Monday, March 31, 2008

What's next for Wolves? State pins hopes on public acceptance, program to compensate ranchers

Tribune Staff Writer

George Edwards doesn't work for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the agency now in charge of managing wolves in the state.

But his work will play a large role in maintaining a viable wolf population in Montana by building public acceptance of the wolf, particularly in the ranching community, state officials said.

Edwards, who works for the Department of Livestock, is the state's first livestock loss mitigation coordinator. Beginning next month, livestock producers will submit their financial claims to Edwards for animals hunted and killed by the state's now thriving wolf population.

Wolves, which number more than 400 in Montana and 1,500 in the Northern Rockies, came off the federal endangered species list Friday, turning management over to the states.

The price tag for reimbursing ranchers, as well as funding guard dogs and other conflict prevention efforts, is expected to cost more than $200,000 annually. The money won't just come from the state, as federal funding also will be sought. One of Edwards' main jobs will be fundraising. Edwards noted that some of the state's most prominent residents, such as cable TV mogul Ted Turner, will be asked to contribute.

Both those who argue that federal protections should have been removed from the wolf long ago, and those who say lifting them was premature, agree on one thing: For the wolf to survive under state management, it's critical for the state to pay the bills of ranchers who pay the price for its return.

"This piece, needs to work for the overall wolf management plan to work," Edwards said of the state's new compensation program.

Throughout history, people have had a love-hate attitude toward wolves, said Carolyn Sime, the state's wolf program coordinator.

It's the goal of the state, she said, to prevent a pendulum swing in the other direction by keeping the wolf population from getting too large and compensating landowners who are making sacrifices to have wolves back.

"If people are not willing to live with wolves, they kill them," she said.

Wolves sometimes are mistaken for coyotes or domestic dogs. But their striking physical characteristics — long legs, large feet, blocky heads and weight (males can weigh up to 130 pounds) — set them apart.

There's no mistaking the historic attitudes toward them, either. As Europeans began settling the U.S., they poisoned, trapped and shot wolves, causing a once widespread species to be eradicated from most of its range in the Lower 48. They were gone from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, as well as adjacent southwestern Canada, by the 1930s.

"People hated them," said Helena-based Ed Bangs, the wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, when the government announced in February that wolves were being delisted. "We came from areas from Europe that hated wolves."

Values changed, and the wolf was given federal protection in 1974. At that time, only a few hundred wolves remained in Minnesota. Those animals were delisted as "threatened" last year.

Bangs came to Montana from Alaska in 1988, to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's effort to restore the "endangered" gray wolves in the West.

Recovery efforts first began in Canada in the 1960s. Wolves there began dispersing into Montana, with the first two packs denning in Glacier National Park and on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in the late 1980s.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves from Canada into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995.

With federal protection limiting human-caused mortalities, wolves flourished. Nobody was surprised. If mortality is kept in check, the number of wolves can more than double in just two years, officials said.

"Wolves are just pretty incredible animals," Bangs said.

The cost of the wolf recovery effort in the Northern Rockies was $27 million. Bangs said he believes too much was spent, but says the public demanded it.

With the gray wolf delisted, five state field biologists in Helena, Bozeman, Kalispell and Missoula, including Sime, are now in charge of wolf management. A hunting season is planned for the fall, and ranchers can now kill wolves that are caught killing livestock.

Managing wolves will cost the state about $1 million a year, said Sime, who added that the state is hoping the federal government will help fund management efforts. Montana, she notes, is one of the few places in the country where Americans who called for restoring the wolf can see the animals.

"We'd like the American public to help," she said.

Montana has been managing wolves, using federal guidelines, since 2004, so the transition between state and federal rules that began Friday will be "seamless," Sime said.

What is new in the state's wolf management effort are a seven-member Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board, and the role of Edwards, who will work closely with that board.

The price the state will pay for livestock animals killed by wolves kill be determined by how much they would have likely sold for at the Billings auction.

Under state management, USDA Wildlife Services will continue to verify whether wolves were responsible for losses. The size of the prey, tracks, and canine teeth marks are part of the forensic science conducted at a depredation scene.

Ranchers will get 100 percent compensation for both confirmed and probable losses. Under the old compensation program, which was privately run by the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, ranchers received 100 percent for confirmed kills and 50 percent for "probable" losses to wolves.

"There's always losses that can't be verified, and this program is supposed to help with that also," said Elaine Allestad, chairwoman of the Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board.

Allestad, a Big Timber stock grower who has lost sheep and cattle to wolves and grizzlies, said the federal government should pay for the livestock losses.

"If they want (wolves) here, they should pay for the losses," she said.

The state Legislature allocated $30,000 to fund reimbursements and created a $5 million trust fund.

But to date, that trust account is empty. The eventual goal is to build it up through private donations and use the interest to fund operations.

The basis behind the state's program is the same idea Defenders of Wildlife had when it launched its compensation campaign in 1987: Sharing the responsibility for restoring wolves to the landscape while fostering greater tolerance for wolves in the ranching community.

"Compensation was a critical component of the program of wolf restoration," said Suzanne Asha Stone, a Boise, Idaho-based wolf conservation specialist for Defenders of Wildlife. "It helped people overcome their fears and certainly overcome the financial risk of having wolves back."

Over the last 21 years, Defenders of Wildlife doles out approximately $1 million to ranchers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Defenders, which is discontinuing its compensation program in Montana but continuing it in other states, has pledged to contribute $100,000 to help Montana begin its program.

As the Montana program evolves, property damage losses as a result of wolves, such as broken fences and veterinarian bills for injured livestock, will be funded.

Money also will be made available for livestock producers to purchase guard dogs, hire range riders and install electric flags called fladry, which have shown promise in keeping wolves away from vulnerable livestock in pastures.

"If you just rely on lethal control, more wolves die, more livestock die," said Stone, noting that Defenders of Wildlife spent $81,000 on conflict prevention efforts last year in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

Lane Adamson, the director of the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, said range riders have been effective in monitoring summer grazing operations threatened by wolves. The riders spend four to five months in the area. Last year, the riders discovered a wolf den in the middle of a grazing allotment, but because of the riders' presence, there were no depredations or wolves killed, Adamson said.

