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Ranchers have successfully externalized one of the costs of business, namely reducing predator opportunity by practicing good animal husbandry, thus transferred one of the real costs of doing business on to the public taxpayers who fund predator control, as well as upon the backs of large predators like wolves which are routinely killed for livestock losses. This is not unlike the externalization of business costs by industries that pollute our air and water instead of paying the real costs of production which would internalize these costs.

Welfare Ranchers, Wolves, and the Externalization of Costs

We continuously hear the livestock industry talking about “problem” wolves—those animals that attack untended livestock. Yet the real issue is “problem ranchers” who externalize one of the costs of doing business—namely operating a livestock operation in a manner that reduces or eliminates predator opportunity.

To make an analogy think of how we used to let polluting industries use our rivers as open sewers, often resulting in fish kills and polluted waters that were unfit for swimming and domestic water use. Thankfully, we passed legislation that made many of these industries internalize the cost of production by making it illegal to dump pollutants in our waterways.

Thus far, however, we have not applied the same legal requirements upon ranchers who have successfully transferred one of the legitimate business costs of livestock production—namely animal husbandry practices that result in a reduction of predator opportunity—on to the public at large, and on to the backs of predators.

For several hundred years, livestock producers have enjoyed a largely predator-free landscape. Typically they had the public fund their war on predators. Starting with the Massachusetts Bay Colony that in 1630 put a bounty on wolves, livestock producers have succeeded in getting others to pay to exterminate predators. The eradication of wolves from the landscape continued with settlement of the West. In 1843 one of the very first political action by Oregon settlers was creation a tax on all citizens, not to pay for things like roads or schools, but rather a wolf bounty. Similarly, some 80,730 wolves were killed in Montana for taxpayer-funded bounty between 1883 and 1918.

The common assumption was that what was good for ranchers was good for society as a whole, much as the old saw suggested that what was good for General Motors was a benefit to the country as a whole. At least that is how the livestock industry has successfully sold the idea that taxpayers should subsidize their business operations.

When bounties did not completely eliminate predators like wolves, the livestock industry successfully lobbied to have the federal government (you know the hated feds) create the Biological Survey in 1914. At its height of predator control efforts, the Biological Survey had more than 200 agents hired whose chief duty was to track down and kill the last predators, including extirpation of wolves from national parks like Yellowstone.

Today ranchers continue to enjoy taxpayer funded federal predator control. This federal subsidy has allowed the West’s welfare ranchers to avoid one of the costs of production—namely practicing good animal husbandry practices that reduce predator opportunities and losses. Indeed, the livestock industry has externalized this cost on to the public at large and grown so used to federal predator control that they now consider a predator free environment a “right”.

Keeping in mind that most predators routinely avoid preying on livestock even when there are numerous opportunities to do so, it behooves ranchers to implement practices that can and do reduce livestock losses to predators. However nearly all these practices require some additional time and effort by livestock operators—thus translates into additional costs for ranchers. It is well established that predators like wolves often get their first taste of domestic livestock by feeding on a carcass. Thus rapid and proper deposal of dead animals greatly reduces the likelihood of future predation losses. A study in Europe found that failure to remove carcasses increased the chances for future depredation by 55 times.

Another study of wolf predation on domestic sheep in the French Alps found that confining and/or simply gathering sheep at night in the presence of 5 livestock-guarding dogs prevented most kills (94% and 79%, respectively) that would have occurred in similar conditions but with free-ranging sheep.

These are only a few of the practices that greatly reduce predator opportunity and thus the presumed “need” for predator control. It’s clear that it’s possible to run livestock with fewer predator losses if proper animal husbandry practices are implemented.

However, since ranchers have convinced the public, including far too many environmental organizations, that they have a “right” to a predator free existence, the livestock industry has no incentive to change its ways. Instead livestock are routinely placed out in distance pastures with little or no oversight and supervision for months at a time, providing predators an easy meal. When ranchers treat their animals with such a caviler attitude who can blame a predator for being tempted by a beef or lamb dinner?

Payment for livestock losses as was done until recently by Defenders of Wildlife while it may mollify some rancher opposition, only legitimizes the idea that ranchers have a right to be compensated for losses that result from their own poor animal husbandry practices. This is not much different than the government practice of providing “disaster relief” to people who unwisely build homes in a flood plain of a river, then demand the government assist them after a flood destroys their home. Such “disasters” are easily avoided, just as most predator losses are avoidable if ranchers were forced to utilize proper animal husbandry practices.

However, animal husbandry is not the only way that livestock producers are to blame for many of their own problems. Ironically, predator control, as well as sport hunting as advocated by state wildlife agencies, often leads to greater livestock losses by disrupting predator social ecology of predators.

A study by Hayes and Harestad found evidence that packs experiencing control and/or hunting had higher mortality rates as a direct consequence of reductions, thus pack sizes are smaller, home ranges were less stable and occupied at variable times, and more young are produced in the population. Wolf populations dominated by younger animals with less stable territories are far more likely to attack domestic livestock.

Younger animals may breed earlier, and in exploited populations produce more young. Young growing pups consume more biomass (meat) than adults, creating a greater need to obtain food. Typically in exploited populations, pack size is smaller, with only the breeding adults to raise pups, putting greater pressure on adults to obtain easily available meat. Plus young pups reduce the mobility of the pack, limiting the area where adults can seek prey. Thus predator control and indiscriminate hunting puts increased pressure on the few adults to obtain meat, often by attacking livestock.

