliance
Opening remarks by moderator:
(starts midway) …Yellowstone have some of the fastest growing human populations of any counties of the United States. So we can’t really talk about wildlife management without talking about an even more difficult topic and that is human management. When we talk about restoring predators, we need to realize that the biggest problems and the toughest questions aren’t always going to be biological questions, they are often going to be social and political questions. And too often we take the easy way out thinking that the problems aren’t our problems, they are not our individual problems, they don’t apply to me, they apply to somebody else. And it’s really easy to do that from the comfort of our own homes, to say “we want wolves” and not realize that they have effects on people and that there are people out there every day dealing with those effects. But we all need to realize that these are all our choices and they are societal choices and they are real human choices.
The point of this panel isn’t to come up with answers to any of these tough questions, but to raise the debate. It is going to take years to come up with good answers to these questions and we’ve only got about an hour and a half here. A lot of these questions were raised in the earlier panel and Dave and myself and everybody at PCA deals with these questions day in day out at work. The wolf issue has been going on for five years now and we are still dealing with these questions. It will be going on another five years, and probably another five years, and probably another five years after that. So we don’t expect to come up with any answers to these questions, but we want to raise these questions and get the audience to realize that they are real questions. We do, as a society, need to come up with answers for them. And the questions are: How do we live with predators? So, I’d like everybody to lower their defenses a little bit. Still listen critically but listen openly to this afternoon’s panelists. I’m going to let each panelist take a few minutes to introduce themselves and give a little background information on why they are here. And then we will probably spend about thirty minutes having a discussion among the panelists. And then I’d like to take at least a half hour to entertain questions from the audience. I’d like to have a good discussion between the audience and the members of the panel. And when we have that discussion, let’s keep our defenses down on that as well and try and have a nice, civil discussion. I know John already has been cornered a couple of times and I think it has taken a lot of courage on his part to be here. And we are really happy to have him here. He’s a rancher. He’s on the front lines, he’s dealing with these issues and has been for a long time. Like Tom said he’s not always in the best situation, but I think he has made some pretty good choices, and I think he’s made the best of this situation. So we will start with John Robinet.
John Robinet: I’m from the Dunoir Valley, Dubois, Wyoming, and predators influence our lives daily, whether it be large carnivores or small ones, but lately it’s been wolves and bears. And when I say daily, I mean from daylight to dark and all through the night.
We implemented a conservation strategy about ten years ago and we realized that wildlife is driven by necessity, we’re driven by economics and that’s where the root (??) comes. If you want to try and coexist with a species, whether it be humans or wildlife, you really have to go out and understand what that species’ needs are. If you look out on your pasture and see a bear, you find out why the bear is there. You don’t grab your gun and run out and shoot him, you have to understand that he’s there for a reason. Whatever you’re doing, you are doing it right, because he’s there. The same way in our elk populations, some days we’ll have a thousand to two thousand elk on the ranch. And the fences that were alluded to earlier were 7 feet high, 10-wire electric fences, run off 240 volts to manage elk and bears, and it’s very successful. And, it’s very expensive. So, we do try to implement, we back up what we say. We feel that if you don’t put 110% into anything, you have no right to complain. So before we do a lot of complaining we do everything we possibly can and then we complain. We’ll get into that later, I hope.
Bill Orsello: Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, my name is Bill Orsello. I’m here as a hunter advocate. When Lewis and Clark came through this country 200 years ago this was a veritable wildlife paradise, comparable to the Serengeti of Africa. In a hundred years there was a frenzy of destruction that left this country almost vacant of almost all megafauna. Bison were on the verge of extinction, pronghorn antelope. The elk were small remnant herds. Predators were on the last reaches of the back country.
And out of that, at that time, hunter conservationists stepped forward, and they changed the way that they looked at game. Up to that time it had been a matter of subsistence hunting, market hunting, and depopulation of animal populations for agricultural purposes. And they formed a new ethic, a conservation hunter ethic. The foremost luminaries were people like Theodore Roosevelt, George Grinnell. They worked to preserve the areas like Yellowstone, Glacier Park. They created the forest reserve system that is now the Forest Service. And they maintained the ecosystems that could sustain wildlife, but it was still empty. And hunter conservationists took the lead in returning the prey species. Right now, we have populations, Ed Bangs alluded to deer, but it goes beyond that. Elk populations, pronghorn populations are at levels that have been unseen since the turn of the century. There are tremendous numbers of prey species out there. But what we don’t have in the abundance we once did, and the part that is left undone, is the restoration of the predators that forage those prey species. The crucible of claw and fang that created those animals that we as hunters respect and admire so much, were directly related to the predators that they lived with for 20,000 years. And as a hunter and a conservationist, my goal is to create ecosystems that can sustain both prey species and predator species. Predator species that I hope to emulate as a hunter, the stealth, the strength, the perseverance that distinguishes a hunter conservationist perhaps from someone who’s only out there to put meat on the table. That’s the direction I come from. Thank you.