He said prevention efforts such as range riders are critical if wolves and ranchers are to share the same landscape.

"As wolf numbers increase, conflict will increase," he said. "That's a reality. Wolves kill livestock."

Statewide, wolves killed 75 cattle in 2007, up from 32 in 2006, while confirmed sheep losses rose from four to 27, according to FWP.

Wolves account for a fraction of total livestock deaths, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Montana cattle producers reported losing 66,000 cattle and calves to all causes in a 2005 survey, with 3,000, or 4.5 percent, lost to predators. Coyotes were responsible for 54 percent of the 1,300 calves lost to predation, while all predators, including an unknown number of wolves, were responsible for the rest.

The state's 2007 wolf-activity report points out that the restored wolf population represents a new source of livestock mortality, and the state's wolf population increased 34 percent in 2007.

Wolves also can lead to indirect losses through missing livestock or poor livestock performance because of the stress of having wolves in the area, the report states.

"What we're always hoping to do is decrease the risk that livestock producers have now that wolves are back on the landscape," Sime said.

Of the 102 known wolf mortalities in Montana in 2007, 73 were killed for killing or chasing livestock. Seven of the wolves were illegally killed, according to FWP.

For now, Edwards is working in obscurity from an office in a tiny pink and white house at 1225 8th Ave. in Helena, which he shares with the Milk Control Board.

His profile will rise April 15, when the state officially begins accepting loss claims from Montana producers. The Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board, which has met one time so far, will meet a couple of times each year.

"If the livestock owner does not like my decision, at that point we would put it on the (board's) agenda for appeal," Edwards said.

The state Legislature initially estimated the program would cost $200,000 annually, but Edwards believes the price tag will be higher because the number of wolves and depredations are increasing.

To help fund the program, Edwards and the state will seek grants and private donations from the likes of Turner, who owns the Flying D ranch in southwestern Montana, and entrepreneur Roger Lang, the owner of the Sun Ranch on the Madison Range.

"We have some very high profile people who are residents of our state who may look at this as a viable cause," Edwards said.
Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West Courtney White. Island, $25.99 (218p) ISBN 978-1-59726-174-6

In a time when environmental reporting has become justifiably gloomy, this book is a refreshing breath of pragmatic optimism. Environmentalist White highlights quirky, visionary individuals and their innovative methods to improve the quality of the ranges and mountains of the West, such as biologist Bill Zeedyk, who restores riparian areas and water tables using sticks and rocks to simply and cheaply mimic a creek’s natural meandering, and activist Dan Dagget, who has been able to unite environmentalists and ranchers by focusing on common goals (open space, wildlife, restored streams). White promotes implementation of the “New Ranch,” operating “on the principle that the natural processes that sustain wildlife habitat, biological diversity and functioning watersheds are the same processes that make land productive for livestock... where erosion has diminished, where streams and springs, once dry, now flow, where wildlife is more abundant, and where landowners are more profitable as a result.” White’s vision of stewardship, openness to new ideas, giving as well as taking, and flexibility will inspire anyone who loves humanity or the great outdoors. (June)
State, wildlife advocates spar over cattle grazing issue

Scott Sandsberry
Yakima Herald-Republic

He's just a Kittitas County cattleman trying to make a living, but controversy swirls all around Russ Stingley.

On one side are the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington Cattlemen's Association, brought together by the governor's office to allow grazing on large swaths of state wildlife land.

On the other side are critics who oppose letting cattle graze on land specifically purchased for wildlife and question its benefits. One Idaho-based conservation group has even sued, saying the state took shortcuts in order to fast-track cattle grazing.

In the middle stands Stingley, awaiting state approval to put his cattle out on 18,500 acres over six pastures of rolling shrub-steppe land known as the Skookumchuck, located east of Ellensburg and home to thousands of elk.

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to sign off on the grazing permit in the next two or three weeks.

But every day he waits costs money.

Like many Eastern Washington cattlemen, Stingley has more cattle than land and relies on lease permits to graze his livestock on state, federal and private land.

"April 1 was supposed to be the turnout day (on the Skookumchuck), and that's not going to happen," said Stingley. "So we'll be feeding hay for another three weeks or four weeks.

"We're feeding probably seven tons a day to close to 500 head (of cattle). This year, there's such a shortage of hay -- we normally pay $60 to $70 for a ton of hay, and this year we had some brought in last week for $150 -- and that's only if you can find it. I had a (cattleman) calling to see if I knew where he could find some for $200.

"With the price of wheat now, everything's so high, and corn -- with the ethanol deal -- growers are planting corn and taking hay out. It's probably costing us about $25,000 more this year just to feed the calves.

"If things don't change, there will be a lot less cattle around."

Grazing and its foes

Fewer cattle on state land, though, is precisely what opponents want, and they don't like the direction the grazing numbers are going.

Stingley's permit last year to graze the Whisky Dick Wildlife Area -- held up because of environmental requirements -- called for 160 animal-unit months (AUMs) over 8,400 acres. His Skookumchuck permit this year calls for 720 AUMs over 18,500 acres, between early- to mid-April and the end of June.

One AUM means one cow and one calf grazing for one month; 100 cows and 100 calves grazing in a pasture for 30 days, for example, would constitute 100 AUMs. During the two months of Stingley's permit, the state would allow 360 cows and 360 calves to roam about 18,500 acres.

That's significantly fewer livestock than traditional practice.

For years, the Skookumchuck was grazed by sheep, horses and many more cattle. That area "probably used to run 10 times more (livestock) than what we'll be running," Stingley said.

The Skookumchuck grazing is part of a coordinated plan involving numerous parties interested in the shrub-steppe hills of eastern Kittitas County, from private recreation groups to the cattle industry and public agencies such as the departments of Wildlife and Natural Resources.

It isn't part of the state's pilot grazing program in southwestern Washington, but opponents tend to view both in the same light -- as an inappropriate use of lands purchased to manage wildlife, and in many cases to save those lands from being so overgrazed that they're useless for wildlife forage.