The effects of lethal control and/or hunting on pack stability can lead to social disruptions and loss of territory. A study, which pooled data on 148 breeding wolf packs, showed that the loss of adult breeders (from any causes including natural mortality) often leads to the dissolution of the pack and loss of pack territory, and/or limited breeding in the following season. For instance, in 47 of 123 cases (38.2%), groups dissolved and abandoned their territories after breeder loss. Of dissolved groups, territorial wolves became reestablished in 25 cases (53.2%), and in an additional 10 cases (21.3%) neighboring wolves’ usurped vacant territories.

Thus any increases in mortality caused by human hunting and/or lethal control may disrupt social interactions between packs, and lead to the loss of social/cultural knowledge including knowledge of prey habitat use, migration routes, and so forth that long time residency by family lineages may provide. Again this increases the chances that wolves will turn to livestock as a food source.

While almost no one would begrudge the occasional and surgical elimination of a chronic livestock killer, the indiscriminate killing of predators as part of a systematic predator control program and/or as a consequence of sport hunting, only exacerbates conflicts between livestock producers and predators.

Finally, there are the indirect effects upon wolf prey created by the mere presence of domestic livestock. There is no free lunch. When the bulk of forage in any given area is allotted to domestic livestock, there is less plant production to support elk, deer, and other wolf prey. On many public lands, the vast majority of all forage is consumed by domestic livestock, leaving far less of the forage pie for wild herbivores like elk, deer, and pronghorn. Even in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which harbors the greatest concentration of wild ungulates (deer, elk, etc.) in the United States, the majority of all forage on public lands is allotted to domestic animals.

Many studies have demonstrated that wild animals tend to avoid domestic livestock. Thus when cattle and sheep are moved on to public rangelands, the wild ungulates move elsewhere. If, for instance, there were a wolf pack denned in that area, the wolves are left with little to eat in the immediate area of the den other than domestic livestock—again creating a conflict that would not occur in the absence of domestic livestock.

Ironically while hunters and state wildlife agencies lobby to kill more wolves, they totally ignore that fact that domestic livestock grazing in effect “gets” more elk and deer by displacing them from favorable terrain and/or eating forage that would otherwise support far larger ungulate populations than are ever killed by predators.

In the end, the best way to reduce human conflicts with predators as well as realize the ecological benefits associated with having top predators widely distributed across the landscape is to require better animal husbandry practices from livestock producers, and to eliminate the predator control and/or sport hunting that disrupts predator social ecology. It’s time that livestock producers are forced to internalize one of their real production costs which in turn would mean slightly higher costs for consumers who ultimately should bear any additional costs of producing livestock without placing the burden upon predators and/or a landscape denied the positive influences of large predators.

About George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner has published 36 books, including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy

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  1. I’ve never really understand why hunters and anglers don’t organize against public lands grazing here in Montana. I know RMEF won’t say anything bad about ranchers because they are heavily dependent on them for easements and funding. But all these wolf-hating hunters should advocate for replacing cows with bison on our public wildlands instead of eliminating wildlife from wildlands due to “competition.” As to livestock management on private lands, anyone who has seen “Lords of Nature” and the amazing tolerance in Minnesota of ranchers for wolves can only wonder why Montana’s ranchers are so negligent and intolerant. Is Montana not more wild than Minnesota? Shouldn’t it be?

  2. George— I’m writing from Wyoming, where protection of livestock was scripted into the state Constitution back in 1890. Cows have more civil rights than people in Wyoming, it seems (facetiously). That’s because the cattle barons were in charge when Wyoming became a state and were allowed to make Wyoming in their own image.

    Wyoming is what is termed a ” fence out” state. If you do not want a cow wandering onto your property , you have to put up a fence to keep that cow away. It ‘s never the cow’s fault , or its owners fault, if cattle transgress. This has been taken to extreme. A friend of mine slammed his VW bug into a black Angus cow standing in the middle of the highway one night. He couldn’t see a black cow on a black night till he was almost on top of it. His car was totaled, and even though that cow had broken out of its pasture and should not have been on the highway at all, he had to pay the rancher for the dead cow and could not in turn ask the rancher for anything in return . The wayward cow was protected by law. Livestock trump people.

    So my suggestion s that we change one simple term in how we deal with livestock as property and their rights. Change Out to In. We need to go from the ” fence out” philosophy to ” fence in “. In other words, make the owner of the livestock responsible for them.

    That seems obvious , but it’s contrary to existing constitutional law.

    By moving to a ” Fence in” legal framework, ranchers would actually have to take fulltime responsibility for their valued animals and property. That would include livestock placed out on public graze. I’m pretty sure that asking ranchers to actually cowboy up and take charge of their herds at all times is total anathema to ranchers. Blasphemy , even. You want ME to be responsible for MY cows ? Do you mean if MY cows screw up and get lost or eaten , it is MY fault, too? The nerve….

    But that is exactly what I am saying. Fence Out—-> Fence In . Problem solved.

    Yeah , right. Not while there is still at least one cattle baron alive…

  3. Dewey

    Most western states have that fence them out law regarding livestock. And I have had a similar experience like your friend. Once driving at night in eastern Oregon, I came upon eight black cows in the middle of the highway. I miraculously threaded my car through all the animals without hitting one. The next day I was driving along the same highway and saw the cows still on the road. Nearby was a ranch house and a woman was tending a garden in front. I asked her if the cows were her animals. She replied yes. I then politely suggested that they be gathered up because they posed a hazard to drivers. She snapped back that her cows had a “right” to be on the road and I should mine my own business.