Becky Weed: I’m Becky Weed, I raise sheep along with my husband Dave Tyler in Belgrade, Montana, southwestern Montana, and I’m involved with a group of ranchers who have committed to being “predator friendly”. That means that we make a written commitment not to shoot or trap or poison native species that may be killing livestock on our land or on our leased land. We have a small cooperative of wool growers, but now my husband and I are marketing the finished products through our ranch Thirteen Mile Lamb and Wool Company. But the coop still exists to act as a broker of raw, predator friendly wool.
Many of you have heard me before, we have in general a very positive story to tell. We’ve been very fortunate using llamas as guard animals to protect our sheep from primarily coyotes on our landscape. More recently, this fall especially, we’ve had a pretty severe problem with what we suspect is a black bear. And I can give you all the gory details of that, if you are interested, it’s quite an entertaining soap opera, albeit a painful one, I study the animals from my sleepingbag in the back field, not using radio telemetry or an airplane. We can get back to that, but I would like to step back for just a minute.
I suspect that there are more than a few people in this room who are asking “Why all this deference to ranchers and hunters anyway? What do we owe to them?” I would like to emphasize that I think the attention is important, but not just because of the political reality. The good old boys will die off eventually and increasingly most of their sons and daughters are sitting behind computer screens for all these wonderful high-tech companies anyway. It’s not just because society owes something to preserve the romantic lifestyle of our grandpappy, we don’t know anything to preserve a grandpappy’s lifestyle with the possible exception of Levi’s people. And I think the real reason is because of what ranching and ranchland can and really must do for society and for both human and other societies, and that includes of course the obvious generic term of open space. What that really means is grassland ecosystems in this part of the world. By comparison cropland agriculture, and noxious weed landscapes, and subdivisions, and feed lots, they don’t hold a candle to grassland ecosystems. I think we have the capacity to work with ranchers to do much more positive than we are right now.
So I guess, what I’d like to see people walk away with here is what they see for the possible role of Predator Conservation Alliance, but all of us as individuals, as consumers, and even as leaders of consumers [as well]. From the discussion that proceeded ours, it was clear that the efforts in policy changes, legislative changes and compensation programs are incredibly important and useful, but all very problematic. The last big piece of the picture is the marketplace. You can’t overestimate your power as a consumer and as a leader of consumers. Just look at the grocery market, it’s basically stagnant but in the last several years the organic food market has been growing by more than twenty percent. And although the US is lagging behind, Europe is demanding hormone and antibiotic-free beef. There’s whole movement towards an increasing emphasis on grass-fed meat for both human health and ecological reasons.
I’ve been receiving dozens of phone calls from ranchers all over the country who are intrigued by the predator-friendly idea. They don’t feel represented by the conventional stockgrowers associations and the highly publicized, knee-jerk anti-environmental stands. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being a Pollyanna. I have no illusions about the attitudes that are out there, but nobody really has good hard data on what the grassroots agricultural community feels. And I’ve run into innumerable ranchers who are looking for ways to find positive alternatives to the battles between the agricultural and the environmental communities.
So, I guess this is really is a plea for your help. I’ve pretty much shot my wad financially and a black bear is trying to finish off the rest of it, as we speak. You have the power. There’s an awful lot you can do by your personal buying habits, but also by notifying other people about the options. And it’s not just predator-friendly wool, there’s a family in Arizona that’s marketing wolf-friendly beef. There’s all sorts of things like that going on. The other reason why people like that need your help, is that for us to participate in the conventional market infrastructure, we have to compete with basically third-world labor costs. And I don’t want to do that, we’re paying US wages for US products. So that means we have to sell directly and for us to do that, we need the help of a proactive consumer community. Hopefully, we can generate enough discussion here to help educate each other. Thanks.
Levi Holt: Thank you Shawn. Again, Levi Holt, I am the area manager for a non-profit foundation: the Wolf Education and Research Center, located on the Nez Perce reservation. That foundation enjoys currently a formal memorandum of understanding with the Nez Perce tribe. And as you heard from Ed Bangs earlier, we are as Nez Perce and as the Nez Perce tribe largely involved in the recovery effort of the gray wolf within north-central Idaho. Moreover, the Wolf Education and Research Center is dedicated to, of course, recovering the gray wolf within the greater Rocky Mountain region. Our mission is to build upon educational programs that we’ve set in place and broaden the awareness of the gray wolf. And, moreover, to address the conflicts of man and wolf. And we know that there are many. I think the individuals sitting here alongside of me are representative of many of those conflicts. And often times we are not able to resolve them in such a short time, as the wolf has returned.
However I believe in the future that will change. Either on the part of willingness, on the part of industry, and other users of habitat in sharing with the wolf and other species. It will come through, as I’m hearing, a want on their side, but perhaps by pressures through greater America to look at land use policy, regulation and other issues involving threatened or endangered species. So, as the Nez Perce tribe has embarked upon the recovery of the gray wolf, we’ve involved ourselves not only of course here, but within the salmon efforts to recover the salmon within the Columbia drainage and the Clearwater, and other Snake River systems as well. We’re looking at the grizzly bear, at the lynx, and the wolverine as well and we understand that of course conflict and hardship will come with those particular efforts. So, along with the area manager position, I also have the capacity as a tribal liaison to the tribes of the Northwest and that comes, of course, from experience within tribal government and as well sitting and leading on our tribal council of the Nez Perce tribe. That, of course, has always been challenging and I feel in many ways the conflict, the hardship, the misunderstanding, the unknowns of the gray wolf sometimes mirror that of native people. And so I find myself here today hoping to bridge the gap. Thank you.