Those same opponents say the only reason Wildlife officials want to allow Stingley's cattle on the Skookumchuck this spring is that they failed to meet State Environmental Policy Act standards in time to open the adjacent Whisky Dick area, where a grazing permit was to go to Stingley.

"They're doing this for one reason only, and that is to take care of one rancher," said Bob Tuck of Selah, a former state Fish and Wildlife commissioner who opposes grazing on state land.

"It's a perversion of the whole system...," Tuck said. "I'm sure he's a fine fellow, but the needs of one rancher should not drive where and what you graze."

Dueling science

While the Skookumchuck was for years subject to what one former state wildlife lands manager called "a lot of very, very bad grazing practices," it had long been coveted by the agency.

Its acquisition last fall connected the Whisky Dick and Quilomene wildlife areas, creating a broad landscape of publicly owned shrub-steppe, critical habitat for threatened sage grouse and other species.

The Skookumchuck had been called "the No. 1 critical habitat project" in a state fund to support wildlife and recreation.

"Suddenly (the state Wildlife Department) is giving the cattle industry what they want on lands that are supposed to be managed for fish and wildlife," said Katie Fite of Western Watersheds Project, the Idaho-based group suing the state. "It's just shocked me how the (department) and the governor, who has really been promoting this and is behind what's going on, have been ignoring current ecological science."

There's plenty of dueling science on the issue, with both sides quick to show research supporting their contentions about grazing's benefits or detriments to wildlife.

Cattlemen, for example, say cattle will eat cheat grass that would otherwise grow thicker and present a larger fire hazard to the open range.

Perry Harvester, who oversees the Wildlife Department's regional habitat division, said grazing is essential for managing wildlife across a large landscape -- with grazing as just one tool of many -- rather than on a per-site basis. Wildlife officials also say the cattle industry's support was a key factor in recent state acquisitions of large blocks of land that allow that kind of wide-scale management.

"That's what we're working towards in a cooperative-type grazing plan, to be able to manage it on a landscape scale," Harvester said. "The problem is, we rarely have opportunities where we have the ability to monitor, or the funds to monitor on the level we will out there.

"There's going to be much more intense scrutiny" under the state's management program, he said.

What about the elk?

That scrutiny will involve ensuring Stingley's cattle remove no more than 35 percent of the available forage in any of the six pastures that make up the 18,500-acre block (about 29 square miles). The rest is to be left as cover for nesting birds, like sage grouse, and forage for deer and elk.

In one 5,988-acre pasture of the Skookumchuck where Stingley's cattle will graze, state biologists doing aerial surveys earlier this month counted 979 elk. That's the most they've ever recorded there at that time of year. Typically, they count fewer than 80 elk in the pasture.

Biologists attribute the dramatic increase to a nearby winter road closure two years ago, which reduced human disturbance of the Colockum elk herd.

But what about the disturbance caused by the cattle moving in?

"That's the big question, isn't it?" said state wildlife biologist Jeff Bernatowicz. "Where are (the elk) going to go, and what are they going to find there to eat? And are they going to be running through people's fences

"One of the reasons behind all this (managed grazing), in theory, is to create good elk habitat to keep them on state lands longer. The reality is, if you put out cattle on April 1, the elk are most likely going to leave."

The elk will probably move into the higher-elevation pastures, above the flatter fields preferred by the cattle. They're accustomed to doing just that, since the Skookumchuck has been heavily grazed for years.

"Historically, the elk were probably being pushed out of there by April anyway," Bernatowicz said. "But we've never had that many elk there, either."

Keeping ranches around

For Stingley, getting state approval to have more cattle graze on the Skookumchuck than he would have been allowed on the Whisky Dick comes up short of what he was accustomed to. He's long leased on the Skookumchuck under both the state Department of Natural Resources and private land owners before the area's 2007 acquisition by the Wildlife Department.

And he'll have to do a lot more work. He'll have to keep rotating his cattle between the assigned pastures to keep the cattle from devouring more than the prescribed 35 percent of the vegetation.

"It's quite a bit more time-consuming now," Stingley said. "This is probably the biggest (managed grazing project) they've got going in the state -- and the most looked-at. After it goes through, the rest won't be quite as bad. A lot of this is just going to be to show that it does work, to show the (Wildlife) Department that it can be done."

If it doesn't work -- and the grazing worsens forage and ground cover for wildlife, as opponents anticipate -- wildlife won't be the only ones to suffer. So will small cattlemen like Stingley.

If he and other cattle ranchers can't find ways to remain profitable -- with monitored grazing on public lands -- the alternative might be much worse.

Some, said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, may simply opt to sell their private land to developers.

"The value of that land," Field said, "to keep it as a pasture or rangeland when you're looking at development plans in the $7,000, $8,000, even $10,000 per acre range, there's absolutely no way a farmer or rancher, or anybody in agriculture, can compete with the type of dollars coming from developers.

"When done right, grazing is an absolute benefit for both the ranchers and the wildlife, by maintaining those landscapes that surround the public lands. That's a buffer between the developers and our scenic areas. People would rather have one or two large landowners there than 250 ranchettes.

"And that's better for the wildlife, too."

Friday, March 28, 2008

Conservationists push for meadow jumping mouse protections

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Conservationists want the federal government to take notice of the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, saying climate change and unchecked livestock grazing are pushing the rare rodent closer to extinction.

The mouse once lived in nearly 100 locations along rivers and streams around New Mexico and in parts of Arizona, but recent surveys have shown that the furry rodent is now found only in about a dozens places in the two states.

The mouse, considered endangered by the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, was recently added to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's list of plants and animals that are candidates for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

"We've argued that the Fish and Wildlife Service should emergency list this mouse and so we believe that all federal agencies should take steps now to protect the mouse in order to prevent its extinction. It is that imperiled," said Nicole Rosmarino, director of WildEarth Guardians' wildlife program.

Conservationists and state and federal biologists agree the biggest threats facing the mouse are grazing and the loss of habitat. The mouse depends on moist meadows along streams and rivers to make its home, find food and reproduce.

