Over the years, the Robinetts have tried everything to keep the lobos at bay – erecting a sophisticated cordon of electric wire around pastures, deploying a gantlet of police sirens and flashing lights to scare them off, and pulling countless all-nighters baby-sitting Angus cattle. "When wolves are hitting your place, they chew into your thin profit margin," says Jon, reflecting the numeric pragmatism of someone who makes a living off the hoof.
The story of the Robinetts and the wolves is a tale of the modern West – of federal wildlife policies that have been remarkably successful in recovering nearly extinct animals and of the hardships some of those animals have caused as a result. Now, with the federal government taking the gray wolf off the endangered species list (ESL), the next chapter in this long-running narrative is about to unfold, revealing how well man and predator can coexist in the changing landscape and traditional political culture of the West.
In some respects, it will be a unique experiment. The federal government has rescued numerous species from biological oblivion and removed them from the ESL – from bald eagles to peregrine falcons to the American alligator. But never before has it revived a population of large carnivores and taken it out from under the shield of federal protection.
Editor's note: Staff photographer Ann Hermes produced this video, in which a rancher and retired biologist discuss the difficulties of delisting wolves in Wyoming.
In May, US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the removal of wolves from the federal protected list in eight states across the West and upper Great Lakes. The move highlighted – dramatically – how extensive the comeback has been for an animal once exterminated from 99 percent of the contiguous United States. But it also cleared the way for wolves to be hunted, trapped, and more easily killed in defense of private property – something ranchers have long sought. Environmentalists worry this will lead to a shooting gallery for wolves and undermine one of the great wildlife recovery efforts in history.