Shawn: The first question I have for the panel is addressed largely to Becky and John and it’s kind of a pretty broad, twofold question. The first part of that question is: I know both of you on your ranch outfits have done a lot more than the typical rancher has to alleviate conflicts with predators. Becky, I think with you it’s largely been probably coyotes and bears, and I know with John and his place in the Dunoir, it’s been with grizzly bears. Both of these folks have made a really good effort to try and reduce the conflict between the native predators on their places and the livestock they’re trying to raise. I’d like them to give us a little more detail on what they’ve actually done in the field.
The second question is: why they’ve done that? There’s always going to be somebody ranching in areas where there are wolves or bears or some type of predator, but they’ve made a conscious choice to be ranching in these areas where it’s definitely harder to make a go of it. And then they’ve made the extra effort to reduce the conflict and I want to know why they’ve done that, why they’ve taken that extra step to live in an area where there are predators and then taken the extra step on top of that to reduce the conflicts between themselves and the predators. John?
John: If you look on the map over there, we’re hotspot number three. And that encompasses the ranch and the Forest Service allotment. Our first major concern was grizzly bears and we realized we had a concentration of grizzly bears and that, if we were going to stay there and ranch, we had to figure out how to coexist with bears and we weren’t going to kill them. I have a very big fondness for bears, they are probably the most flexible, adaptable, forgiving animal I have ever worked with. I have had them in my yard five out of seven nights. My wife and I, when we calve cows at the ranch, we had bears every night. When you walk to the barn a bear would follow you. When you walk between barns, bears would follow you. We have had cattle attacked in the corrals. I should have brought our album, it would have been very interesting for you to see. We have lots of experience with bears. We’ve been around bears 400 and some days of observing bears, interaction with cattle and bears, and we’ve stopped counting because it was kind of futile and what’s the point?
So, we went out into our forest allotment and we identified peak bear use areas. In those areas bears use specific areas of that allotment different times of the year. So we chose to rotate our cattle around those peak bear use areas. The problem is that we ran into conflict with the Forest Service. Our rotation called for us to be on top of those bears at the very peak times. So we knew within two days of going to a certain area in the Dunoir, for example, in two days we were going to have kills on any given one of those rotations. So we tried to impede that rotation, move the cattle slowly into those areas and we reduced our losses. Then, when it came to the ranch, we calved our cows for several years at the ranch, we started calving in February and March. Most of the bears came out of hibernation in March. So we had a road, it kind of goes north and south, east and west, and I would go check cows say at ten o’clock. Then from ten o’clock to twelve o’clock, I would patrol the road and keep the bears at the north end across the road for two hours. Then I’d come back and put the calves away, put them back in their pens, and I’d go back out for two hours and check. In between Debbie would come in and check calves while I was out patrolling for bears.
For several years we did that and we got along great. Bears weren’t allowed across the road. Honest, I mean, we conditioned these bears. Then I started putting boneyards out. Because we were getting into a liability factor, people didn’t want to work at the ranch at night. It’s hard to get people to calve cows and have grizzly bears at the same time in the corral with you. They didn’t want to do it. And it was a real labor intensive problem, so we started doing boneyarding. The first year I took boneyards a quarter mile from the house and I maintained a population of eleven or twelve bears on those boneyards. When they ran out of things to eat, they would come to the house. So then we’d go ahead and the next year we moved it a quarter of a mile further. Eventually we got back to where our land met the wilderness. And we held the bears on private ground that far away from the house, a couple of miles. Then an environmental group came in and said if I continued to do that they would sue us for habituating bears.
At that time it was unknown to them that one of the game wardens, who has since died, was giving me wildlife for bait. We used roadkills only. Nobody shot a living thing. So we actually reduced conflict in our yard. Five out of seven nights we had a bear in our yard. Then the concentration or population got progressively higher, where we went from 4 or 5 bears to 9 bears, to 15 bears, to 32 bears, to 40 bears, which we have now. And that’s another thing: if you believe the population of bears is 230, we’ve got 20% of them at our house. The bear population is doing quite well.
So then, after we did this, it wasn’t very cost effective for me to be out every night patrolling for bears. So what we did is we put up a 7-foot, 10-wire electric fence around the improved areas and we locked the cattle in those areas. Very, very good on bears. It worked good on elk, it worked good on bears, but it didn’t stop the wolves. We had the Washaki pack move into the area in ’96, they set up a den in ’97 about 1/4 mile outside of our boundary on the forest and they used the ranch as their rendezvous site. And they stayed there for several years.