WildEarth Guardians sent the U.S. Forest Service a letter last week asking that the agency take a close look at grazing practices and other activities on forest land considering the mouse's status.

The group charges that poor land management is partly too blame for the loss of habitat.

"Certainly, the Forest Service does not have a good track record when it comes to reining in livestock grazing," Rosmarino said. "Our public lands in the Southwest are hammered by livestock grazing ... despite steady pressure from us to curtail that very harmful land use."

While grazing in the national forest system has been a privilege for ranchers for decades, Forest Service spokesman Art Morrison said the agency's rangers take seriously their role as stewards in monitoring grazing practices.

"When we talk about doing the annual operating plans, there's all kinds of things in the way of adjustments for a multitude of species," he said. "By and large, most of it has to do with the amount of rainfall."

No rain means no grass, and no grass means no food or cover for the meadow jumping mouse.

Jim Stuart, a non-game endangered species mammologist with the Game and Fish Department, said the effects of drought are evident when looking at the mouse's historic range.

During the 1980s, biologists found the mouse in the Jemez, Sangre de Cristo and Sacramento mountains of New Mexico. A second round of surveys in 2005 and 2006 found that many of the original sites had dried up and the mouse was gone.

Another problem, Stuart said, is that the rodent is found in small populations far from one another.

"You fragment their distribution to the point that there's no continuity among any of the scattered populations and then they're more vulnerable," he said. "They could basically disappear completely."

While the Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to decide whether the mouse warrants endangered species protection, Stuart's agency has put together a recovery plan for the rodent. The state Game Commission will consider the plan at its meeting next month.

The Forest Service also considers the mouse a species of concern. That means any time a project is proposed on forest land, the agency has to ensure that the rodent's habitat won't be affected.

State and federal biologists agree that protecting riparian habitats across the state will help more than just the mouse. Of the state's 867 species of vertebrates, more than half rely to some extent on aquatic, wetland or riparian areas.

"As long as we keep things in balance and keep the habitat in a way that can sustain itself over time, then everybody—everybody being all the species—is better off in the long run," Morrison said.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Trust land talks reach an impasse

The Associated Press

Published: 03.27.2008

PHOENIX - Talks aimed at reaching a legislative compromise on a ballot measure on state trust land have hit an apparent impasse that likely means no proposal goes to voters in November, a top aide to Gov. Janet Napolitano said Wednesday.
The talks hit a blockage over whether to prohibit use of impact fees on new homes from being used to purchase trust land for conservation as open space under a proposed new process for trust land, said Mike Haener, a deputy chief of staff to the governor.
That at least dims, if not extinguishes, prospects for agreement this session on a consensus package that lawmakers could put on the November ballot, Haener told The Associated Press in an interview.
The state's roughly 9.3 million acres of trust land represent a century-old legacy from statehood that has seen recent unsuccessful efforts to set aside large parcels for conservation as open space while protecting funding the land provides for public schools through sales and leases.
Months of negotiations have taken place since Napolitano last summer convened a gathering of key legislators to try to forge a compromise on trust land proposals - a subject of frustration in recent years for lawmakers and advocacy groups as diverse as teachers, home builders, conservationists and cattle ranchers.
Trust land accounts for about 13 percent of the state's total real estate.
Its future development or preservation, especially in urban areas, has received new attention as sprawl increases pressure for conservation of open space at a time when the state is trying to increase funding for education.
Home builders, whose industry is a major economic force in Arizona and one that has significant sway at the Legislature, had sought the prohibition on use of impact fee money, arguing it would burden a struggling industry, dampen prices paid for trust land and use impact fees for inappropriate purposes.
Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said the prohibition sought by home builders is unacceptable because multiple funding sources are needed to acquire trust land for conservation purposes.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Rangeland Monitoring Data Collected by Outside Source Cooperators

March 15, 2008

By Jim Cagney, Wyoming Range Program Lead, Bureau of Land Management or 307-775-6194

Printed/published in the Guardians of the Range newsletter, March 2008 issue, and in Wyoming Livestock Roundup's March 15, 2008, issue

Kathleen Jachowski, Executive Director, Guardians of the Range, or 307-587-3723

Wyoming Livestock Roundup 800-967-1647 or 307-234-2700

Submit a Letter to the Editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup:

Public collection of range monitoring data is a developing issue in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) range program. It is undeniable that the BLM needs additional monitoring data. Every grazing permit we authorize must be analyzed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and issued with a decision the public can appeal. We need information to defend our decisions. However, the scope of the Wyoming range program makes it difficult for our range mangers to generate the monitoring data necessary to fully support the volume of permit renewal decisions we issue. The Wyoming BLM manages 18,000,000 acres of public land, and issues around 380 permits a year. Consequently, we're not in a position to say no thanks to willing cooperators, and we can't be perceived as not wanting valid information.

The problem with relying on outside source cooperators is that rangeland monitoring lends itself to a wide range of interpretation and complexity. Simply requiring cooperators to stick to “established protocols” doesn't address the complexity, because the issue transcends just collecting data. Let’s say, for example, a rancher and I agree to limit utilization to 50%. The meeting ends amicably with the rancher thinking the use cap is an average for the pasture, and me thinking it’s about use levels on green needlegrass (a cow favorite) along a transect near the best water source in the pasture. Hopefully we'd get on the same page soon, because that is a very substantive difference. But what if the rancher and I never talked about that use level distinction, and the issue was left to a cooperator who would make that determination by the way the monitoring program was designed? Clearly, that scenario must be avoided.

Data collection is just a component of a comprehensive monitoring program. The study design and evaluation process are equally important. Furthermore, monitoring is not the starting point of an effective range program. How do we choose what to monitor? First rate goals and objectives are the foundation. On a loamy site in the Bighorn Basin, my goal might be to increase the abundance of bluebunch wheatgrass, because bluebunch has the potential to produce both the most forage for cattle and hiding cover for grouse nesting. That is a good goal, but it is not measurable. Before I can specify a measurable objective, I need to establish where and how the data will be collected and evaluated. The where, what, and how part of a monitoring program links the BLM’s land use goals with the measurable objectives in a specific allotment. This is the critical function the BLM can not delegate to the public.

