As long as there have been ranches, there has been conflict between ranchers and wildlife. I have memories of hearing cherry bombs going off in the middle of a hayfield. It was an effort between the state wildlife folks and ranchers to keep elk from eating the haystacks.
And often, that conflict involves more than lost hay. The recent and very emotional conflict between western ranchers and wolves and grizzly bears is stark testament to just how costly and inflammatory these conflicts can be.
If there’s any consolation, you’re not alone. Stories of wildlife conflicts between deer, coyotes and suburban folks have been around for a while. In fact, I’ve seen it in my own front yard.
My dogs have chased coyotes down the street on several occasions and a band of deer that live on a nearby creek like to browse the remnants of my wife’s plants. If you want to see a mad woman, wait until this spring.
The plus side of that, at least for ranchers, is you now have a way to relate your wildlife conflicts in a way that some suburbanites will understand. I’m not equating the life of a calf killed by wolves with chrysanthemums eaten by a deer, but I’d wager the emotions are there.
Back to ranchers, the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) has released a wildlife guide produced by and for landowners and practitioners constructively engaged in one of the greatest conservation challenges of our time—how to share and manage a wild, working landscape that sustains both people and wildlife.
According to a WLA news release, “While WLA’s guide, Reducing Conflict with Grizzly Bears, Wolves and Elk, centers on the more well-known and publicized struggles between man and animal in the Rockies, the important lessons and knowledge are universal throughout the West. Each of the contributors in this guide brings a wealth of real-world experience in ranching and wildlife management and knows first-hand the difference between what looks good on paper and what works on the ground.
“The ranchers’ and farmers’ practices and lessons learned presented in the guide include the value of collaborative discussions, real listening and developing shared goals with other groups and individuals interested in the conservation of large carnivores and ungulates. It is intended to help owners and managers of private working landscapes mitigate conflict and coexist with large wildlife by:
1. Summarizing scientific understanding of key aspects of ungulate and carnivore ecology and behavior.
2. Summarizing conflict mitigation strategies, tactics and programs available to landowners.
3. Assessing their effectiveness through interviews and case studies.
“Contributing landowners and others share their thoughts on the effectiveness of strategies and programs and discuss additional knowledge, policy and funding needs. The guide also describes and references a few of the programs available through state wildlife agencies and NGOs to provide assistance, incentivize coexistence and mitigate conflict.”
More and more people want to live away from cities. Thus, conflicts and the policies to manage wildlife will continue to be controversial. And this isn’t happening just in the West. Anywhere that ranching interfaces with wildlife or other land uses, this conflict exists.
But I’ve detected a change in the roughly four decades that I’ve been observing the beef business—ranchers are increasingly understanding that collaboration and cooperation is better than conflict. This isn’t going to completely solve the many issues that ranchers face, but perhaps it’s a way that a tenuously peaceful relationship between the many voices that are clamoring about how to best manage the land can be achieved.