Letter by Jon Marvel, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project. Hailey, Idaho. September 4, 2002
Gabrielle, Peter, and Mark:
I thought its was worth a moment to pass on my initial impression of "Call of the Wild" the first segment of the "Search for America" with Peter Jennings.
I would ask Mark and Gabrielle to forward this email to Peter in case I do not have his correct email: ).
First, some good things:
1.The video of wolf puppies and pack interaction which I believe came from Isaac Babcock was very good and appreciated.
2.The interviews with John Freemuth and Bruce Babbitt were better than I would have expected knowing both of them, so thanks for those two.
3.The initial explanation of the federal government's role in the settlement period of the west was fair and interesting especially in regard to the organized destruction of large predators and the myth of dominion and manifest destiny which controlled virtually all western public policy at that time and continuing up to the present.
4.The interview segments with Ed Bangs were good since Ed was unusually direct and honest about the wolf reintroduction program.
Then, some flaws in the program:
1. The program was amazingly one sided in supporting the "government abused" ranchers.
2. The simplistic premise behind the program that there is a "War on the West" by the federal government which is falling most heavily on poor set-upon ranchers just trying to make a living is false and TV documentary at its stupidest.
3. The emphasis on the point of view of "beleaguered" public land ranchers was incomplete at best and pandering at least. It was especially sycophantic in the interview with Ted Hoffman who after all is a veterinarian and a part-time hobby rancher. Perhaps an interview with Idaho resident and billionaire J.R. Simplot who is the largest public lands rancher in the United States would have been more informative to the American public.
4. The various statements by Peter that everyone in Idaho is opposed to wolf reintroduction is patently false. A majority of people in Idaho by polling support wolves in Idaho.
5. The program did not explain that Defenders of Wildlife compensates ranchers who lose livestock to confirmed wolf kills.
6. Nowhere was there any analysis or mention of the extraordinary subsidies public land ranchers receive including grazing fees which are one tenth of market rates and free killing of predators by the federal government (the real "War on the West" !)
7. The program never mentioned the destructive impacts of cattle and sheep (especially those of rancher's interviewed on the program like Aggie and Bill Brailsford) on native wildlife, riparian ecosystems, water quality and recreation.
8. The program presented an overload of Republican politicians who have no land ethic whatsoever: Larry Craig, Jim McClure, Lenore Barrett, Dirk Kempthorne.
9. Peter failed to note that wolves were already in Idaho before the reintroduction of captured Canadian wolves in 1995 and 1996 and that those wolves had the full protection of the Endangered Species Act which was removed by the Reintroduction Rulemaking. This made it legally much easier to kill wolves in Idaho when predation of livestock took place and was a clear benefit for ranchers.
10. The program failed to note the tiny number of ranchers who have had any loss of livestock to wolves and never mentioned the number of cattle and sheep which use public land in Idaho every year.
11. The program let an obvious lie by Larry Craig go uncorrected: Craig stated that ranching was impossible in Idaho (or words to that effect) without using public lands. The fact is 80% of ranchers in Idaho do not use public lands at all and public lands provide only 12% of annual forage needs of beef cattle and sheep in Idaho every year. All cattle and sheep in Idaho at the current numbers could continue to be maintained entirely on private land.
12. The program did not include clips from interviews with a number of well known Idahoans (Lynne Stone and Ralph Maughan among several others) apparently in order to avoid a more even handed look at the whole issue of wolves in Idaho.
13. Peter did not mention that Western Watersheds Project owns 430 acres of private property next to the Wayne and Melodie Baker on the East Fork of the Salmon River in the heart of wolf country which WWP is restoring for wolves and all other wildlife after being degraded (like the Baker's property) for over 100 years by unremitting livestock abuse.
because of these things the program was a disappointment.
I expected more rigorous investigative journalism from one of the premier news anchors in the world. Instead what we saw was a simplification of reality in the tradition of television news at its worst.
I would welcome hearing your thoughts.