Recently, the state Fish and Wildlife Department killed a gray wolf in response to an attack on livestock. (Aug. 7 article, “Wildlife managers kill gray wolf in Stevens Co.”).
Ostensibly, this wolf was killed to protect the fortunes of proud, independent public-lands ranchers — paragons of the free enterprise system.
Here are some facts to set the record straight. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management spend several times more supporting the livestock industry than they receive in grazing fees. Experts estimate the Forest Service and BLM lose over $100 million a year on their grazing programs. When erosion, lowered recreational values, loss of biodiversity, and numerous other costs are factored in, the subsidy to the livestock industry grow to gargantuan proportions — roughly $2 billion annually, or $66,666 per public lands rancher — yet they represent only 3 percent of the total beef production. Domestic livestock grazing has been the greatest environmental calamity ever to befall the western United States. It has reduced biological diversity by roughly one-half its pre-grazing level.
The true cowboy was an ephemeral transient through the American wilderness. We cannot bring him back. But we can bring back the geography through which he rode — wilderness.