It was supposed to be an educational meeting. It was supposed to preach the gospel of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project to the unwashed masses of Montrose. The “masses” Monday of this week, were made up of 21 attendees, at least a quarter of whom were livestock producers. And then there was anti-wolf biologist and friend Glen Hinshaw, a CPW staffer, and me. The meeting was the best kept secret on the Western Slope.
I found out about it after the meeting had already started when a friend who heard about it from a someone else called me. One familiar face belonged to sheepman Ernie Etchart, who told me that a friend from the Forest Service had called him, otherwise he would not have known.
I wandered in over two hours late and during the second act of the show in which a young lady named Hillary was explaining to Western Slope ranchers (99.999% of whom were not there) how to manage their range land to avoid having their stock killed by wolves. Seriously.
She was telling us how to manage for a sustainable ranch and to be proactive and not reactive in our management style. Most producers that I know, know that and do it. Then she seemed to suggest that ranchers need to rotate their grazing to avoid the wolves. At one point she explained that, yes, wolves kill livestock. And, she said, they (wolves) are very smart, they learn what habitat produces prey and they go there and kill it.
That begs the question, why rotate away from them, if the predator is just going to learn again where the beef is.
She told us wolves look for prey that is vulnerable or degraded – you know they are naturally thinning the herd or maybe it was picking “low hanging fruit.” That sounds good until the slide when she showed us about eight wolves who had just brought down a, royal, healthy bull elk. Another slide showed us a calf kill. But she didn’t mention that the rancher had just lost $600 worth of his herd.
The message that I came away with was, we are going to put wolves in the mountains and you stock people need to adjust. If a cowman loses money because of the wolves, it is his fault because he didn’t manage his herd with the wolves in mind.
The lecture lady also told us that having wolves would improve the rangeland — it was some sort of a rising ecology feeds all species kind of thing.
Of course, the wolf project is one of dozens of organizations whose sole bent it to take cattle off public land and, in some cases, stop bovine production altogether. Impossible burgers for everyone, on the house.
I have been told that if a stockman can’t manage the situation, he can always shut down. So let’s talk Ernie Etchart and the Etchart family. And, talk shut down, when they can’t handle the number of sheep being taken down by wolves. What do we lose? Ernie gave me the facts and numbers.
The Etcharts have been running sheep in the Uncompahgre Valley and the San Juans since Basque sheepherder Martin Etchart came here from Europe in the late 1940s. They now husband something in excess of 4000 animals. Their summer range is permit land in the San Juans, exactly where the project wants to loose the wolves in a couple of years. During fall and spring, the sheep move to the middle ranges.
Now, if that nice lady with the PowerPoint clicker was correct, the wolves will figure that out and the Etchart lambs are still in harm’s way.
There are eight members of the family involved in running Etchart Livestock. They have children. There are about eight employees and their families. That group is an integral part of the Montrose area economic community. Shut down the income for that business and it ripples through the local economy. And no, that is not scare talk. Now, they are not as high profile as, say a Stovers, but you damage the business of 10 livestock producers and you have a Stovers.
After listening to the morning presentations, Ernie told me that they sure as heck had not changed his mind.
Why did they bother?
The last date when the USDA would accept comments on its hemp regulations has come and gone. Turns out that there were about 4,600 comments sent to the USDA headquarters. Almost none were attaboys. Most were highly critical, to the point of raising some hackles of some of the desk jockeys who came up with the tripe they called hemp rules.
The Colorado Legislature took the time to answer emasse:
“Colorado continues to see tremendous growth in this industry and we are excited for the economic potential of this new crop,” the state’s congressional delegation wrote in a letter sent on Tuesday. “Therefore, it is critical the USDA establish a regulatory structure that allows our farmers to succeed.
“While the [interim final rule} begins to formulate a much needed regulatory structure, there are key provisions that are unnecessary, burdensome, and could hurt Colorado’s hemp industry,” they said.
Virtually every hemp growing state, hundreds of individual growers, and everybody else in the hemp production chain provided comment to the federal agency which has been given regulatory power over hemp farmers. As I have said before, the feds need not be involved. States like Colorado and a half dozen others are light years ahead of the bureaucracy. The GMO chemists are already producing hemp that has no THC, which would easily put hemp in the cornstalk category.
GenCanna, a Kentucky firm, announced a year ago that they had already produced a non-THC hemp and the seeds are already on the market. With this leap, it makes no sense for the USDA to even begin to set up the bureaucracy and enforcement rules for hemp farming. Hemp is not now, nor will it ever be, a Schedule I Drug.
It makes more sense for Colorado and other hemp-solid states to let the USDA know in no uncertain terms that “Up with your rules we will not put.”