A permittee is not required to collect monitoring data. Anyone with legal public access is free to record their observations, and free to send their findings to the BLM. However, placement of infrastructure (such as utilization cages), gets to the “how and where” part of the study design. If the BLM accepts cooperator data but fails to evaluate it, does it become part of the official record anyway? Clearly we need to formally accept or decline cooperator data in a timely manner, and communicate our intent to both the cooperator and the grazing permittee.

The BLM’s challenge is to take advantage of offers of support, and honor the concept of public participation, without abdicating our responsibility. In the near future, the Wyoming BLM State Office will issue guidance to the field offices designed to assure that we steer a steady course in our efforts to work with cooperators. I need to thank Kathleen Jachowski for her critical help in sorting out these important issues.

Hat Tip to
The fingerprint of a lonely profession

Published: Sunday, March 23, 2008 12:04 AM MDT

A few hundred footsteps separate a two-track methane road in the Wyoming prairie and a stone obelisk that is a few feet taller than a grown man and twice as wide.

But it seems a million steps away from the lonely lifestyle of a group of men whose boredom made them the first architects in the region.

Creeping its toes to the edge of the sandstone altar stands what one Gillette man calls the “world’s greatest” sheepherder’s monument. The solitary figure’s only company, like the sheepherder who constructed it, is the wind that howls through its crevices in a pitch that resembles the faint cries of a man alone in the distance.


Suppositions about the purpose for the meticulously assembled Rubik’s Cubes of stone that are spread across the region are as varied as the people who see them.

Some say they are navigational markers. Others say they are predator deterrents. All suppose that boredom had much to do with it.

“My herders just said it was out of boredom,” says Patty Meyers, Campbell County Public Library executive director.

While working as a historical librarian in Johnson County, Meyers researched the sheep industry and found that herders often spent entire summers with their herds isolated from human contact.

“Some herders would allow their lines to cross with another’s herd simply for the company,” says Meyers while leafing through a book that details the rise of the wool industry in early 20th century Wyoming.

A century later, the monuments still stand as the fingerprint of a lonely profession all but dead.

Those fingerprints have intrigued Steve Riss, a local artist, hairdresser and devotee of Western history, since he first came across the one off Echeta Road that he claims is the world’s greatest.

The “why” of their existence doesn’t interest him as much as the architecture.

“We all want to leave a mark on this earth even if it’s just chalk on the wall,” Riss says.


Each monument is unique in shape, structure and history.

The wool industry boomed in Wyoming near the turn of the 20th century and beckoned thousands of men to the high plains to tend herds.

At its peak, the Empire Ranch near Moorcroft was home to 100 herders, according to owner Judy McCullough.

Once when she was young, she was scolded for disassembling a monument on the ranch where she spent her childhood.

Some monuments, like the “world’s greatest” that stands atop an altar of sandstone on the Gates-Yonkee Ranch, have more history than others — or at least their history has not yet passed with its owners.

The massive pile of flat stones is a puzzle itself — not only in its almost snap-together design but in the rock itself. The gray stones coated with orange lichen bear no resemblance to the rocks scattered around its pedestal. Riss speculates that a lonely sheepherder constructed the structure carrying the stones one at time from distant hills.

The solitary sentinel, which clings to its perch high above the grassy draw below, existed before the first homesteader claimed the land. It is an artifact from a time before people laid claim to the hills it lords over.

“The great big ones are ones that have been around since before his time,” says Nancy Yonkee, whose father, Lee Gates, homesteaded the ranch in the teens of the 20th century.

Yonkee recalls that her father, a bronc rider and cattleman, added to the already sizable monument in the wake of the Great Depression when he bought and tended a herd of sheep on the ranch to recover his family’s fortunes.

“He brought himself back up by the bootstraps with sheep,” Yonkee says, running her finger over a set of silver spurs he made her when she was young. “In the post-drought era, sheep could survive while cows could not.”

Now it is the sheep ranchers who struggle to find a market for a commodity few want.

The citadels of stone outlived the profession that built them.


Riding the peaks of the harsh landscape, the stony eyes of the giant have watched booms and busts, winters and summers, and fathers and sons come and go.

For now, the elements that have reduced the land around it have strengthened the rock.

Riss slides his hands over the stones on the Goliath’s armor, feeling for a single loose plate. He finds none.

“Over time, the wind has rattled the rocks together until each one cut dimples in the one below and locked them together,” says Riss as he crouches to look inside the stone honeycomb.

The same wind that cemented its footing will one day wear the legs from under it and like all things, it will go back to the earth.

“It’s a hell of a balancing act, and neither nature nor man have brought it down yet,” Riss says in admiration.

As Riss plodded away, his footsteps in the snow are erased within moments by the wind, a reminder of the impermanence of things — even the world’s greatest.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Ranch agrees to end grazing near park

Part of a federal grazing allotment south of Yellowstone National Park that was a hot spot for problems with bears and wolves has been retired.

The National Wildlife Federation and other groups brokered the deal between the Diamond G Ranch of Dubois, Wyo., and the Shoshone National Forest.

The agreement will end grazing on about 35,000 acres of federal land and will pay the Diamond G Ranch $150,000 to secure grazing elsewhere.

The deal is the 29th of its kind since 2002 aimed at reducing conflicts in the Yellowstone ecosystem between livestock and predators in prime wildlife areas. So far, about 550,000 acres of federal grazing allotments have been retired, said Hank Fischer, special projects coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation.

"This is all voluntary. We don't twist anybody's arms. The reason why this works is we're only focusing on allotments that have long-term, chronic conflicts," Fischer said.

The Dunoir grazing allotment, along the east and west forks of the Dunoir River, certainly has had its share of conflicts.

Stephen Gordon, Diamond G Ranch president, estimated losses to predators in the hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. That includes cows, horses, family dogs snatched from the front porch and a young colt killed in a corral, he said.

"It's really been hell for us," he said Thursday. "We're 27 miles as the crow flies from the southeast corner of Yellowstone, so we're really right in the line of fire."