  4. Excellent piece, George. Well written, well researched, and insightful historical context.

    The way ranchers have framed the debate to convince the public that it is a rancher’s “right” to have predator-free public land needs to be exposed further. Ranchers think it’s a birthright to placing tasty cattle and sheep in the middle of public land, then investing little or nothing to monitor those animals. Then the ranchers are shocked when the occasional cow or sheep is picked off by a predator.

    Yes, it costs money to have shepherds and dogs watch flocks and herds of animals. But that’s the cost of doing business. And it’s not a cost that the general public should have to incur. If ranchers can’t take care of their herds on public land without killing predators, then they have no business using public resources.

    -Jon Cheever

  5. Good. Keep it up.deccansojourn

  6. George knows his stuff, puts it in layman’s terms and makes and validates his points very succinctly. A pleasure to read, an asset to New West.

  7. Dewey said:
    “User fees by themselves do not nor have they ever paid the full cost of the service they provide.”
    Exactly my point Dewey, so why do you insist that ranchers “user fees” cover all expenses for everyone to use the forests? You do realize the ranchers also pay taxes do you not? The only freeloaders as far as taxes are concerned are the environmental groups.
    As for the predator control fees for wolves, I thought that was why certain folks wanted them flown and trucked into human inhabited country, they wanted to trade taxpayer dollars to get wolves to damage ranchers? Now maybe you guys thought there was a way to force the ranchers to pay all of the costs of the wolves for you, but the whole thing is so expensive that everyone is paying money we don’t have and have to borrow from other countries to manage them.
    You might want to get off your chair and drive up toward Meeteese & check out the wildlife grazing in privately owned pastures. You can also go toward, Greybull, Powell, South Fork, etc and see the same thing.
    Can you explain to me how that is costing the taxpayers money? I think it is caring for wildlife at the rancher’s own expense.

  8. Todd—your ” All Anti-Enviro All The Time” tirades are getting tiresome. Enviros are not your enemy …they are your conscience, and they are everywhere.

    Don’t you know that those private agriculture properties are assessed and taxed at a pittance compared to real property , commercial, and residential. ? An acre of pasture is assessed maybe $ 20 , and that same acre when it has a house built on it is assessed at $ 200,000. C’mon Todd…it isn’t me who need his eyes opened and brain de-constipated. Not at all.

    Ranchers simply need to pay more than they do for what they recieve in public dole when they move their stock onto the public’s graze. QED.

  9. Ahhh yes, another all knowing western lifestyle piece by an author who obviously is looking from the outside in. seems apparent that ken feels more than qualified to comment on the ranching ” lifestyle ” even thou he has obviously never been a rancher and knows nothing about what it truly takes to raise livestock.
    just another ” i don’t really know what i am talking about but here is my opinion anyway” article.

  10. Once again, thank you George for continuing to shed light on the biggest socialized welfare scam in America, namely, ranching.
    You seem to be the only writer/reporter in the West that has the courage to write anything negative about the livestock industry.
    If it weren’t for you and Western Watershed Project, the average tax payer that subsidizes ranching wouldn’t have a clue to what extent they’re being ripped off. It will change…keep writing about it..
    Removing the 1000 lb crap spewing machines from public lands will go a long way toward restoring our streams, riparian areas and grasslands, fish and wildlife.
    I can tell you that there are a few ranchers that would actually support cutting off subsidies (course they don’t admit it publicly) so that they efficient producers would survive and those that aren’t have to do what every other failed business model does in this world….find a new way to make a living.
    Time to reintroduce bison throughout the West…they are a native species, easier on the environment and their meat is healthier for the consumer.

  11. Man, what a load of cowpies! The public is supposed to pay fees to recreate on their own lands because ranchers pay a nominal fee to PROFIT from our public lands?? How exactly am I, as a backpacker, making money from exercising my public property rights? As to where we would get our meat from if we banned public lands welfare ranching in the West, I’m guessing from the other 97% of cows raised on private lands without ridiculous subsidies made necessary by the fact that raising cows on arid and semi-arid lands MAKES NO SENSE! But apparently, I have to be a welfare rancher myself to understand that ranchers who cannot make a go of it in an area without federal handouts and without ruining public wildlands for wildlife (wolves, bison, elk, etc.) should find another way to make a living. By that logic, Teabaggers should not criticize welfare queens in Chicago until they themselves have been forced to raise 5 kids with an absent father. Right? And they should not take a position on illegal immigrants until they themselves have illegally immigrated someplace. I have a better idea. Let private ranchers do whatever they want on their private ranches, and let publicly owned wildlife do whatever it wants on public wildlands. Okay? You have your private property rights, and I have my public property rights, and you should not exercise your rights in a way that interferes with mine. That’s the basic principle this country was founded on, isn’t it? As opposed to ranchers and corporations being entitled to make a living off of public resources??

  12. So you guys insist that your use of tax payer subsidized land for free is somehow good for the country, while the rancher who pays, but not ENOUGH in your opinion to raise food is bad. Exactly who benefits and how from your playing & having fun? How will folks benefit from having to pay more to manage the land without the fees paid by ranchers & more for hamburger so you get free recreation for yourself without having to be disturbed by a cow pie?