We started having problems with the wolves, Debbie and I got a receiver from Fish & Wildlife and we spent 24 hours a day , 7 days a week, with these wolves. Before that we went out and we watched them, we were the first to find out they had 5 pups. And they are unique unto themselves. So what we tried to do was put enough pressure on the wolves to reduce losses, because we were losing cattle. And the story has played out from there. We’re not as successful with the wolves as we are with the bears. And we went out and identified these bears before the Game & Fish came in and trapped them and put collars. We’ve caught close to thirty bears now, we collar them and release them. We have standing agreement, no bears will be moved from our area without our consent, because we know the bears we have now are good bears. We have several bears that have habituated to killing cattle, we take those bears and move them to right here. We give them a helicopter ride to the barn, leave them in the barn till they wake up and then they bring them up here and turn them loose on the bison. So we’ve only moved 2 bears out of 40 bears and that’s counting cubs of the year. We have 6 producing sows in our area. My wife and I go into the dens, we look around and check them out and not all bears are bad bears, I don’t like calling them bad bears, they are being bears.
And the same way with this wolf thing. The problem we are having is this: the wolves are coming to our front porch. They came on our front porch, they come within 10 feet of the house. I have a receiver that you can take the coax off, put it up to the window and pick them up. And they’re within several yards of the house. And they’re real hard on animals, they’ve wiped out our dog population. Defenders of Wildlife has been very generous, they’ve reimbursed us and we replace the dogs and the wolves kill the dogs that we replaced the dogs with. My wife was walking to the barn a couple of weeks ago with the Great-Pyrenese and the wolves attacked the dog while she was walking the dog to the barn. We had a dog that was 14 that we retired, I turned her out at 11:30 and went to bed, lied on the bed reading a book until she wandered back in, within 20 minutes the wolves killed her, 37 steps from my backdoor. We have an unknown pack of wolves!
A lady brought up this deal about habituating wolves to cattle carcasses. For three years, since ’97, we’ve been trying to catch a wolf in a leg-hold trap. We had a calf that was in need of being put down, the wolves had circled it. Debbie had found the calf, the wolves had beat a mud trail around this calf, harassing it all night. We put the calf down. The next night we caught the wolf, we collared the wolf and turned him loose. And low and behold, it was one of Doug Smiths wolves, 147, we saw pictures of him in the slides. We didn’t harm the wolf, he’s doing quite well, but we’re trying to know how many wolves are there. These are dispersals. So that’s enough.
Becky: In contrast to John and Deb’s situation, you won’t find our ranch on any hotspots. By many people’s measure, we’re downright suburban, we live in a tiny little place only 13 miles from Bozeman and it’s quite a different world. But even there we have wildlife, fortunately. And we’ve done a number of things over the years, our primary tool is to use llamas as guard animals, they have an instinctive dislike of canine creatures. Since coyotes are our main problem that’s been effective. The llamas have been nearly 100% percent effective against coyotes, not quite, but almost. We also, in some places, can use electric fence. We wander around the pastures at unpredictable times, I pee in the back corner. We rotate the pastures, so they’re not just scattered all over the landscape. But even with conscientious efforts to try and minimize conflict, there are still problems. And there’s always other management complexities which get into the picture, for example at this time of the year, I have the sheep broken up into several different groups. I’ve got one group of ewes that I need to breed early, because I want some early lambs because we are trying to do direct marketing of our lamb and get a year-round supply and that’s what consumers demand. So then we’ve got some of our later lambs in a separate pasture, they’re close to the barn, so that means the big flock has to far away from the barn, and on and on and on. Silly little details like that end up having a lot of repercussions for the way you relate to the animals around you. But we do this because we want to coexist with the predators. I ‘ve lived part of my life in big cities and worked in big cities. I’ve done a bunch of hazardous waste work, I’m trained as a geo-chemist, I know what it means to not have the good fortune to live in Montana, and I feel both the privilege and a responsibility to try to work with what we’ve got. And I don’t have any regrets about that commitment, I just want to share both the risk and the rewards with people around me.
Shawn: I’ve got a follow-up question for John. He mentioned all the things they’ve done to live with these bears and that they didn’t want to kill the bears and that they didn’t harm this wolf. All his explanations, for me begged the question, why not? I mean, why have you gone to this extra effort to work with the bears? I know you have had opportunities, I know you were given a permit by the Fish & Wildlife Service to shoot wolves on your place and I know you didn’t use that permit. It seems like you strived to use non-lethal methods to work with these animals and I’m wondering why you that, that’s sometimes the harder way to do things and I’m wondering why you do it that way.
John: As I said earlier, we went out and we learned their behavior. We studied bears, and we live with bears. A hundred times we’ve been 50 feet or less from bears right in our own front yard. You have to know what that bear needs. Once you get that close to an animal, you have respect for it, you have compassion for it, and you start to understand that this animal is totally surrounded by humans. Now where is he going to go? I can pack up and move to Nebraska, can he? The reason he is there is necessity. And I genuinely like bears. I have not found a bear yet, except for one, that I wouldn’t want to be around. You know what irrigation is right? We call it water engineering. Well, this one bear, I was out doing some engineering, and this bear took exception to it and he charged me three times in a half an hour. I’d worked on a book with Craighead – I forget the name of it, Monogram of the É. Ecosystem I think – and so I called John Craighead and I said “What’s with this bear? He charged me three times, the first time from over 200 yards, jumped a buck fence, came out of the trees.” And I explained the circumstances to him and he said “You know, the bear probably had a female, it’s breeding season, up in the trees and he wanted you to get the hell out of there.” So I took the hint and I left.