Since 1991, wildlife officials have confirmed 31 cows killed by grizzlies, and the actual losses may be three times higher, he said. Although the ranch has a very high density of bears, ranch managers found ways to work around them.

The arrival of wolves after reintroduction in 1995 and 1996, though, proved too much, Gordon said. Over the past 13 years, verified losses to wolves include 27 cows, eight dogs and four horses. The actual number of depredations may be about eight times higher, Gordon said.

"The increasing number of wolves in this area makes future ranching operations difficult at best and could eventually lead to sale or subdivision of our property," said Gordon, who once sued the federal government to have wolves removed from the ranch.

The deal reached between the Shoshone Forest, Diamond G and the wildlife federation would retire the upper portion of the allotment - the area with abundant wildlife and the most roadless habitat - and allow grazing to continue on the lower 14,500 acres connected with private property.

Gordon said they're now scaling back their ranch operation. The decision to have part of the grazing allotment retired was done "with some reluctance."

Fischer said the retired area is "spectacular" for hiking and recreation as well as its wildlife.

Over the past 20 years, wildlife trackers have counted at least 52 individual grizzlies using the area. It also has been occupied since 1999 by the Washakie wolf pack, which now has 11 members. It's also rife with elk in the fall, bighorn sheep in the winter and moose year-round.

Last year, the groups brokered a deal to retire about 178,000 acres of national forest southeast of Grand Teton National Park. Other deals involved about 74,000 acres south of Big Timber and 84,000 acres in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

With the latest agreement on the Dunoir allotment, four of the five allotments with the most intense livestock/predator conflicts in the Yellowstone ecosystem have been retired.

In all but one of the deals, the ranchers have used the money from the conservation groups to move grazing operations elsewhere, Fischer said.

"I don't think we're so much eliminating livestock grazing as we're redistributing where it occurs so it's away from conflict areas," Fischer said. "I think that's good for everybody."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Oregon Spotted Frog From Livestock Grazing

PORTLAND, OREGON, Mar. 12 -/E-Wire/-- PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, and Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center filed suit Tuesday against the Fremont-Winema National Forest for driving a rare population of the Oregon spotted frog to the brink of extinction, failing to conduct proper environmental analyses, and violating its own Forest Plan and the Clean Water Act. The suit challenges the Forest Service’s decision to allow continued grazing on the federal “Antelope’” grazing allotment, where a population of the spotted frog, which is a candidate for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, lives in Jack Creek and has declined precipitously in recent years.

“Continued livestock grazing on the Antelope Allotment is damaging water quality and stream banks and in the process decimating a population of the highly endangered Oregon spotted frog,” said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Center. “This is a clear example of poor stewardship of public lands on the part of the Forest Service.”

In 2005, the Forest Service sent letters to the public and the allotment permittees stating it was considering fencing Jack Creek to protect Oregon spotted frogs, but has never constructed the fence. The agency subsequently issued a new permit in 2006 that increased grazing from 345 to 945 animal-unit-months, or AUMs, without any environmental analyses or action to ensure spotted frog habitat was not further degraded. The new permit was issued under legislative riders attached to the massive Interior Appropriations Bills passed by Congress in 2003 and 2005, which allow the Forest Service to continue to allow grazing without environmental analyses or mitigation for damage to streams, wildlife, or other resources.

“Congress’s continued allowance of public-lands livestock grazing without consideration of the environmental impacts is leading to degradation of the nation’s public lands, including Jack Creek and the Oregon spotted frog,” said James Johnston, policy analyst with Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. “This is a violation of the public trust.”

The population of spotted frogs in Jack Creek is one of only approximately 29. The frog has been a candidate for protection as an endangered species since 1991 and has a “listing priority number” of 2, which is the highest it can have and is based on the high magnitude of threats and the small number of populations. Overall, the frog is gone from 90 percent of its range. In Jack Creek, the species declined from an estimated 316 frogs in 1997 to only 13 frogs in 2005.

“The decline of the Oregon spotted frog in Jack Creek is a direct result of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to protect the Oregon spotted frog under the Endangered Species Act,” said George Sexton, conservation director of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The Bush administration has delayed protection for the Oregon spotted frog and hundreds of other species for too long.”

Under the Bush administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been notoriously slow at protecting candidate species. There are currently 280 species on the candidate species list, which on average have been waiting 19 years for protection. Since passage of the Act, at least 24 candidate species have gone extinct. Despite these stark facts, the Fish and Wildlife Service has not listed a single species in 671 days. Under this administration the agency has only listed 58 U.S. species, compared to 522 under the Clinton administration and 234 under the first Bush administration.

Contact Info: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Monday, March 10, 2008

Received from American Land Rights Association

House Vote on 26,000,000 NLCS BLM Acres Wed. 3-12

...Congress seeks to codify new NLCS Land Grab -- (From Federal Parks and Recreation Newsletter); Seventeen House members from both parties teamed up in April, 2007 to introduce legislation (HR 2016) that would give the National Landscape Conservation System official Congressional certification.

The system, administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was created administratively by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt during the Clinton years.

In June 2000 the Interior Department under the guidance of former Secretary Babbitt established the 26 million acre NLCS in BLM to protect what they called special areas.

The NLCS consists of major conservation areas in 12 western states, including 15 national monuments, 13 national conservation areas, Steens Mountain area in Oregon, Headwaters Forest Reserve in northern California, 36 wild and scenic rivers, 148 wilderness areas, 4,264 miles of national trails, and more than 600 wilderness study areas.

Making the NLCS permanent threatens recreation, access, grazing, mining, oil and gas and many other uses. Gradually these areas will be turned into parks with traditional uses strangled and roads cut off. Private property owners and inholders in the areas can say so long to their property rights. You will see new areas nominated for NLCS status gradually eroding BLM multiple-use.

Four Democratic senators introduced counterpart legislation (S 1139) in April, 2007. Said chief sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), "Given the broad public support for these areas, I expect this bill to be non-controversial and it is my hope that it will be able to move quickly through the Congress and enactment into law." Bingaman chairs the Senate Energy Committee. Non-Controversial?