  13. zbiker—you might be interested in knowing that until just recently , my half-sister and her three sibs owned the giant Pitchfork Ranch west of Meeteetse, all 110,000 acres of it including 45,000 acres of State land. I personally ran the ranch’s public hunting program for 12 years, and produced the 100th anniversary history book about the ranch . I also about half grew up on the big Two Dot Ranch north of Cody when the Taggarts ran it in the 50’s and 60’s. I have spent an immense amount of time in or around ranches all my life.

    So don’t be casting aspersions and making presumptions about people you DO NOT PERSONALLY KNOW. You are really bad about that. Almost slanderous. The only defense against slander is truth , and you ain;t got any….
    Again, Todd, NOBODY uses public land for free. We all pay for it. It is owned and paid for by the public in some way shape or form. You just can’t get that or a thousand other things thru your thick cowboy hat, can you ? It is neither free land nor free use. Get real. Get educated.

  14. Dewey, if you really believe that recreationists are not using the land for free because they pay taxes, then you would have to say the ranchers should pay the same amount as recreationists since they too pay taxes, lots of taxes.
    Dewey, you are not referring to the book “Brand of a Legend” are you? It looks like you might be credited with copy, illustrative and photo work.

  15. I found this article, as a rabid environmentalist and an active rancher, to be utterly ridiculous. I will accept that it would be fair some ranchers to pay more for some grazing allotments. I would also accept that ranchers need to be sensitive to wildlife and maintaining ecosystems, and that public agencies need to enforce carrying capacity ( the latter being the biggest problem in my mind). That all being said, George knows as much about managing livestock as I know about astrophysics. His simple solution of “better animal husbandry” is not so simple unless the American consumer gets over their “right” to cheap meat. Yeah, you, the guy who just went to the grocery store and bought your JBS packaged burger, I am talking to you. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t mind hiring help to watch a herd, but frankly the money isn’t there for MOST ranchers to do so. The subsidies you talk about going to ranchers in the form of cheap grazing are actually subsidies to you, the consumer, so that you can go to fast food joints and buy a burger for 59 cents. It doesn’t help me one bit, yet you throw the term rancher around like we are all filling our pockets out of public coffers.

    As consumers have come to expect cheap meat and the packing industry have locked in monopolies, profit margins for ranches have got thinner and thinner. When it takes acres to support one AUM, there is a lot of ground to cover in order to have a herd that can support a steady income. Each cow, lamb, or goat becomes more and more valuable, given that the markets have changed and ranching has become a business of pure volume. More ground to cover means you can’t just ride out in the evening and round em up to take them back to the pens. Sometimes they have to be out on range, its a fact of food production. If you don’t like it, vote with your dollars by supporting sustainably produced meats. It would be great to be able to raise less stock, work less land, and make ends meet. How many of you have ever got active on livestock marketing reform when it comes up every 5 years in the farm bill? Want to do something to help wolves? Start there.

    I also take issue with the Georges claim that all ranchers do is kick back and watch the stock grow. Federal predator control? yeah, right. When it comes to defending a herd from predator, the responsibility comes to the rancher and I don’t care what federal programs exist. I have never had help from the feds killing coyotes that were killing my animals, nor the stray dogs that folks feel fine about dumping in the country. Who is it that is most active in controlling noxious weeds? Who is it that ensures prairie grasses, adapted for thousands of years to be grazed, continue to be?

    The same ranchers you all deride are the ones who are keeping millions of acres from sub development, fighting fossil fuel development, and for the most part, stewarding our wild lands for future generations. You all paint with a pretty broad brush here, and its damn offensive to those of us who bend over backwards to accommodate all kinds of wildlife, including predators, and do our best to reduce conflicts. I would challenge many of the commentators here to raise a couple animals, keep em alive through a winter, and then deal with waking one morning to your animals dead or fatally maimed, it might give you some perspective on why this can be such a touchy issue to some of us, especially those who work hard to prevent it.

    Ultimately, this article and many of the comments demonstrate the profound disconnect most Americans have regarding where their food comes from and how it is raised. I would hope that all of you folks deriding ranchers are either buying your meat from a rancher directly or eating veggies, because you are actually the problem if you are not.

    Support ranches that do the right thing (look around and get over yourselves, there are a lot of us). Dewey. I would be happy to pass those increased costs of production you suggest right on to you. If your willing to pay for them, then by all means lets change. You will pay for it in your taxes for the school lunch program, you’ll pay for it at the grocery store. Oh, and of course, we would need to reform international trade to give preference for American produced meats, as you can bet your bottom dollar that Australia, China, and Brazil are not going to follow suite. Do that, and I’m game. If not, then you need to be working out some new solutions. And don’t assume all ranchers and farmers are right wingers either, Dewy, just for future reference. You’d be surprised.

  16. sorry dewey, simply having a relative in the game and hanging around hardly qualified as experience. if that were the case every Californian in Cody would be qualified.
    the struggle to make a living in the livestock game is and always has been a make or break game at best. and holding the pitchfork dude ranch up as a “see i been there and done it” hardly a recommendation for approval.
    Until you have say 15,000 acres of your own and 14,000 of state lease, plus all the cows and calves you can manage, for 45 years of both good and bad economic times, then yes, i will say you have no experience in the livestock game. simply being in charge of the guide service is not ranching and to assert that such is slander is incorrect. Any young man that grew up in the area that had an interest in the outdoors was quite likely to be found running around on a ranch in wyoming, that hardly qualifys as ranching experience either.
    Until it’s your cows you are losing sleep over then you are looking from the outside in.