Bears are a unique animal. They’re not wanton killers. They’re not the horrific animals they’re made out to be. If you see what they do to a human, what they want to do to an animal, there’s no comparison, if they want to eat.
The deal with wolves is very, very stressful and we’re not sure how that’s going to work out yet. The reason we haven’t hunted them down is because we’re trying to stay within the parameters of the law. We do have an ongoing litigation over the wolves. We’re not sure that the wolves take precedence over us. A gentleman said earlier “why do you have dogs when you know they’re going to be killed?” Do I have a right to have dogs at my house? We built a $1500 kennel to put our stock dogs in. You know the outside dogs? How would you like to have eight dogs in your house, from a Pyrenese down to a Jack Russell? So we built a kennel. The Pyrenese prefers to live in the barn, so that’s where he stayed when he got attacked. The point is that I’m not going to become a criminal because of this wolf reintroduction.
I was against wolf reintroduction, I read all the material, I read all the books, we knew what was going to happen, we knew the wolves would disperse, we knew they’d come down there. And they are not compatible with livestock. But you have to understand the animal as a wolf. If he’d read the fine print, he wouldn’t have took the job, he would have stayed in Canada. And my whole point is that you have to understand that that animal is acting like a wolf. You can’t hold that against him. If you want to get angry on my half of it, it’s the people that wanted the wolf in my house. When they reintroduced the wolves in Yellowstone, they didn’t say any were coming to my place, everybody was happy. They came in and they killed 7 of my dogs, they’ve killed one of my wife’s baby colts. Eleven days old, we had the colt in the corral. Came in killed it, didn’t even eat it. They killed numerous cattle. We have a lot of highly probable kills.
So, getting back to the point — I’m sorry — for not killing the animals, is they’re being what they’re supposed to be, they don’t know they’re doing anything wrong. We could have wiped out the whole Washaki pack the first week we found it. We’ve got a bunch of dispersals there now that we collared, and now we are hoping to establish how many there is. We’re never out of wolves. Wolves come and go through there. You have to respect animals.
Shawn: I’ve got a question for Levi. Levi, the Nez Perce have been managing the wolves in Idaho and I’m sure you have had a lot of conflicts there. And I’m wondering what the Nez Perce have done to deal with those conflicts and what you see as solutions to those conflicts. We just heard John say that livestock and wolves aren’t compatible. And we have wolves on the landscape and most of the people here, including myself, support having wolves on the landscape. But we also have ranchers on the landscape and we’ve got an inherent conflict there and I’m wondering how your tribe has dealt with that conflict.
Levi: It’s not been easy, of course. And, of course, in Idaho the habitat and the land base for wolves is largely federal lands. And, as we understand John’s situation and largely that of Montana, it’s privately owned land that is of concern and the operations of ranching and others there. We’ve attempted to go out and give ranchers an idea of what it is that the wolf is about and, as you heard earlier, breeding seasons, habitat territory of these animals, some of the movement, and the prey base that wolves are accustomed to are issues and are points that we look to educate the ranching operations about. It’s not really, if you will, the mom and pop operations in Idaho that are of concern to us. It’s largely the big corporate operations that have 6 or 8, 10 thousand head on some of these federal allotments who only ride and monitor those herds once every two months perhaps. Who only have one or two riders out there, who are based in the east somewhere, who are exploiting the low cost and, fee rather, of grazing cattle out on these allotments. Those are the operations and the elements that we’re facing in Idaho.
Certainly, I understand from John’s perspective and position all that is there as far as hardship goes. I was raised on a ranch and cattle and horses were what we were about and at that time the black bear, the mountain lion, and the coyote were our biggest worries. And we lost animals to the wild in that way. There was no compensation at that time. It was a choice that we made as a business. And as part of that business we knew profit and loss was certainly a part of the scenario that we were facing and yet we chose to remain. There is something about that. I think as time goes on these conflicts will, of course, increase. I think we have a responsibility to provide a place for the animals, for threatened and endangered species. But we also must look at the human involvement and encroachment of humans as we look at the habitat. That will never be easy. There will never be clear, straight solutions that are direct. I think through experience, in time, we will grow to understand that we can lessen them by becoming more aware and more educated of the animals such as John had done with the bear. I believe that it will take some time for him and others to grow accustomed and become fully aware of what wolves are about and how they go about, in this case, their prey base and bringing it down and just why and where and when they will do that. It will not be easy for him. He has private land that many generations perhaps have worked to sustain and to hold. That is not the case in Idaho by and large and those land bases, or course, belong to all of us.
The Nez Perce tribe has worked in many ways, and again a portion of my position as tribal liaison is to bring, perhaps, the cultural message of the Nez Perce forward. That for many generations and centuries, we have lived alongside of these animals. They were no more the predator then than they are today. We lived in lodges of buffalo robe, and elk and other. And had less protection then than we do today. And we feared them less then than humans do today as well. In that way it’s based upon knowing the animal. Knowing the habits. Knowing the habitat. Knowing, as well, what we are about as humans and what we are desiring for ourselves. I think those are realizations that must be put on the table and somewhat put in demand.
