Why is Butch Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Copyright Chuck Pezeshki, 2007 The latest scandal coming out of Idaho, ecologically speaking, is Butch Otter’s publicly displayed bloodlust for shooting endangered wolves in Idaho. With such public pronouncements, he is putting undue pressure on the US Fish and Wildlife Service to de-list the wolf from the Endangered Species Act, and the protections it provides. Plus, by promising to shoot the first wolf himself, Otter has set up Idaho Fish and Game for bad decision-making and a botched process. For Otter, facts are what he wants them to be- and the biggest fact that they seem to be obsessed with is that wolves eat elk. Wolves do eat elk, of course. They usually kill the weak, keeping sickness down in elk herds. They serve a keystone ecosystem role by keeping elk from trampling meadows and streamside vegetation. This helps a variety of other species, from rare streamside birds to beavers. When wolves move into an area, they will typically wipe out the coyote population, which is also good for lots of smaller critters that the coyotes like to eat. And uneaten wolf kills provide the backbone of diet for rare pine martens, fishers and wolverines—scavenger carnivore species that are all headed down the extinction tunnel in the Northern Rockies. Theoretically, all this information should be making it to Otter’s desk, from the Office of Species Conservation, headed by Jim Caswell. You’d think that someone in charge of Species Conservation might be interested in conserving species. And by looking at the list of species that benefit from wolves’ interaction in the ecosystem, you’d think that Jim would be pro-wolf. But Jim has a checkered past. As past Forest Supervisor of the Clearwater and Targhee NFs, he helped create lots of checkerboard. As the Forest Supervisor of the Targhee NF, he had the dubious honor of helping create a mosaic of clearcuts on the border of Yellowstone National Park that could be seen from space. And as someone intensely familiar with the Clearwater NF, you’d think he’d spill the beans on the biggest reason for elk number decline in the northern part of the state—the massive elk die-off that occurred in the winter of 1996 due to a freakish combination of rain and snow events. But facts and “truthiness” don’t make much difference to Otter. He’s pandering to his base, who have declared that they are indeed afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. Otter isn’t going to change his mind based on any ecological consideration. But he might do some real thinking about how Idaho looks to the rest of the U.S. and the world. Because how Idaho looks means real tourist dollars. And not just to people who want to see wolves, of course, but more pedestrian folk who don’t want to spend their money in a place run by someone who sanctions killing wolves or clearcutting our remaining forests. Butch might learn a lesson from Utah Governor Jim Huntsman, who only two weeks ago pulled a huge U-turn on his plan to release Utah’s roadless lands to the clearcutters, miners and energy drillers. The Outdoor Industry Association threatened to pull the plug on its hugely lucrative trade show in Salt Lake City. And Huntsman, looking at a huge blow to an industry that contributes $7 billion to the state, backed down big-time. Think that tourism doesn’t matter to Idaho? According to the Department of Idaho Commerce and Labor, one out of nine jobs in the state are directly associated with travel and tourism. In 2004, the industry contributed $2.1 billion to the GDP of the state. And suffice it to say that folks aren’t traveling to the Gem State to see the suburbs in Boise. Can anyone whisper ‘boycott’ in Otter’s ears? It could happen if he keeps up his shenanigans about shooting the first wolf, or keeping his pledge to annihilate the wolf population. His base might hear that. Republicans are supposed to be all about business and money. Will Butch wake up before he kills off one of the most magnificent animals in the wild, and costs the state a ton of greenbacks? It’s time to let our state legislators know how we feel—because what Butch is going to end up killing is the economy. --originally published in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News Link to Chuck’s website: www.wildcountry.info