  17. Actually, some of us public land owners with a clue would rather the forage be utilized for livestock forage than to have it all go up in smoke as just happened in Idaho this past week.
    As for the “subsidy” — that’s a canard. If it weren’t for the endless analysis mandated by, oh, gee, the threat of litigation from WWP et al ad nauseam, grazing administrative costs could be well-covered. The limit was put on by a Congress concerned that permittees would be absolutely slaughtered by the cost-transfer of subsidized analysis.
    As for recreation, it’s free to users, and the taxes paid are insignificant compared to the overall tax burden. There are zillions of Noo Yawkers who have never recreated on public lands and don’t even know such lands exist….never mind they would not know what to do upon arrival.
    I’d like to float the balloon that maybe the era of federal lands is approaching an end. There’s a growing general sense outside the Left that perhaps federal institutions need to be adjusted, brought to core functions, and that may well include federal lands. Perhaps the future is that the lands will remain public (a good thing) but the administrative functions will be taken over by local or state governments where appropriate.
    The idea of consent of the governed still applies, or should. Much of these lands were formally federalized in order to prevent capture by a small minority who wanted to extract the benefits for themselves. And if you think about it, the same deal, of a small minority trying to capture a select benefit at the expense of everyone else, still applies.
    But when you look at Indian reservations, for example, the fact remains that the rezzes are run by Indians for their benefit, and by gosh, of late it sure seems to have balanced out better than the current regime on federal lands.

  18. Great article George!

    Just say no to beef. Don’t eat it. If you want red meat eat bison instead, and support bison ranchers who really care about sustainable ranching and are able to co-exist with predators. Cattle are a non-native specie which have devasted public and private lands; especially raparian areas. Take a hike by any stream where there are cattle and check out the damage.

  19. “Ironically while hunters and state wildlife agencies lobby to kill more wolves, they totally ignore that fact that domestic livestock grazing in effect “gets” more elk and deer by displacing them from favorable terrain and/or eating forage that would otherwise support far larger ungulate populations than are ever killed by predators.”

    More anti-hunting BS.
    Elk,and cattle do not graze at the same elevations,at the same times of the year. (unless pushed out by predation)

  20. By Dewey, 8-26-10
    “zbiker—if the Wyoming cattleman had to make it on his own without state and federal government assistance and huge tax breaks , he could not.”
    ( actually many do make it without assistance. But over all mike covered this very well in his post. The largest problem facing the american cattle rancher faces is cheap import beef (hence why ranchers receive subsidies they don’t really want) and the fact they have little control over the market. folks are so used to buying dirt Canadian, Australian,etc beef to keep the trade imbalance alive. i have talked with other age producers and they are facing the same dilemma. even the honey producers in the state are being hurt by these government practices. the only crop that seem immune is Alfalfa seed and to some extent sugar beets. this is partly due to the fact that the produces here control the manufacturing plant as well as the crop. an advantage the american rancher does not have, if it were truly an open market no subsidies would be needed.
    Woodmans rant in the above post is another example of how little is understood about ranching from the public at large. He imagines all cattle as being shot full of hormones and getting mad cow disease from the forage that is available growing on the hills in Wyoming and Montana. He somehow in his mind equates the feed pens in Iowa and Wisconsin to the open free range grazing that takes place from Texas to Canada.
    I would ask everyone to re read mikes post above, draw from it as it pretty well lays out and dispels the myth that ranchers WANT government subsidies. and if given a fair shake at a level market playing field ranchers would do just fine thank you very much.

  21. Kristin, if you actually do see cattle on grazing allotments prior to the release date, jsut call the agency in effect, whether it is BLM or FWS. Tehy will end that sort of things immediately if it actually does happen. You really need to be aware that ranchers do own some mountain land You really need to keep your facts straight.
    Every taxpayer in the country pays for federal land, thsoe of us who own property in an area with a lot of public land usually have to pay higher property tax to make up for the lack of taxes off of government land, they pay PILT, if and how much they think they can afford.
    Since we all pay taxes to support government land please explain how come environmentalists have decided they are the only ones entitled to use the land and no one else should be allowed without their specific approval, and one who does is a “greedy welfare….”

  22. Zbiker and mountain hunter are grossly misinformed about the wealth of those that graze on the public lands. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1938 granted a small group of landowners exclusive rights to graze public lands. These priviledged group continues to be allowed to overgraze public lands although the BLM determined in 1994 that most public lands were severely degraded because of ruinous livestock management practices. BLM charges about one-quarter what the State of Wyoming chages for grazing and one twentieth of charges for using private lands. Half of the grazing fees paid by the ranchers is reinvested, along with millions of dollars contributed by the NRCS, for fences and water developments that result in further adverse impacts to the lands for wildlife.

    Because only certain people with ranches to support the cattle during the winter are allowed to graze on public land, all ranchers are at least sufficiently well off to own thousands of acres-which in Wyoming, makes them at least millionaires. Even those who ranch fulltime (and there are few of those – over 70% have off-ranch income) receive extensive government benefits, even while bemoaning federal government overreach.

