Among numerous promising proposals that Oregon lawmakers took up and then unceremoniously discarded during the Legislature’s recently concluded session, arguably the most disappointing such rejection befell House Bill 4158, which would have reinforced the state’s authority to kill wolves as part of its own wolf management plan.

Disappointing, from the vantage point of ranching interests, obviously, which, in and by themselves, represent a sizable chunk of Wallowa County’s economy. What’s more unfortunate, though, is that the forces successfully popularizing hard-line opposition to wolf management, while touting environmentalism as their cause, are in truth undermining systems and values that can help create healthier communities and and can help heal the planet.

People may not think about it much, but ranching in Wallowa County yields value in multiple dimensions. Beyond employment figures and farm gate numbers – the hundreds of workers, and the millions of dollars locally generated each year in grown crops and raised stock – are qualitative aspects. For example, ranching adds cultural value, furnishing a ready pool of talent helping to support local rodeos and such family-oriented activities as 4-H, and otherwise keeping our communities genuinely imbued with Old West ambience that enhances this beautiful location’s tourism appeal.

Shifting our focus back to the ag economy, however, here we just may unearth treasures that few political leaders have sought to exploit. Traditional cattle ranching, regardless of whether anyone consciously views it in this light, exists as part of a local food production system. The system is dynamic, with potential to evolve toward greater efficiency, quality, and, as one very important byproduct, planetary environmental benefit.

Successful evolution means not only producing for long-distance shipment to big feedlots and slaughterhouses and to big metro distribution centers. It can also involve gradual-though-modest increases in production for the immediate communities. Along these lines, we recently learned that local beef producers could soon have a USDA-inspected slaughter option in nearby Elgin. Again, we emphasize that the numbers for local consumption will probably always be quite small, but the concept of developing local capabilities to meet local demand nonetheless shows viability.

By contrast, there’s a continuing tendency throughout American society to rely heavily on megacorporate food providers. These giants may source our nutrition who-knows-where, and in this manner we may come to inadvertently support phenomena no good for any of us – deforestation in Brazil, for example. In other cases, casually cruising our supermarket shelves to pick up only the cheapest buys can place our health at risk. (You certainly don’t want to know what’s in that honey from China!)

Whether it’s grass-fed beef, pure honey, or fresh tomatoes or corn, we need to be able to buy from our producing neighbors. This can help assure our food’s quality, stimulate local trade, enhance our security and help the environment.

Where do wolves fit into all of this? That depends on the particular wolves. If it’s the Imnaha Pack, the answer is: they don’t in fit at all. Their depredating behavior has become so chronic, shooting them is now the inevitable and only remedy.

By now, ranchers know this, state wildlife managers knows this, and possibly, on some level, even the “enviro” groups blocking the pack’s necessary management realize it as well. But the groups, like too many other ideologues of all political stripes nowadays, have chosen to draw a line in the sand, promote a new idol for worship, and block any movement toward practical solution.

Unless the groups give way, local food producers – our neighbors – will continue to suffer harm, ultimately harming all of us. House Bill 4158 could have helped restore some sanity to the situation, but for now it appears we remain at the mercy of anti-environmental environmentalists.

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