We know of the exploitation as I mentioned earlier. That is something that I believe is rampant and is growing as the land leasing policies, the low fees that are permitting those particular operations go on. Of course, there is going to be more concern on the part of those of us who want to preserve and even enhance that habitat. I know first hand of cattle operations where it is use and abuse the land and move on to the next allotment. Those are the operations that we’re concerned with and in many ways I haven’t any compassion or feeling for those individuals as they are facing perhaps the conflicts and some of the future legislation that I hope and pray will come forward, that will bring some sanity to some of that sort of abuse. So in that way I think that in time the conflicts will grow. Of course as we have opportunities to sit down in some meaningful way to discuss just what it is that ranching operations and industry needs and desires of the land, and as we find that there is a need to achieve a balance, we’ll get there.
In Idaho as well, the hunting and sports concern is rising with the arrival of the gray wolf. There are accusations and assumptions that the gray wolf is lessening and depleting and diminishing the ungulate populations and that there are fingers being pointed towards the gray wolf to say “this is the reason. And, as we’ve heard earlier throughout the day, season, weather, habitat, other issues are at hand and it’s not just the species, so I think it’s going to take some time, it’s going to take some unfortunate experience but I think it’s all very necessary.
Shawn: I’d like to touch at a couple of things that Levi said there and give Bill a chance to respond to that. I know in Montana particularly, on the Northern Yellowstone herd here, a large portion of that herd leaves the Park and goes into Montana and there’s a hunting season in Montana on that herd, and there’s been a lot of press and a lot of pressure from groups, particularly the Friends of the Yellowstone Northern Elk Herd, that’s been very critical of wolves and they’re making accusations that wolves are having really serious and detrimental effect on hunting opportunities. I’d like Bill to address that, whether he thinks that’s a legitimate concern, whether they are legitimately decreasing hunter opportunity and then, I would like him to also address that loaded term, what exactly hunter opportunity means.
Bill: Thanks Shawn. I think a lot of it is area-specific. The Yellowstone Ecosystem here is different from any other part of Montana that I’m aware of as far as the density of elk populations, the migration patterns and the time of year that they’re actually hunted. In the area we live, around Helena, even though we have thousands of elk in the surrounding ecosystems and mountains, I wouldn’t bet that I could take you out in the middle of the day and show you an elk. The elk there live very solitary, secretive lives. They’re under pressure from humans, there’s predation on them, hunting season lasts for 6 weeks in Montana, just rifle season, bow season, there are pressures on them and they act differently, l guess, than elk down here. I’m always amazed when I drive into Mammoth and see a 7-point bull leaning up against the building with his camel cigarette in his mouth trolling for babes. And in that vein, the elk that are migrating out of here are what Fish, Wildlife & Parks would consider surplus animals from this herd. The herd is probably a larger number within the Park than the carrying capacity can stand. That hunt has always been controversial. My father, I remember him coming home from a day on the firing line down here and swearing never to come back, because he said “that’s not hunting, that’s slaughter.” A lot of that takes place.
Personally, I don’t like the idea of hunting elk on the migration path, in deep snow when they don’t really have any alternatives, there’s no place to go. When I jump a bull elk, he’s got 4000 feet of vertical and 50 miles of cover that he can go to. These elk coming out, I think it’s a different situation. So I recognize that it’s a tradition down here, but whether or not that tradition should supercede the introduction of wolves into the area in bringing the population in Yellowstone into a more, I guess, relationship with the habitat available and even the type of elk populations that are more common throughout the West, I don’t buy any of that argument, personally.
And hunter opportunity, what is it really, that’s an interesting question. One out of 5 Montanans is successful, that means the average person gets an elk every 5 years. But there are a lot of people that get an elk pretty much every year, so that means a lot of those elk hunters may go 10 years without and they continue to hunt. And it’s because of an enjoyment of the hunt, it is not necessary a chicken in every part. It’s the ability to go out and spend time in the wild country, see animals and I don’t think you have to guarantee that there’s this huge prey base that all it takes is to drive out to the side of the road, walk a half a mile and shoot your elk and it’s over with. If elk numbers are lower than they are today in this area, I don’t think the interest in elk hunting is going to go down any. You may get people that are more committed to the hunting that they do, but as far as people moving away from the hunting and saying that there’s no opportunity left, that won’t happen. We’ve got areas where there are populations that are one tenth of what you see here, that have full subscription as far as hunters in the area.
Shawn: We’ve about used up our time actually, I think we’re about 5 minutes over what we were scheduled to go, but I’d still like to leave it open for the audience. This is the last panel of the day and feel free to stay here as long as you want and as long as the panelists are willing to stay up here and entertain your questions. With that, we’ll open it up to the audience for questions.
Stu Churchwell ???, Director Central Idaho Watersheds Project: First I’d like to say I appreciate these people that are raising interests up here and some of the things they are talking about, that they’re doing to avoid killing predators. That’s really commendable. However, there are some other issues. It’s not just killing but — coming from Idaho — I’d like to point out this is our problem: I don’t know how many of you folks can see this (showing a picture), but that’s a row of 5 coyotes hanging on a fence. You can drive around Challis where I live and you can find this almost any time. This was just taken this year, I didn’t hunt for this and keep this picture forever, it’s pretty prevalent. I’m saying that this is the problem and we heard before that a lot of the issue here is in regard to respect and humility. I’m asking you where’s the respect and humility here? That’s not really a question, that’s more of a statement. (Laughter)
Shawn: I don’t think you would get anyone on this panel to defend that behavior.
