Connie 2011.jpg

Dunham

I know that every person reading this letter likes to eat. Not only that, you have to eat to survive. Whether you are a well-rounded person eating all of the food groups, or a vegetarian or vegan, you must eat.

Therefore, why would anyone denigrate a farmer or a rancher? Does anyone else supply your food? An extremely small percentage of people grow all of their own food. All others work at jobs to make money 9 to 5 and then pay to buy food that others produce to sell.

The ranchers and farmers in the United States feed not only all our residents, but thousands of people in other countries. They do such a good job growing food, whether crops or livestock, that our percentage of income spent on food is the lowest in all the advanced countries. We spend 6.5% of income on food. Egypt spends 36%, Russia 29%, France, Italy and Japan about 14%. It is vitally important that we keep American farmers and ranchers in business to help keep food costs down. Less than 2% of all the people in America produce food, and the number has continued to decrease.

And whether you like to eat meat or not, you use many products of the livestock industry. Byproducts provide ingredients in hundreds of products including soap, cosmetics, toothbrushes, ceramics, antifreeze, chewing gum, ice cream, bandage strips, marshmallows and, of course, multiple leather products. So the livestock industry is important to everyone, because our lifestyles and standard of living are enhanced by animal products.

I know the people of Wallowa County value our farmers and ranchers. Some from other places, urban areas most likely, have a different opinion. They are emotionally influenced through social media by organizations whose mantra is to protect the “wild things” at any cost. Ranchers just get in the way. Some of these people have moved here and may not understand the implications of placing financial burdens on ranchers that may turn a thin margin of profit into the red. Years ago, we were forced to deal with restrictions placed on cougar harvest by these groups. No hunting with dogs. This satisfied emotional appeals to urban residents who saw pictures of baby cougar without a mom. It’s hard to contain cougar numbers when you can’t easily find them.

However, another predator has been added to the mix, the gray wolf, which hunts in packs and can take down the largest animals we have in this country. Some would ignore facts about the wolf and wolf management. They simplify the state Wolf Plan and project the opinion that all is well, and wolves are managed to the advantage of ranchers. They claim to merely want to insure that the wolf survives and thrives as a species, and wants the public to believe that the wolf plan solves all problems. Their facebook and website pages echo this, and NEVER show any compassion for the domestic animals being killed (by being eaten alive!) by wolves, nor for the ranchers who suffer not only the physical loss, but often the emotional stress of gruesome discoveries of partially consumed bodies of animals they have nutured.

So in my mind, their obvious conclusion is that wolves, (their revered wild predator), trump the conservation efforts of ranchers. Yes, ranchers’ lands conserve and nurture all the great mammals, game birds and other wild animals of our land. Yet, these radical outsiders want to tie the hands of ranchers, forcing them to abandon reasonable management of predators and allow wolf numbers to climb uncontrollably. We control elk and deer numbers. We should control the climbing numbers of wolves, should we not?

The magnitude of loss to ranchers cannot be explained to these radicals. They must not comprehend the many physical complications to cattle being harassed by wolves, such as lack of breeding, loss of weight, and actual PTSD that makes cattle difficult to handle. Plus, the great majority of victims are either not found or are too consumed to be verified, therefore making the shrinking compensation program an elusive reward. They must not get it because they never say anything about that — no matter how many times we say it!

But I want you to know that it’s the truth and there are ranchers in the county and elsewhere, who are tired and ready to get out of the business. This will contribute eventually to higher food prices that will actually spill over into other industries who are in the web of agriculture, the biggest business in America.

So thank you to those who appreciate ranchers, just like we appreciate and support veterans. Thank a farmer or rancher for providing you the food you need. Support their efforts to reasonably manage the wild and domestic animals on their private property. Support livestock so that you can count on always having enough food. We cannot produce enough food here or abroad without livestock and that is indisputable.

Oh, and I didn’t even get to talk about the spread of disease by wolves or the increasing danger of human attack or the wildlife corridors that would remove humans from Wallowa County. Maybe next time! Think about all of this every time you eat and every time you walk into a store to buy food produced by the American rancher and farmer.

———

Connie Dunham lives in Enterprise on the Dunham ranch, which has been in the family since 1958. Her husband, Jim, took it over in 1962, and the two were married in 1977. The Dunhams raise Angus cattle and grow hay and grain products. Connie also raises warmblood horses and pug dogs.

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