  23. Kristin Belko

    “BLM charges about one-quarter what the State of Wyoming chages for grazing ”
    (the grazing lease costs are based on how many animals can be fed on a specific plot of land.and is set by the the Lands and Investment
    the Lands and Investment website:( ) I think you will find that some areas are actually less than what the blm charges while others are more.
    The misnomer that all ranchers are millionaires by the fact they have thousands of acres as holdings is misleading as well. MOST in the state are family owned affairs, no single person holds title to the whole works and as a percentage of the ranch holdings are usually mortgaged to the hilt. the family usually inherited the ranch and if they are lucky enough to have BLM or state land close by or as their neighbor then they will lease it. I am unsure what part of the state your in Kristen but i can assure you private lease ground in Campbell, Johnson, Sheridan or carbon county is not bringing the type of money you are claiming. never has , never will. in fact it is right on par with what the state charges for a school section. Kritstin, have you ever been a rancher ??

  24. I think I speak for most REAL CONSERVATIONISTS that we DON’T WANT welfare rancher’s and their cattle on our public lands at the expense of our native and very much valued wildlife. Get the hell off our public lands welfare ranchers and take your stinking non native cattle with you and don’t come back.

  25. why should taxpayers pay a rancher’s business expenses? Isn’t risk of predation one of the costs of being in the ranching business?

  26. Ranchers are a small minority when it comes to the majority. We the majority care about our native wildlife and we don’t want them being killed solely to benefit welfare ranchers and their non native livestock. Wolves were not imported. They would have arrived here whether we helped them or not, it just would have been a slower process. 60% of Montana’s wolf population came into Montana naturally on their own. We the majority and taxpayers are also paying for the feds going around in helicopters and slaughtering native wildlife that belongs on the land when non native cattle and livestock doesn’t. We are sick and tired of welfare ranchers and what they and their non native cattle are doing to our public lands and our native wildlife. Now you tell me, how much of our native and valued wildlife has to die just to benefit welfare ranchers and ranchers in general?

  27. George, as always, insightful, logical and requesting all of us to open up our minds and regard wild creature as part of creation and not “obstacles” thrown in our path so that we might prove ourselves worthy.

    Always find it interesting that the folks who constantly exhort “family values” and the right to life are many times the first ones to go out and “kill the varmint”…..hypocrisy run amuck as it relates to us human animals and our holier than thou proclamations.

    I will come out and say that in our modern 300 million plus human USA, having Ranches exist is a good thing versus them going away and Ranchettes and Western Suburbia popping up all over our wild ground. I believe that our tax structure should be made over so that Ranchers are given tax breaks to “keep their livestock” penned and watched over and incentives provided for keeping the West (and East) wild with our native fauna. Incentives to actually rewild our Ranches………get the Cowboys and Ranch owners thinking profit in them “critters”.

    I do not want the Ranchers out………..I want a new way of thinking about their objectives of profit making and I want them to acquire a new way of thinking about watching over their piece of Wild America and fervently protecting and restocking thier Ranches with the full suite of wild creatures that existed in America cira 1500.

    Right on George for all of your creative and insightful writings!!

  28. ++ I believe that our tax structure should be made over so that Ranchers are given tax breaks to “keep their livestock” penned and watched over and incentives provided for keeping the West (and East) wild with our native fauna++

    Rick! Love that thought process, we’d save millions in predator control and at the same time encourage those that want to really continue to ranch “like daddy or granddaddy did” and, offer incentives, other than destroying anything that gets in the way of their lifestyle.

  29. What makes anyone think that rights to partially occupy public land would go for more than ranchers are already paying to graze? Maybe if hunting rights were exclusively sold on public land, then we’d have a lot of L. A. money boys rather than ranchers and land use rights, other than hiking or cross country skiing, would be exclusive to them. Is that what you want? Multiple use of public lands has never been a bad concept, and income is created. Where is all this tax incentive you talk about? Ranchers take risks with THEIR capital that would shame the average Las Vegas gambler. Now if that multiple use includes it’s destruction, i.e. mining and timbering, then that may be another story. Grazing, come on, if done properly with streams protected, grazing hurts no one, and is done by elk and deer and cattle and sheep. Maybe you’d like ranching to be like much like farming, where you pay the rancher NOT to graze. And our tax structure, it’s already among the world’s stupidist and only benefits attorneys and accountants, who pay to lobby for it. And when are you not going to get that man is the only predator above wolves in the food chain, and now, as a hundred years ago, man rules that equation, and should. Wolves belong in the parks and wilderness areas and should be targets when out.

  30. Thank you Nancy for acknowledging the thought process on incentivizing Ranchers to make Wildlife as important to them as their domestic stock………..Being done in parts of Africa successfully as it relates to keeping Lions alive and not speared by tribal herders.

  31. L.J. Didn’t suggest that article because I’m some supportive, armchair, elsewhere “Greenie” – I’ve lived in “cattle” country here in the Rockies for close to two decades and have personally witnessed the slow destruction of public lands and the untold loss of wildlife, in order to prop up an industry that produces a fraction of what’s produced elsewhere in this country, on far less land.