The four lead House sponsors of HR 2016, all co-chairs of an NLCS caucus, are Reps. Mary Bono (R-CA), Rick Renzi (R-AZ), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Jim Moran (D-VA). Reps. Bono and Renzi need to receive lots of contacts. The others are not likely to change their position but should receive as many calls as possible.

Creating this massive new conservation area program (read land grab) will take money especially from the National Park Service that is way behind in deferred maintenance and other uses. It will also take money from vast areas of BLM lands. The NLCS will eventually become a huge new agency with thousands of additional bureaucrats added over time.

Any promises made when these areas like Steens Mountain and the Missouri Breaks National Monument and all the other affected monuments as well as the Grand Staircase National Monument and many others will be conveniently forgotten as more and more regulations are added.

The NLCS will convert millions of acres of now accessible BLM land into park-like areas with park-like regulations and will be gradually managed like a park. Gradually existing uses will be strangled out of existence.

Supporters of the NLCS insist they are not competing with other conservation programs for fiscal 2008 appropriations. One said, "We do want to see a shift in the funding priorities of the BLM itself. Specifically, the oil and gas program of the BLM has become the dominant program of the BLM at the expense of some the best lands and waters of the American West."

It is the nature of the Congressional appropriations beast that money for all programs in the Interior appropriations bill comes out of the same pot and the programs compete with each other.

One of the sponsors of the bill to codify the NLCS, Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), said the measure would not affect management of lands or existing rights or public access. Added Salazar, "The bill does, however, recognize that these landscapes are of great interest to the American people and should be managed to protect their values."

Does anyone believe setting up the NLCS would not change the management of these areas? If that were true, why would Congress want to do it?

American Land Rights will be sending out thousands of faxes, letters and e-mails to alert landowners, rural communities and allies about the danger and work to build more allies in Congress to stop the NLCS from passing. ALRA needs your support to defeat the massive new National Landscape Conservation System.

It is critical that private property owners and Federal land users make a big push now to head off this attack on private property and access to Federal lands. It is so much cheaper to fight it early than to wait. Hit it hard now. Call, write and fax your Congressman. You must overwhelm his or her office with calls between now and 5:00 pm Wednesday, March 12th. You may call any Congressman at (202) 225-3121....
Texas ranchers, Army work together

Fort Hood has mixed cattle grazing, war training since 1954.


Cattle and cannon fire are a poor mix, but ranch families and the Army have been mixing them together on 200,000 acres at Fort Hood, Texas, for more than 50 years.

Home of the III Corps and the 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood is the Army's largest armor training post, covering 217,000 acres just north of Killeen, Texas. The post was established in the early days of World War II when the Army was racing to prepare for war overseas and needed training bases quickly.

So the War Department condemned the ranches and farms of some 300 families to create then-Camp Hood in the cedar-covered hill country between Austin and Waco. The Army expanded the post again during the Korean War (1950-53).

"My family lost land both times," said Steve Manning, a rancher and member of the Central Texas Cattlemen's Association, an exclusive group of ranchers whose families were evicted to make Fort Hood. "When the Army expanded the post during the Korean War, it reached out to the landowners and agreed to let them continue to graze cattle on the land. It was sort of a package deal and we've been doing that since 1954."

Which is why some 3,000 cattle roam - year in and year out - the same grassy hills as M1A2 Abrams battle tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. It's an unnatural but forced sharing of the land.

"I think you'll find this is the only place in the country where the Army allows this," Manning agreed.

In Southeastern Colorado, the Army and area ranchers have been at odds for two years now over a plan to expand the 238,000-acre Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site northeast of Trinidad. The Army claims it needs another 414,000 acres to help support some 10,000 additional troops being based at Fort Carson. Many of the surrounding ranchers have bluntly replied that they already lost land to the Army in the 1980s and they aren't selling or giving any more. Period.

To the Army's surprise, the ranch community mobilized both state and federal lawmakers last year to block the expansion thus far - even getting language in the 2008 federal budget to prevent the Army from spending any money on the expansion this year, including for preliminary plans and studies.

Right now, the Army is preparing reports for Colorado Sens. Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard, justifying why it wants more land at Pinon Canyon and what economic help it can offer to protect the region's ranching economy. That's usually when Fort Hood gets mentioned as a possibility - an option that the Army's civilian leaders have told lawmakers could be discussed once Congress agrees to let the expansion process begin with an environmental study.

Officially, it's "inappropriate to speculate" on what the Army might do, before the required expansion studies are conducted, according to Lt. Col. Jim Rice, the current chief of Fort Carson's training and operations. Rice is overseeing the expansion project.

Down at the boot level, though, the Army does not like mixing cattle ranching and war training. Fort Carson officials have told the public at previous meetings they do not envision sharing the Pinon Canyon site as a realistic answer for either the Army or ranchers. It is one of the few things both sides have agreed on.

But then, cattle grazing at Fort Hood was a shotgun wedding of sorts.

"Fort Hood is an aberration," said Corwin Brown, a Pinon Canyon-area ranch manager and part of the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition. He recently visited Fort Hood to look at the mixture of cattle grazing and military operations. Part of a delegation from the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, Brown said the Army let the delegation watch a training exercise as part of their tour.

"The Army explained that before they can use a firing range, they clear off any cattle," he said. "If the cattle wander back, they have to stop training and go clear them off again. The range officers made it clear they wish there weren't any cattle on the post."

It's not ideal, but Manning said the Fort Hood ranchers have learned to work closely with the Army over the years.

"I grew up raising cattle around tanks and trucks and helicopters," he said, noting he also has ranchland off the post. "It's what we're used to. Sure, we occasionally lose animals because of the Army. But we just figure that into the cost of doing business."

The relationship can be as free-roaming as one might imagine. There is only one perimeter fence at Fort Hood, so the cattle - bulls, cows and calves - wander all over the 200,000-acre training ground. Manning said the families with grazing rights keep between 2,000 and 3,500 animals on the post, depending on the year.

