Coexisting with wolves – a cowboy’s perspective

Coexisting with wolves – a cowboy’s perspective

Conservation Northwest / Nov 24, 2014 / Wolves

When Bill Johnson signed up to help Ellensburg rancher Sam Kayser of SK Ranch, he never thought he’d be working with wolves.

Johnson has a lifetime of experience herding cattle and traveling through the mountains of central Washington on horseback. “I love being on a horse,” he says. “To me, I can’t imagine changing the oil on a truck. I can’t imagine cowboying like that.”

Though he was initially unsure if these non-lethal methods would work, Johnson explains that since they have partnered with Conservation Northwest they have had no known losses of cattle to wolves.

Though skeptical at first, SK Ranch teamed up with Conservation Northwest in 2013 to explore ways to reduce conflicts between predators and their herd of 250 cow calf pairs that graze on 35,000 acres in central Washington. Johnson explains “I wanted to know where the truth really lies between the wolves, the cattle, and the people – how this thing really works.” To find out, Bill had to saddle up his horse and spend a season on the range.

As wolves come back to Washington, it will involve changing the way livestock operators do business. All farms in wolf territory – from small hobby farms to large sprawling ranches – will need to learn to live with their new neighbors. Though he was initially unsure if these non-lethal methods would work, Johnson explains that since they have partnered with Conservation Northwest they have had few losses of cattle to wolves.

The Range Rider Pilot Project is made possible only through the support of Conservation Northwest members. We invite you to become a member today.

When it comes to living with wolves, not everyone is open to change. Some of the more vocal opponents of wolf recovery, calling themselves Washington Residents Against Wolves, have hired a PR consultant to organize a stealth campaign to spread fear and mistruths about wolves.

They’ve put up billboards around Spokane and gained dramatized coverage in local papers. The initial billboard message features a stylized photo of a wolf, teeth bared, and the text: “Endangered? No. Deadly? Yes. Good for Washington? Absolutely not.”

That view is in sharp contrast to range rider Bill Johnson’s experiences in wolf country.

“I’ve been in fairly close proximity to wolves, and I’ve never felt the fear. They are certainly not going to attack me. I represent a bigger predator to them than they are. They are very curious,” he says.

As we continue to work with communities across the Northwest, we’re finding more and more open-minded people like Johnson who are ready to roll up their shirtsleeves and work together on real solutions, not divisive campaigns that spread fear and animosity.

Our range rider program now has helped get five range riders on the ground to cover six cattle operations in the territories of five wolf packs. We’re making real progress helping operations like SK Ranch adopt non-lethal wolf conflict avoidance measures; protecting wolves, livestock and people’s livelihoods. And through their success we’re building tolerance among rural residents for the recovery of these iconic predators.

Working locally with communities is what Conservation Northwest does best – and it’s what wolves need if they are to find a permanent home here in the forests, grasslands and mountains of Washington.