I grew up in northern Minnesota, spent summers on my grandparents' and uncles' farms, and eventually married the daughter of a Minnesota farmer. In addition, my grandfather, uncles and father-in-law were all hunters.
Why do I share this information? In 30 years of living in Minnesota I never once heard a farmer or a hunter complain about wolves. Now that I live in Montana, such complaints from hunters and ranchers are commonplace.
Considering that Minnesota is just 55 percent the size of Montana yet supports six times more wolves, I have to ask myself: Are Minnesota hunters more skilled than Montana hunters? Are Minnesota farmers better at taking care of their livestock than Montana ranchers?
While emotionally I'm temped to answer the question with a resounding "yes," intellectually I know there are also good hunters and ranchers in Montana. The problem is that right now it is the lazy/poor Montana hunters and ranchers who are most vocal about the wolf.
One reason why Minnesotans complain less than Montanans is that wolves have always been in Minnesota. Even in the 1950s, when Minnesota had a bounty on wolves, the state still supported between 400 and 700 wolves.
Here in Montana, a significant number of hunters and ranchers are having difficulty accepting change. They feel that Montana eradicated its wolves for a reason, and they don't see reintroduction as the righting of a wrong. Of those who accept reintroduction, many still want wolf numbers artificially "managed" to lower than natural numbers - as if wolves and game animals never coexisted before humans arrived!
While nothing I can say will convince wolf-hating hunters to reconsider their position, perhaps they'd at least agree to stop calling themselves "sportsmen" or "sportswomen." Imagine if our beloved University of Montana football team only played opponents that fielded eight players? Few fans would rejoice as our team pummeled outmanned opponents each week, and the eventual national championship would feel hollow.
Just as there is no sportsmanship in an 11-man team slaughtering an eight-man team, there is also no sportsmanship in hunters slaughtering game animals in an artificial ecosystem with few predators. Without predators, game animals become lazy and stop behaving naturally. Photographs of prideful hunters showing off their kills mean nothing if the hunters accomplished their feat in what is essentially a giant game farm.
A big reason I've never heard a Minnesota farmer complain about large predators is because of the tradition of bringing the cows home at night. Granted, such a tradition is more practical on Minnesota farms, which usually have less acreage than Montana ranches, but Montanans have access to numerous other nonlethal solutions, such as flagging, portable electric fences, guard dogs, and range riders. Whether it's in Minnesota or Montana, a little extra work goes a long way.
I salute the ranchers who understand that a wide variety of wildlife is part of what makes Montana such a great and unique state. There are plenty of places where they could raise their livestock with minimal predators, but they stay here and exert the extra effort to properly take care of their animals.
On the other hand, no one should salute ranchers who complain about their cattle falling victim to wolves on public lands. Public lands belong to everyone - including those who see wolves as an asset. Ranchers who run their cattle on public lands do so at their own risk and should not expect any predator to understand the difference between livestock and natural prey.
Wolves are the anti-laziness animal. They make game animals, hunters, and ranchers work just a little harder. While the game animals simply move on, many of the people in the equation have an attitude of entitlement; successful hunts or carefree livestock grazing are expected, not wished for.
That attitude of entitlement may work in the short term, but eventually all the whining will backfire. After all, hunters and ranchers combined still make up a minority of Montana's population. So if you are a hunter who believes in a true fair chase, or a rancher who is capable of outsmarting a wolf, it's time to speak up. A group that's seen as nothing but a bunch of whiners will soon lose credibility.
Marty Essen is a six-time award-winning author. His wildlife-oriented show, "Around the World in 90 Minutes," is one of America's most frequently booked college lectures. He writes from Victor.