Stu???: Exactly. So, I think what we need to look at here is the fact that any campaign that is looking at protecting or conserving predators really needs to look at the validity of public lands grazing — certainly in Idaho where I’m from, I know that’s the case — and needs to consider working on the elimination of that. Public lands grazing affects predators in two different ways, one by killing them directly or calling someone else to kill them for him, and it also affects predators by degrading the habitat of the predators themselves and their prey base. And those are things that really have not been discussed here — except for Mr. Holt here referred to it somewhat — and those are things that need to be looked at as well.
Where I am from, we hear a lot about the custom and culture of the rural Western communities, but what I see of this custom and culture is that it’s a killing culture. And it all has to do with an attitude. This photo right here is taken off a road where a schoolbus goes by every day of the week. And therefore that custom and culture is being perpetuated, that attitude, because those children see that every day. And I just heard someone today say that — I think they were referring to wolves, but we’re talking about how ridiculous it is that we have to tolerate the killing of the public’s animals on public lands for individual gains! And we feel that there’s something wrong with that. ADC is certainly an issue with a lot of us, but if we were to eliminate ADC tomorrow, we would really be only eliminating one of the symptoms of the horrible disease of public lands ranching.
Shawn: I’m not quite sure how to address this. I’m trying to count how many questions and you’re making more of a statement. I’d like to keep it open and keep it more of a discussion. This is not a public lands ranching panel, it’s more about how people are living with predators on the landscape. At PCA, as far as ADC is concerned, Dave Gaillard spends an awful lot of time fighting that. We’re not defending that and no one here on the panel, I think, is defending that and I know John wants to address this question. In particular I think he’d like to address public lands grazing, he has a couple of allotments and he’s had some issues dealing with that. So I’ll let John address that question is particular.
Stu???: Certainly, and I’ll finish in one second here, but I would like to say a little bit more. I think everyone here knows that we’re looking at behavior modification in terms of wolves, shock collars and that kind of thing, to come up with a situation where they won’t attack livestock, but by the same token, wolves as predators are perfect as they are. We don’t want to change wolves, we want them to do what they do. And the livestock situation needs to be changed, not the wolves themselves. I’ll just leave it at that.
John: The first one I’d like to take a swing at is public land misuse and there are examples of misuse in every industry in the world. I can go around and show you public land overgrazing in different places. If you want to make a point of it, I can darned sure find one for you. But the other 99% of the people who are doing a good job, you don’t seem to pick out and saying “they’re doing a good job.” As far as the people in these environmental movements, sometimes they’re a pain in the rear. We have a lady who’s the head of one of the environmental groups in Wyoming, who wrote a letter to the Forest Service and said that we were misusing public land, we ruined the amphibian habitat in the Dunoir, especially in Dandy [sp?] Meadows. Our cattle drank all the water. The spotted toad, leopard lizard or whatever else is up there, and I’m not familiar with them, we haven’t used that allotment for 8 years. There has not been a cow in it. On top of that we took non-use because of the situation we’re in right now, we gave up our forest permit for 3 years, sold two thirds of our cattle to try to accommodate environmental concerns in that area. And I don’t like people saying that generally all ranchers are bad. As far as coyotes, coyotes are very territorial. I had 20 to 25 coyotes on the ranch before the wolves came in. Now, if you have a problem with a coyote killing cattle, you isolate that individual and you shoot him. You leave the other 24 alone. Now that the wolves have come back, they wiped out at least two thirds of our coyotes. The coyotes that have taken their place are more aggressive, more vicious than the coyotes that we had before that. So, whoever shot the coyotes and hung them up, more snowmachiners and fourwheelers kill coyotes than any rancher in our area. They go out and run them down on snowmachines, they think they’re doing the world a favor. A lot of hunters run them down in the winter, because they want something to hunt. So I mean, be specific, don’t generalize on these abuses.
And then we get into public lands, if it wasn’t for my tolerance there wouldn’t be a bear population in the Dunoir Valley. There wouldn’t be a pack of wolves in Dunoir Valley, if I didn’t have tolerance for those animals. So give us a little bit of credit.
Shawn: Would you like to address the few allotments in particular that you have and that you have and you that have been trying to retire?
John: Okay. We have two allotments over in hotspot #3. They’re inside the PCA.
Shawn: The PCA in this case as a Primary Conservation Area. That’s a line that the government has drawn for grizzly bears, and these allotments are within the Recovery Zone.
John: And I’m on the Conservation Strategy Working Group to deal after delisting. We’re trying to come up with a plan to save bears after delisting in the State of Wyoming. We have 2 allotments over there, they’re inside the PCA. Those allotments are highly contested, very hotspots for the environmental community. We have a high concentration of bears. We want to retire those two allotments. We want them to go back to wildlife. Public land belongs to wildlife, it doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to wildlife. So the Forest Service right now refuses to retire those two allotments. If we give them up, they’ll put cattle in on top of them. Why put cattle on top of a species that you’re trying to save? Because, right now, under the current management cow-killing bears will be killed. So here we are trying to give allotments back, they don’t want to take them. For some reason, they want more aum’s, it’s not the place for it. So I would like to have your input on that.
