The Los Angeles Times reports that the Governor of Idaho
, C.L. "Butch" Otter, wants 550 wolves killed in his state -- enough to keep the wolf just above the threshold for endandered species listing (and a return to full federal control of the animal).One is tempted to review the history
of political idiocy and national embarassment that is Idaho politics, from the late Rep. Helen Chenoweth to current Sen. Larry Craig, but let's skip that and, instead go straight to a map and "ground truth" the reality of land ownernship and land management in Idaho.Idaho politicians, like most Western politicians, do not actually control all that much land within their state
. You see, out West, most of the land is owned by the Federal Government and is either National Forest land, Bureau of Land Management land, National Park land, or National Wildlife Refuge. These are lands owned by all
Americans for all Americans. Or, as Woody Guthrie sang, "This land is your land, this land is my land."Along with National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and BLM land
, there are also other large tracts of federally-owned lands: Indian Reservations, military bases, and lands owned and managed by the Bureau of Reclamation (fresh water lakes and reservoirs) and other Federal agencies.The short story here is that if you take a look at the map of Federal Lands and Indian Reservations in Idaho
at the top of this post, every bit of land in color is a Federal property -- only the stuff that is colored white on the map is privately owned property or under states control (state parks, state forests, etc.).In short, the Governor of Idaho is "governor of not very much
," relative to what is around him.Which is not to say that the Governor of Idaho (or any other western state) has ever been shy about throwing his weight around
-- that's what Western politicians do.Western politicians talk a good game about "property rights"
and like to describe their constituencies as being strong, self-sufficient, anti-tax conservatives, but in fact a very large percentage of the political money in a state like Idaho comes from greedy welfare ranchers (and miners, drillers, and timber cutters) sucking on the Federal teat for ever-increasing tax-payer money in the form of crop supports, water subsidies, road constuction subsidies, mining rights, timber-cutting rights, and fire suppression subsidies.Edward Abbey noted
that "Cattle ranching on the public lands of the American West is the most sacred form of public welfare in the United States
" and that the environmental consequences of supporting so much "welfare ranching" was a palpable level of environmental degradation:
"Most of the public lands in the West, and especially the Southwest, are what you might call 'cow burnt'. Almost anywhere and everywhere you go in the American West you find hordes of [cows].... They are a pest and a plague. They pollute our springs and streams and rivers. They infest our canyons, valleys, meadows, and forests. They graze off the native bluestems and grama and bunch grasses, leaving behind jungles of prickly pear. They trample down the native forbs and shrubs and cacti. They spread the exotic cheatgrass, the Russian thistle [tumble weed], and the crested wheat grass. Weeds. Even when the cattle are not physically present, you see the dung and the flies and the mud and the dust and the general destruction. If you don't see it, you'll smell it. The whole American West stinks of cattle."Of course, not every rancher out west is a welfare rancher
, and not every range is mismanaged.
That said, there are huge financial incentives to "privatize the profits" and "commonize the costs" when you allow private profits to be made on public lands, and that is true for everything from grazing to timber harvest, and from water removal to hard rock mining and oil and natural gas removal. Why pay to clean up your mess, when Uncle Sam will force the American taxpayer (yes, that would be you)
to do it?Which brings us back to wolves.You see, the Governor of Idaho's "big idea" is to to kill Federal wolves on Federal land
, for private
ranchers who are being subsidized to raise sheep and cattle that America does not actually need, and which are degrading public
land that all of us taxpayers
(from Redwood City to the New York island) will be taxed to restore.This is stupid on a stilts -- so stupid, in fact, that it's actually a good thing.
Insanity this tall in the saddle exposes the lunacy of "state rights" claims that we should all be subsidizing private interests on federal land.Killing off 500 wolves in order to enable more "welfare ranching" in the American West
is something so stupid and warped that redneck hillbillies and suburban housewives will find common ground in opposition to it.Groups like the Sierra Club
, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, and The Wilderness Society should send the idiot Governor of Idaho a thank you note and roses for giving them a simple and just cause to fight for -- and a cartoon-like idiot of a politician to fight against.Thank you, Governor Otter.
Idiots like you do not grow on trees. If you did not actually exist, the American environmental movement might actually have to invent you.Now, here's the kicker:
Right now, if a wolf can reasonably be shown to have killed a cow, sheep or any other type of livestock anywhere in the United States, that animal is bought and paid for
by American environmental organizations like Defenders of Wildlife. Last year Defenders paid bill out
over $150,000 to cover the costs of 158 cows, 204 sheep, and a couple of goats and stock dogs.That's right -- in the American west there is NO economic loss from wolves
because groups like Defenders of Wildlife pay the full market value of any animals killed by wolves.To put an even sharper point on the matter
, no one in the American environmental movement thinks any individual wolf is sacred. If there is rogue wolf that has taken to stock-killing in a regular way, that animal is going
to be killed by a professional, federally-licensed sharpshooter, and no one
is in opposition to that.Which is not to say that compensating ranchers for risks they assume
by grazing on federal land actually makes any sense. As conservationist, hunter and author Jonathan Hanson notes on his excellent blog
(which you really should check out):
So is there good news in this mess? I think there is, because the Governor of Idaho reminds us
"Where did the idea of public liability for wolf predation come from, anyway? If a cow falls off a cliff on leased public land, do we reimburse the rancher? If a lamb dies from a rattlesnake bite, do we reimburse the rancher? Obviously not. The idea behind wolf compensation came about, ironically, because we were properly bringing back an animal that had been eliminated for the convenience of ranchers in the first place."
that there are a lot of idiots in the world, which is why we need conservation organizations, why we need laws, and why a federated system of government with federal control over vast expanses of public lands is a very good thing.God bless America.
We get some things right, and wildlife management is one of them.
Labels: conservation organizations, economics, Edward Abbey, Federal land, god, Idaho, Politics and politicians, wildlife management, wolf