Wildlife Disservice

Someone is shooting endangered Mexican gray wolves. The government's flawed reintroduction program helped put them in the crosshairs.

For more than a decade, Winder has been combining his skills as a college-educated agricultural economist and his lifelong commitment to the land to develop new methods of ranching that not only improve the health of the range, but help his operation thrive and expand at a time when many of his neighbors are going belly up.

Since 1985, Winder has increased his cow/calf operation from 200 head to 1,500. He's purchased two neighboring ranches and now controls 18,000 acres of private land and leases 90,000 acres of public land.

He says a crucial factor in his expansion was his decision 12 years ago to stop shooting predators. He's says he's lost only two calves to coyotes since.

Rather than shoot the predator, he actively manages his animals and has trained them to move together in large herds, which discourages predators from attacking. The last thing a predator wants is to be injured.

"We raised the perceived cost of that calf higher than what the predator is willing to pay," he says.

It wasn't a big step, then, for Winder to embrace wolf reintroduction. Not that he has a warm and fuzzy feeling about the wolf.

"Wolves make me nervous. They kill deer. They kill cows," he says.
But they also can be profitable.
Winder has signed an agreement with Defenders of Wildlife to allow wolves on his ranch. In exchange, Winder has become the first rancher in the country to market a special line of hamburger and jerky bearing the Defenders' "Wolf Country Beef" label.

The label brings a premium price for hamburger--about $3.60 a pound--and has allowed Winder to double the price he gets from older cows that he sells for hamburger.

Besides increasing his profits, Winder says the Wolf Country Beef label allows consumers to make a choice concerning how they want their public lands managed.

"The wolf is a good marquee issue," he says.
Although no wolves have reached Winder's ranch, it's possible they will be there in a few years.

Winder looks forward to seeing wolves--and selling the opportunity to see wolves to others.

As he walks from the farm house to the barn, Winder points up to a grassless hillside 100 yards away.

"What if you had a wolf howling up on top of that hill? What would the value of that resource be?" he asks.

He turns and smiles, knowing the answer.
"It would be great."

Contact John Dougherty at his online address: jdougherty@newtimes.com

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