Northeastern Washington cattle rancher Len McIrvin has made it clear: he really hates wolves—especially members of the local Wedge pack. Though the rancher way of life depends on government handouts and write-offs, he’s been unwilling to accept compensation for the cows he claims to have lost to wolves, fearing it would legitimize protection of the natural predators.
It may not be fair to compare him and his son to poachers Bill White and son, who illegally killed most of the Lookout Pack (Washington’s first confirmed wolf pack to return home from Canada), since the McIrvins appear to operate above board by deferring to the state game department to do the dirty work for them. But they are all cut of the same cloth—cattle ranchers who think wolves serve no Earthly purpose and should be eliminated (once again).
It’s no wonder some ranchers feel they can get away with murder, so to speak. They’ve gotten used to having everything handed to them, ever since the government paid for the cavalry to wage war with the Indians and bankrolled bounties and poisoning campaigns against wolves to make room for their private ranches—and ensure “Manifest Destiny” (the doctrine or belief prevalent in the 19th century that the United States had the God-given right to expand into and possess the whole of the North American continent). But Western ranchers aren’t satisfied with keeping cows on their vast tracts of private land (possibly given to their ancestors free of charge back in the homesteading era); they want the Feds to throw in a few thousand acres of cleared national forest land so they can expand their claim out into the neighboring wildlife habitat.
The US Forest Service contends that grazing fees bring in funds as part of their “Multiple Use” policy, but ranchers contribute only about $1.35 per “Animal Unit Month” (a detached, depersonalizing term for a cow and calf pair feeding for four weeks on public forests). According to a 2005 Government Accounting Office report, that paltry one dollar and thirty-five cent fee covers only a tiny fraction of the grazing program’s administrative costs, making this in essence just another a subsidy program in disguise.
Still, McIrvin feels entitled to prevail upon his buddies in the game department and local politicians to do whatever they can to make the entire Wedge pack disappear. He recently told the Capital Press that the only compensation he’s interested in is a dead wolf for every dead calf, copping a Bill White-like attitude: “This isn’t a wolf problem, we always could take care of our own problems,” adding that the only acceptable option is trapping and poison. Now he’s at it again, making extreme statements in any paper that’ll print them. Yesterday he showed his hand by making this fanatical comment to the Seattle Times: “Wolves have never been compatible with raising livestock.”
Okay, so you want to be an extremist, eh, rancher? (I’m doing the Clint Eastwood talking to a chair bit now…) Go ahead, punk, make my day. Two can play at that game; I’ll show you extreme. Hows about you damned cattle barons gettin’ your cows off my national forest and leavin’ my wolves the Hell alone. The wolves were here first and your poor cows don’t want to be livin’ out on some steep, brushy clearcut anyway. In fact, maybe it’s time you got outta cattle-ranchin’ altogether and started growin’ some healthy, organic crops insteada turnin’ your introduced livestock out into the woods to tempt the wolves and compete with the native deer, elk and moose who belong there.