Shawn: I think the two of you should have a conversation afterwards, so we can open up to the rest of us. One thing John has raised here, and I think it’s something all of us need to realize, is that ranchers are not a homogenous whole and environmentalists are not a homogenous whole. There’s individuals inside both of those groups just like there is inside any other group and you cannot expect one individual in that group to defend the actions of everyone else in that group. I grew up in a ranching community, up until I was about 8 I entertained thoughts of actually working on a ranch, but I’m a long ways from there right now. And I’ll be one of the last people to defend behavior of the industry as a whole. I’m also not going to damn everyone in the industry, I know there are good people trying to make a living at it. There are other people who — as Levi alluded to — are just looking purely for a profit and if you’re looking purely for a profit that’s not the business to be in.
Dave Gaillard: I want to follow up on one of Shawn’s opening remarks which is that the challenges ahead are a lot less about wildlife, managing predators, than they are about managing people and I was really struck by Levi’s comments where he mentioned that it really comes down to the choices we make as people about our connections to the land, about our knowledge of the animals and how we will be with them. Anyway, these things are spinning around in my head and I guess my direct question will be to Bill. Not being a hunter myself, I’m an outdoor recreationist and I know what it’s like to recreate in predator country and it touches on some of the themes that Levi mentioned. I wonder what it’s like to hunt in predator country. It’s obviously a lot more of a hassle, there’s things you have to do and consider, especially in bow season I guess, if you’re making no noise and wearing camouflage. Do you choose to do that and if so, why?
Bill: Well, it does make it more interesting. I was born and raised in Montana and when I was in college I took off for Alaska for a few years. I got up there and I worked for a crusty old water well driller when I just got there and I was expounding on how Montana was just as wild as Alaska. He laughed and he said “so is there anything in your backyard that can kill ya and eat ya?” And I said “probably not.” And he said “it ain’t wild.” And that gets to the heart of it. I think that as a real hunter, it’s kind off like the human condition where you want to see yourself above all other things. And wrestling for that top rung of the food chain really brings some humility to you. You know, when you’re out there at night bugeling, trying to find out where those elk are, and you hear a stick crack and the hair goes up on the back of your neck, all of a sudden you realize it’s a much more elemental relationship with wildlands than it is when you’re out there in a sterile environment where you fear nothing. To me that’s what adds a lot of this place to wildlands. We floated the Smith River, it’s a beautiful trip, a great way to get out with the family, but we floated the North Fork of the Flathead years ago and coming around the corner up to a bear swimming in the pool, there’s a mountain lion crossing the river in front of me and wolf tracks on the sandbars, it’s a completely different country, much more elemental, much moreÉ. To me it feels like the Wild. And I guess that’s why in hunting the same thing, I don’t want a pasteurized hunting experience. Taking it right down to a game farm is the ultimate expression of that where you’re in complete control. And I think in wild country with wild animals, you’re not, you face all those same dangers and tests that the other animals do out there.
Female voice: I have a question for John. First of all, it’s incredible to hear your stories and it’s wonderful to get first-hand accounts of what ranchers are facing. I’d like to just ask you: I hear you say that you have a respect for wildlife and that you believe that the wildlife belong on those public lands and you’re respectful of the bears and you have figured out a way to work with that and your ranching needs. And yet, at the same time, you didn’t support the reintroduction of wolves and I just want to try and understand that disconnect of why supporting and respecting certain wildlife, but then not also wanting the wolf as part wolves of of this ecosystem. And in no way putting that as a threatening question, but just to better understand what’s going on in ranchers’ minds, if you’d be willing to answer that?
John: As far as what’s in ranchers’ minds, I can only speak for what I have control of, I only try to control that portion, my area. And why I didn’t support the wolf reintroduction? Have you read the books on wolf behavior, wolf biology, the mechanics that drive wolves? Why are there wolves at my house right now? I thought they turned them loose in Yellowstone!
Same voice: When wolves were reintroduced, it’s clear that they’re not in a pen, that Yellowstone does not have an electric fence around it. The point of introducing wolves was to create a more balanced ecosystem, nationwide eventually, to come back to the roots of what this environment is supposed to be and so I find it very interesting that you have that you have respect for many of the animals and that shows a respect for a healthy, complete environment, and yet when it comes to the wolf which is very much a part of this environment, it’s no, that doesn’t count, that one is not allowed. And that’s what I’m trying to understand, that environmental respect and yet with the very specific limitation.
John: Bears are 80% vegetarian, somewhere between 70 and 80%, and they are opportunistic killers and occasionally you will have a bear key in on cattle and become habituated. And you can deal with that bear. Wolves eat meat everyday, if they can. What does it cost you to have a wolf? What sacrifice do you pay to have wolves in the ecosystem? No no, personal sacrifice, what does it cost you personally to have wolves in the ecosystem?
Voice: I agree with you a 100%!
John: You don’t have to agree with me.
Voice: I’ll answer the question: zero!
John: It costs me dogs, it costs me horses, when my wife takes her Jack Russell out the backdoor at 10 o’clock ÉÉ. [end of tape]