Brown countered that Colorado ranchers would be bewildered at the notion of going into open range to sort out their cattle from animals wearing ear-tags for other families - which is what the Fort Hood ranchers do.

"I just don't see that kind of grazing happening at Pinon Canyon," he said. "And letting 2,000 or 3,000 head of cattle graze isn't much economic benefit if they are divided up among (80) families," he said.

The Texas ranchers have been an unexpected ally to the Army in recent years. Live-fire exercises have caused numerous wildfires that have burned down large areas of wild bird habitat on the post, prompting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to begin investigating the status of two endangered species of birds on Fort Hood. Afraid they could both lose access to land, the ranchers and the Army have worked together to create a bird-trapping program and conservation program on surrounding private lands that has staved off federal intervention.

But the cooperation has its limits. When the Army wanted to expand the post by 70,000 acres in the mid-1970s, the surrounding landowners - including the Central Texas Cattlemen's Association - blocked the expansion. Fort Hood was big enough, landowners said.

"I understand how the people in Colorado feel," Manning said. "I wouldn't want to lose any more of my land to the Army either. But I suspect the Army is going to be there at Fort Carson for a good long time, so they may have to figure out a way to work together."

Brown said that the Army offering ranchers grazing leases on Pinon Canyon may sound better than condemning land through eminent domain, but the end result would be the same - ranchers losing their property, where currently more than 10,000 cattle graze.

"Taking away 95 percent of an entire area's economy and replacing it with 'leasing and more troops' is not a win-win situation, nor is it realistic," Brown wrote in his report on Fort Hood. "There is no way to offset the loss to the communities and state's economies should this be allowed to happen."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Agency probes wolf-baiting claims

Already stained by the blood of dead wolves and suffering from a variety of other setbacks, the program to reintroduce endangered Mexican gray wolves to the Southwest is now at the center of two criminal investigations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally looking into the disappearance of two wolves in New Mexico and a rancher’s claim that he intentionally baited wolves in order to get them killed.

“We had requests that we do a criminal investigation, and we are,” says agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Slown. In an interview last year, New Mexico ranch hand Mike Miller told High Country News that he deliberately baited a wolf with cattle in order to trigger the federal “three strikes” rule, which mandates the shooting or capturing of any wolf that kills three cows in one year’s time.

Miller works for the 275,000-acre Adobe-Slash Ranch, which is owned by Mexican businessman Eloy Vallina. Miller, who has an unlisted number, could not be reached for comment, and Gene Whetten, his supervisor, declined to answer questions when contacted by HCN on Feb. 26.

“Mr. Miller works for me and he’s forbidden to talk to you,” Whetten says. He alleges that the paper “fabricated” most of its story, and that the ranch is considering legal action against HCN.

The criminal investigations face significant challenges, according to a Fish and Wildlife source. In interviews with law enforcement officials, Miller reportedly denied making the statements attributed to him by HCN. Furthermore, according to the Interior Department, the fact that Miller branded cattle on private land within half a mile of a known wolf den does not in itself violate federal wolf reintroduction rules, which give ranchers wide leeway in how they operate even when wolves are nearby.

“The corral is located on private land and use of it for working cattle in this manner is consistent with annual ranch operations,” Interior Deputy Director Kenneth Stansell said in a Feb. 22 letter to environmentalists....

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Western Watersheds sues BLM over grazing, fence building

Group alleges agency is threatening wildlife habitat in aftermath of Murphy fire

By Matt Christensen
Times-News writer

Hailey-based environmental group Western Watersheds Project has sued the Bureau of Land Management, alleging the agency violated a 2005 settlement by authorizing reconstruction on 500,000 acres of federal land burned in last year's Murphy Complex Fire.

The group wants a judge to block the agency from building fences and allowing livestock to graze on the habitat of sage grouse and pygmy rabbit - species under consideration for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. District Court documents, filed Monday in Boise, ask a judge to halt fence construction in an area managed by the agency's Jarbidge Field Office near Three Creek. The group also wants the court to prohibit livestock grazing on 20 allotments covered in the 2005 court-stipulated settlement and to block grazing on an additional 36 allotments until the agency prepares an environmental impact statement.

Since the July fire, which burned 650,000 acres and destroyed more than 70 prime sage grouse breeding grounds, the agency has worked to rebuild 99 miles of burned fence, remove 12 miles of hazardous trees and plant more than 1,600 shrubs at a cost of about $25 million.

The agency has authorized additional grazing in unburned areas and an additional 400 miles of fence repair while ignoring impacts to wildlife, Western Watersheds alleges.

"BLM reported just before the Murphy Complex Fire that wildlife populations were already in great jeopardy," Katie Fite, Western Watershed's biodiversity director, said in a statement. "Now the fire has taken out the heart of remaining sagebrush habitat. BLM's response has been to intensify grazing in remaining unburned sagebrush. This can only be seen as a policy of grazing for the purposeful extinction of sage grouse and pygmy rabbits."

The group's executive director, Jon Marvel, said ranches in the area managed by Simplot Livestock and Rep. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, in particular, are "trampling our wildlife heritage" under the BLM's policies.

Brackett disagrees and questions the timing of the suits. "I find it amazing - not surprising - that they would do that," he said of the lawsuit. "They had their opportunity to appeal the rehab plan last fall just like everybody else â€- and they did not do so. It's just remarkable."

BLM officials are reviewing the legal documents and could comment next week, said Heather Tiel-Nelson, a BLM spokeswoman in the agency's Twin Falls office.

Meanwhile, the BLM is proceeding with plans to amend its fire prevention program that would affect nearly all of southern Idaho. The amendments, which include changes to 12 land use plans written between 1975 and 1988, call for reducing vegetation and grasses the agency says are responsible for recent large fires like the Murphy blaze.

The proposal would increase fuels treatment from about 25,000 acres to 154,000 acres each year for the next decade. The plan targets trees and grasses in wildland-urban interface areas to protect private property, as well as forested areas where a dangerous amount of vegetation can accumulate.

The public has until the end of this month to protest the new fire proposal, which is available at

Matt Christensen may be reached at 735-3243 or at