The existence of another lawsuit has muted the euphoria ranchers would normally feel over stripping wolves of federal protection. Jim Peterson, a cattleman in Buffalo, Mont., who also serves as senate president in the state's part-time legislature, says ranchers and sheep producers have become so jaded over the years that they simply don't believe delisting will be carried out.
"It's not that we don't welcome it, but all this talk of ranchers being given increased flexibility to protect their livestock is being received with mixed emotions and, frankly, distrust," says Mr. Peterson. "People out in ranch country are still not really convinced it's going to hold up. Every time we seem to be moving forward, environmentalists file lawsuits and it gets stopped."
Peterson laments that wolf packs are moving out of the mountains and onto the prairie where his own family ranches. But his fears would be lessened, he says, by regulations giving ranchers more latitude to control wolves without having to worry about being charged with a federal crime.
A little more compromise may be just what's needed to maintain a certain tolerance for any kind of wolf management now. Indeed, L. David Mech, an eminent wolf biologist in St. Paul, Minn., says people who love wolves have to embrace a paradox: In order for wolves to be accepted by people in rural areas, the problem animals are going to have to die. Sometimes it will even mean removing entire packs, but it's better than having none at all.
Mr. Mech says he believes that environmentalists filing lawsuits to block delisting and stop sport hunts of wolves in the West made a serious miscalculation. They lost the support of politicians confronting a backlash from constituents claiming that growing wolf numbers are hurting livestock and big-game animals. It led, he believes, to the Tester-Simpson legislation and could have negative consequences for other species in the future.