Akenson’s claims are flap-doodle
Jim Akenson’s claim that wolves can be forever “habituated” to eating cows is flap-doodle.
What wolves are habituated to is eating meat, big ambulant packages of meat like deer and elk, and in olden days buffalo. Cows fit the bill. But judging from the tiny numbers of cattle killed in, for example, Wallowa County, which has around 40,000 head, wolves decidedly choose wild ungulates over cattle even when cows outnumber natural prey.
Last year’s savage winter killed and weakened ungulate populations, meaning fewer offspring. The summer drought added to the dearth of prey.
In these fraught conditions, thousands of unattended cows and calves are turned out in the midst of a wolf pack, many calves looking not much bigger than a wolf. So the wolves eat some.
Ranchers scream for the death of entire packs, using Akenson’s fancy that once wolves “flick that switch,” they’re forever addicted to cow-eating. But wolves aren’t flashlights, switched on and off.
They’re opportunistic hunters with a clearly demonstrated preference for elk. Where there are more elk, they’ll kill fewer cows; and if cows are better protected, they’ll eat fewer. But ranchers, always candid about their desire to kill wolves, now smell blood.
Wallowa County, where I live, has one, sometimes two, publicly-funded range-riders to cover an area 40 miles long, mostly rugged timbered public lands. This deterrent can be no more than superficially effective except on open grasslands, mostly private.
Ranchers, especially those grazing public lands, need to make fundamental changes to their business plan. They need to run cows able to defend themselves – cows with horns and the agility to use them; not overweight, hornless critters with stumpy legs.
They need to arrange smaller U.S. Forest Service allotments easier to patrol and move cattle more often between them. They need more butts in the saddle –– at their own expense.
They receive from the taxpayer full compensation for loss, free nonlethal tools, heavily subsidized grazing leases, numerous tax breaks and cash subsidies.
Most Oregonians want wolves in the state and are willing to pay for it. Must we also put up with flap-doodle?