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Wendy Keefover-Ring

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Are Wolves the Real Killers? Feds Count Livestock Losses Differently in the Northern Rockies

Posted: 07/12/11 08:31 PM ET

Fiercely fanged, wolves efficiently kill and dismember prey. Their ferocity is indisputable, but so is their unity within the pack. The wolf is therefore symbolic of both a strong family bond and wild freedom. According to biologists, these top carnivores keep ecosystems healthy and biologically robust. Despite their immense importance, wolves are relentlessly persecuted by the livestock industry. These producers, as we show here, inflate the numbers of livestock losses from wolves. Those testimonials result in detrimental outcomes for wolves.

Wolves' beauty and spirit make them loved by most. A fearful few, however, see wolves as the emblem of destruction. This minority believes it "competes" with wolves for food and attributes supernatural predatory powers to wolves. The fearful few claim, with no evidence, that deer and elk herds have been "decimated" by wolves, and that wolves harm the livestock industry. Most in this group operate on misinformation and inherited beliefs, not fact.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the agribusiness industry can be counted among the fearful few, killing wolves with alarming readiness. USDA agents shoot wolves from planes and helicopters. Agents salt our national landscapes with sodium cyanide, M-44s, booby traps and neck snares. Rascals, sanctioned or just tolerated, set out illegal poison bait, often using banned substances such as Compound 1080, or shoot wolves where they have returned to the backcountry.

These acts of aggression against wolves are wrong, contrary to the will of the people, and based on lies.

Supporting the fears of ruinous predation by wolves, the USDA itself telegraphs false information dreamed up by the livestock industry. In fact, two different federal agencies count livestock losses attributed to wolves -- the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The difference between their counts is jaw-dropping. FWS uses professional, verified, ground-tested reports from agents. NASS relies on unverified hearsay from the livestock industry. NASS's reports contribute to the unjustified war on wolves. A comparison of figures makes the point:

In Idaho:

In Montana:

In Wyoming:

The livestock industrialists' gross exaggerations involving wolf and livestock interactions have little connection with reality. Even NASS's own data show that the real killers of cattle and sheep are not wolves. According to NASS, the total cattle (2010) and sheep (2009) inventory in the United States is 99,628,200. Of that number, 467,100 sheep and cattle, or 0.5 percent of the inventory, were killed by native carnivores such as wolves, coyotes or domestic dogs. Far more died from other non-wildlife causes, such as illness, birthing problems, weather and disease.

As to wolf predation, even NASS's inflated livestock loss numbers show that the Northern Rockies wolf accounts for about 2 percent of alleged livestock losses. This predation myth exists so that the cattle and sheep industrialists can justify their savage, paramilitary war on wildlife. Worse, they even have Congress in their back pocket.

In April, led by Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Congress prematurely removed wolves from the Endangered Species Act. Delisting wolves gave their management authority back to the wolf-hostile States of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The wolf slaughter will accelerate.

On June 16, the United States House voted 287 to 132 against the Campbell-DeFazio Amendment, which would have cut the $11-million funding for the federal government's own predator control program, Wildlife Services, a special-interest money pit meant to bolster agribusiness. 207 Republicans and 80 Democrats voted against this taxpayer-savings measure. The USDA's Wildlife Services program spends over $100 million each year exterminating the public's wildlife purportedly to "benefit" agribusiness -- even when livestock predation is less than 1 percent.

On July 7, President Barack Obama's Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, signaled that he will allow Wyoming wolves to be shot on sight.

A fearful few wage war on American's wolves. The war comes because agribusiness exaggerates and lies about wolf predation.

We must collectively stand up to this myth. Wolves are not just gorgeous; they and all other top carnivores are necessary for planetary health. Predation actually increases life. Wolves boost biological diversity and make ecosystems more healthy and robust. By keeping prey such as elk and deer on the move, wolves provide an ecological ripple effect. Since the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, biodiversity has soared, as streamside areas have rebounded because of reduced grazing pressure from elk and deer. In turn, beaver populations have returned, providing healthy habitat for a wide range of birds and aquatic species.

Wolves have beneficial social effects. Annually, wolves are a $35.5 million tourist industry in the States of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. In contrast, those in agribusiness suck money from the taxpayer. They obtain unnecessary subsidies like almost-free grazing on our wildlands, and unnecessary predator control.

Call your congressman. Call your president. The planet is harmed by the loss of wolves. We must stand up for wolves before they disappear forever, taking the health and beauty of our planet with them.

Thanks to my colleagues Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clear Water and Ellen Walker for their contributions.