  32. Nancy, do you mean like chickens or swine are produced, in cages about twice their body size. And yes, pubic lands are slowly being destroyed, but for myriad reasons, not “free enterprise” stock growers, most of whom who love the land and are doing their very best to protect it…and yes, that was a long process requiring change on their part. The timber industry, where your and my trees are sold for a buck apiece and we build roads and devestate our pubilc lands so they can be harvested is something to whine about, not cattlemen or sheep men. Control of the land by the forest service for multiple use is an answer, not the importation of food and loss of jobs as we’re losing them in almost every other industry. It’s a great idea to destroy another American industry…then whine about no more domestic jobs. Meat is a vertical industry, grower, shipper, processor, wholesaler, retailer and restaurantur…it’s not just cattlemen you’re talking about. And how about hides and horn and tallow and the industry of growing, processing and trasporting feed to finish cattle? Our public lands are a resource that flows from here to NY city and back, and all around the world to bring the balance of trade our way…for a change.

  33. Could any of the anti ranchers explain to me how ranchers could be destroying the grazing land and still be using it after 150 years? Why do you suppose the grass and wildflowers are so lush every spring when the cattle are turned out? The ranchers are good stewards of the land or they go out of business because there is nothing to eat.
    I will post some photos of moose and cattle in the same meadows, both fat and the meadows still lush.

  34. As usual…George gets it right! How do I know this? Just read the comments. The haters reinforce he is correct with their unsupported, angry feed back. Threatening and exposing their public subsidies. The lovers see it as rational and supported by wildlife science! Thanks again George!

  35. excellent article George Wuerthner. Honest and factual. How refreshing.

  36. Thanks Zbiker. I do worry for fear the wolves will starve out of Yellowstone and head for the Big Horns. There are so few elk left, I would hate to see “our” moose end up wolf poo also.
    If you want to see mismanagement and devastation go to Yellowstone. I retired close to the park because of the wildlife there, now it has been virtually destroyed, it isn’t just the 19,000 elk that are barely 6000 in the northern herd, the Norris/Firehole herd that does not migrate and has historically stayed steady in the 550-650 range had 108 left by 2008, with calf retention of 0-4% . The park has been devastated and not a cow in sight….just starving predators. Enviros can take full credit. I am thankful to be so close to the Big Horns where there is still lots of wildlife and dinner on the hoof.

  37. Todd Wilkinson in Bozeman (not the other Todd)

    We recently took some visiting Italian friends through Yellowstone for a couple of great days. Among all of the “devastation” of wildlife in the park described by Todd, we saw elk (cows, calves, bulls) variously on Blacktail Plateau, Lamar Valley, southern slopes of Washburn and Observation Peak, meadows around Canyon, just west of West Thumb, in the Firehole along the river and up Fawn Pass along Hwy 191 as we headed back north to Bozeman from West Yellowstone.

  38. How many calves did you see? Hundreds? There used to be 6 big bulls on Lava Creek, I saw 3 this spring, how many did you see? If the bulls that used to hang around Canyon are back that is good news. I suggest you come down for the rut in a few weeks. Last year there was a bull with 12 cows/calves in one place and another 5×5 with 9 cows on the Madison. There used to be hundreds. You should have seen some in Mammoth, they seem to congregate there now. Were you on the Blacktail Drive? Where did you see them on the Firehole? Any at Norris?

  39. Fellow commenters: what is always forgotten when u hear folks say there used to be 19,000 elk in GYS….that was only after the wolves were eliminated and the prey erruption began….before we started playing god and eliminating the Griz,wolf and cougar, there was some type of balance(always ups and downs but still a balance) with the herds of proghorn, elk, Mulies, buffalo and moose and the wolves, cougars and Bears.

    So when the folks who say the herds are decimated, they are speaking(not intentionally but still erroneously and naievely)they are referring to a false population size that was caused by human obliteration of predators. As leopold said quite eloquently….”Only the mountain knows the true folly of wolf eradication…..the biological desert that results and the large but finite number of species(both plant and animal) that results from the trigger itch of man in his haste to knock out predators”.

    The only creature driving other creatures to extermination is us….the 6000 GYS elk are a much healthier number for the entire system to accomodate….and if that means that wolf numbers will adjust downward to stay within carrying capacity of the land…so be it.

    To those who want predators gone, I say start practicing the “family values” that you so proudly pontificate about….the Creator did not give us the right to destroy his creation….insects, reptiles, birds and mammals of all types have a purpose….let us mature as a species with that special responsibility of stewardship that we have been asked to employ over Creation.

  40. WOW! Interesting comments, interesting come backs. Ol George stirs the hornets nest again with his slamming of public lands use. $1.35 a month for a cow calf pair, we want $5.00 a head, whatever. The ol rancher still pays up front for the use of the land. The ol backpacker pays nothing (I backpack, I don’t pay a users fee). But I pay TAXES! I assume all you antiranchers think ranchers pay no taxes either. Its funny how people get so wrapped up in this cow/land debate. Then throw the wolves in for a little fodder. Todd, I agree with you completely. They can study the subject to death, change the grazing rules, whatever. The fact remains that cattle are about the only economical use of much of that land. Keep spewing the wolf mush George. For every study you put forth done by prowolfers, there are two or three showing the opposite and often deadly affects of wolf predation on wildlife.

  41. Todd— do you suppose we could get Karen Budd-Falen , Harriet Hagemen , their Mountain States Legal Foundation and the Wyoming Wolf Coalition to publish their IRS 990 forms ? I’m pretty sure the anti-enviros whose altar you worship at do the very same thing…take public money whenever and whereever possible.

