Ranchers and Wolves: Changing Attitudes?

Photo Credit: EssjayNZ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: EssjayNZ via Compfight cc

“It would be easier to take (a) government payoff for every wolf kill than it would be to go out there and actually herd.  But in my opinion that doesn’t solve the problem,” said Wilma Jenkins in the June 4, 2012 story on KUNM (89.9 Albuquerque) about Mexican gray wolf reintroduction in Arizona and New Mexico.

Most of the stories I hear on the radio or read in the newspaper focus on ranchers and their adamant opposition to wolf reintroduction, so when I heard Jenkins’ comment I wanted find out more about the way she operated her ranch.

Wilma Jenkins and Doug Dressler’s Double Circle Ranch* is located near Clifton, Arizona in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests within the  designated recovery area for the Mexican gray wolves.   The ranch doesn’t have telephone service so we communicated via emails (June, 2012 and August, 2013).

Jenkins ran a herd of Texas longhorns and never lost one to a wolf.  She says her cattle seemed to be more intimidating to predators who look for weak prey.  “Longhorns can defend themselves,” but according to Jenkins the real key is herding.  She herded her cattle six days a week on horseback with a dog or two, allowing no stragglers.  That kept the scent of humans on the cattle and deterred the wolves.

Jenkins herded not only to discourage predators, but also for range health.  The benefits included “. . .reduced erosion, improved air and water quality and wildlife habitat.”  Having more wildlife present on the ranch meant “more than cows to eat for the wolves and other predators.”

When Mexican gray wolf reintroduction began fifteen years ago, the programs to help ranchers primarily focused on compensation for livestock killed by the wolves.  Over time the emphasis has shifted to programs that strive to minimize wolf/livestock encounters using management techniques that include herding, rotating pasture usage, and flagging fences to scare off the wolves.  The Double Circle did not qualify for funds to help with those costs since they had not suffered any wolf kills according to Jenkins, so they had   “. . . to pay or herd on our own time and dime—which I don’t think is fair—but that is how it is set up.” 

Jenkins considers that to be the negative impact of wolf reintroduction.  She says “ . . . many people are dead set against the wolf and resent being forced to have them on their land.  Many livestock costs are not covered in the compensation—like our herding, stress to breeding animals, etc.”

The positive benefits, she hopes, will be that the wolves keep the elk moving, which is beneficial to the riparian environment, critical areas for soil conservation next to rivers and streams that have been overgrazed.  As for the humans involved, she says, “People from opposite viewpoints are cooperating for a common goal—always a good thing.”

When I asked her in our most recent correspondence if attitudes were changing in her community she responded, “People seem to accept the wolves as part of the ecosystem now–but most are opposed to adding more wolves at this time.” 

*Jenkins and Dressler sold the Double Circle Ranch in November of 2012. 

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