I admit, calling a fourth-generation rancher of the largest ranch in Washington, who has admitted publicly that he wants the Wedge pack killed, was not an easy thing for me to do. I put it off, walked the dog, ate some scrambled eggs, watched TV, ate some toast, then finally told myself to quit hem-hawing around and make the call.
It wasn’t as bad as I expected. The phone number of the Diamond M is easily found online and when I rung them up, a woman answered. I told her who I was, said I was interested in writing about their wolf situation. She handed the phone to Len McIrvin. I gave him my (well-rehearsed) spiel and he said his son, Bill, was handling most of these wolf calls so I was passed over to Bill who had a calm, measured voice and agreed right off to talk with me.
Bill tells me that the first confirmed wolf kill on the Diamond M was in 2007, and probably from the same pack accused of livestock depredation now, the Wedge pack. When I ask about other predators, Bill says lots of predators go after their cattle, including black bear and cougar, although he is unable to tell me how many cattle succumb to these animals yearly. But wolves, he says, are the worse. Why? I ask. Because they are killing but not eating–for fun, not merely for food, he responds.
My next question is about the efforts the Diamond M ranch has made to prevent wolf-livestock problems and if they have received assistance in this from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDF&W). Bill answers, “They (WDF&W) talk to the public about it but they know there’s no way to do that up here.” I ask why this is. “Nonlethal methods do absolutely nothing, they are completely ineffective up here.”
Let’s pause from my interview and skip to later, when I call up Steve Clevidence, long-time rancher and consultant for Living with Wolves. This is a happy phone call, one I don’t need to overeat before making. According to Steve, fladry may be difficult to use in the thick brush and trees of northern Washington but there are most certainly other means to prevent, or at least decrease, problems. Also, he says, on Blackfoot land, an innovative form of fladry is being used, one that rolls out in reels that are carried on four wheelers. The wire is hooked up to the batteries of the vehicle so it is has a charge. Amazing what people can come up with to prevent livestock depredations when they set their minds to it. Steve shares with me other ideas, he has so much enthusiasm, so much hope, and so much measured wisdom. I wish he could teach at each and every cattle ranch in the West.
The folks at Diamond M ranch refuse compensation for their livestock losses due to wolves and I ask Bill McIrvin about this. He says they feel the compensation is a trap, that accepting it is like accepting the wolves. Also, he says, the amount is trivial compared to the actual loss. I ask him who he feels is ultimately responsible for the problems caused by livestock-wolf interactions and he says the State. He tells me that the State is not adhereing to the wolf management plan they recently enlisted because the plan calls for lethally removing repeat offenders (ie wolves), and this is not being done. And Bill believes that when wolves turn to killing cattle, the wolves should be killed. I do hear a hint of possibility in his words of a tolerance to wolves, but only those wolves that are far away from cattle. He tells me, “We’re definitely in the midst of a struggle here. I guess we don’t feel that wolves ever have been and probably never will be compatible with cattle.”
This statement is my lead in to the main reason I called. I ask, politely, if he would consider calling someone who is also a rancher, one who has worked with wolf-livestock problems extensively. And he’s a nice guy besides, easy to talk with, and smart, I say. Bill asks his name. Steve Clevidence, I answer. Do you want his number? Pause… then Bill says, Yes, I’m not guaranteeing I’ll call him but I’ll talk to my partners and see what they say. He takes the number and thanks me.
We go on to discuss how even if the Wedge pack is removed, wolves will be back, and that perhaps it’s worthwhile not to either vilify them or glorify them but remain objective, for the benefit of all. And how most of us that want to see wolves survive also want to see ranchers survive so they need to find a way to co-exist. Well, maybe I’m doing much of the talking here, but Bill’s on the other end, sitting there at the Double M, not hanging up on me, hopefully listening.
My last question is, Is there anything you would like to say to those of us who support wolves, anything about your situation that may make us understand your situation better? Bill responds, “I don’t know if I can convey my feelings very good, but…our cattle are a part of our livelihood, they’re a part of our life. All we’ve ever done is grown up caring for cattle day and night so its really not about money to us, its about our life. So when we see them killed for sport…its pretty tough for us to deal with, its like its happening to a family member. And I guess we kind of feel like we’re in a bit of a war here and we’re the only side that has something at stake–we’re losing our livelihood and the people who are fighting with us are still drawing the same wage.”
I talk to Bill McIrvin for about fifteen minutes and the dialogue is reasonable, calm, and honest When I tell Steve Clevidence about the conversation I say that I could be wrong, but I sensed a hint of an openness in Bill regarding the wolf situation. He listened when I talked. And he agreed to speak to his partners and maybe call and ask for help, not an easy thing for many of us to do. I also suggested to Steve that there seems to be a lack of either education or openness on the part of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the agency that is considered the experts on wolf problems in their state. If the department is telling ranchers that non-lethal measures are a waste of time, someone hasn’t been doing his/her homework.
Steve said he would be more than happy to talk to Bill, that he would consult with Timmothy Kaminsky and Carter Niemeyer about what might work best to decrease wolf problems in northern Washington. Steve even offered to drive out, on his own dime, to appraise the situation at Diamond M ranch and do whatever he could to help. And he took Bill’s number. So now they both have each others number. I feel a bit like a match-maker, looking forward to hearing how the first date goes.