    Right here locally in Park County Wyoming, my own county attorneys are using local taxpayer money to pursue a totally frivolous ( soon to be moot) lawsuit against wolves before Judge Johnson, as if Park County Wyoming brings anything new to the courtroom table ( It does not). But they are diverting county attorneys , money , and resources away from prosecuting drunks , meth users , child abuse cases, real criminals by tilting at the wolves’ windmill.

    If the GAGs that you ar gagging on are really getting significant sums from winning cases and various federal grants, I guess it’s becasue they are smarter than you and your silly and that ilk….

    The video seems flaky to me. Quite flaky …worse than Scott Rockwell’s poorly done digital chicanery. For one thing, it does not identify who’s behind it, so I discount it 100 percent right there. It’s a fluff piece.

  42. George: Your claim is that livestock operators “externalize” their predator control costs by having the US Govt APHIS and USFWS people control wolves. So who WOULD you have governing wolf control? You imply that it is the rancher who has externalized the cost by having government control predators, so I guess you would be OK with having ranchers control them? I am thinking the ranchers would LOVE to control predation. They are up to the job. Internalize predator control, and have that be a part of the lease, the cost of grazing and reflected in the AUM payments. I am certain that some ranchers would pay MORE to graze if they were able to do the predator control, as they did for more than 100 years. They are most likely more than willing to assume that cost if they get to do the work at their pay rates, and costs of doing business, not this nonsense with full wally retirements well before social security kicks in for most Americans, and all the sick days, personal days, days off, vacation time, and overtime. They cannot internalize the largesse of government gone wild, where Federal pay and benefits are now twice that of the private sector. Externalize that.

    The “welfare rancher” nomenclature is just Goebbels propaganda. Demonize the one you want to exterminate is right there with all the genocidal talk we get from academia over the ages. That comes from the assumed purity of thought that those who have credentials proving they are the smart set, and has over time been more dangerous than a trainload of Ebola. That is what has killed the most people in the last two centuries. Pontificating writers poisoning the public well of thought for the good of a few at the expense of even fewer. Beat up those least able to defend themselves from the tyranny of a righteous majority. That is the sociopath thing to do. And, it has traction among the clean hands set, the pressed blue jeans crowd. Gotta have that straight as a string crease right down the topside of the pant leg. Long Lee, the dude ranch bull cook, takes care of that. Welfare ranchers wear their pants until they stand by themselves, and then some. Don’t have time to engage in the more polite pursuits of the non egalitarian set who donate their money to get rid of welfare ranchers and others with hard hands, weather creased faces, and soiled clothing. You know, or as they will tell you, authors and architects, lawyers and those with family money have better ways to use land than “use” it. You only “use” those who can do something for you. And evidently livestock operators running animals on public land, the money from which goes to government and 25% to local governments and schools, should go away and we should tax any income over $100,000 at 85% and level the playing field in this country. Tax the holy hell out of the rich so public lands all can be burned in the “fire is natural and good” or “fire for resource benefit” or “wildland fire use”, or whatever you want to call it conflagration. It all looks like the kid who is envious of other’s construction and kicks it all to ground, or burns it, because he neither has the brains, desire, or work ethic to make it himself. If you can’t have it, destroy it. That is public land management today. And that is what George wants for livestock operators. He doesn’t want to share. He wants to call them names. And it all is about vague and temporal sensibilities that will wax in times of plenty, and wane when shit goes south. I am of the mind that things are going south, and farther and faster than we ever anticipated. “Welfare ranchers” “externalizing their predator control costs” is a bogus argument of the kind that have been embraced by urban arm chair experts, and are little broken cogs in the machine of our economy that is now so helplessly broken and missing so many cogs, and the sabots being tossed into the remaining gears are not making economic sense to the unwashed, hard handed, common sense majority who might upset the food cart on your street in November. Enough is enough. It is time to take care of business, and it is business that pays the taxes that pay way for the blabbering and blubbering class, who don’t seem to be able to produce a product, or a foodstuff, to fuel the business that pays the wages, makes the money, all of which is taxed to provide for their refuge from the wordaday world. Noses are falling daily to spite a face, feet are being shot at a record pace, and the whole of it needs to stop and November is as good a time to stop it as any. Replace the “welfare Congress”, like my Senator Wyden who has not had a private sector job in forty years, but is now a multi millionaire, with a wife living and working in NYC, while he carpetbags it to Oregon on the red eye, leaving his family behind in NYC, 3300 miles away and several hundred from where he supposedly works in Washington DC. Gotta recycle those wives, and a Senator needs to have a younger, more nubile spouse for his or her dotage. A new model. I think that is what the plastic surgery and dyed hair is about. The painted on eyebrows and tinted contacts are another story in the Vanity Handbook. Our Narcissist Senate. Hairplugs and combovers and a hot blonde on the arm. Doing good for us. If we pay them enough.

    That is it, George!!! All you need to do is pay enough Senators enough money, and they will GLADLY make ranchers internalize their predator control costs. Without the predation losses, grazing should cost more, because you are buying feed that you will actually get to sell on the hoof, and not have to watch walk off as a gut full of your cow’s guts. You buy the grass and hope to sell it as cow on the hoof. The cow, and the feed to that point in time the bear or wolf or cougar or coyote consumes your cow is a loss of income, and a reduction in tax burden. You are on to something, George. Internalize predator control by handing it over to the lease holder. Good idea!!!