Ranchers intimidate science they don’t like

Data source: “Cattle Death Loss,” a report by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

A wolf researcher at Washington State University has resigned as part of a settlement of a case alleging that the university infringed on his academic freedom.

“Wielgus angered ranchers with his research of wolf behavior. He concluded the state’s policy of killing wolves that preyed on cattle was likely to increase cattle predation because it destabilized the structure of wolf packs.

Ranchers complained to the Washington State Legislature, which cut Wielgus’ funding and demanded he be removed as principal investigator on his ongoing work.”

And they got what they wanted.  So, if you’ve got enough money and political power, not only can you buy your own researchers, but you can silence publicly funded independent research.  Do you suppose they might be able to influence the research conclusions, too?  (Somehow it’s a little hard to see “powerful” environmental groups making this trick work for them.)




11 thoughts on “Ranchers intimidate science they don’t like”

  1. ” So, if you’ve got enough money and political power, not only can you buy your own researchers, but you can silence publicly funded independent research.”

    Frankly I’ve seen this cuts both ways. The other side will often do the same thing. In otherwords when somebody wants something bad enough, money can fix anything. But I follow several ranchers who love wildlife and work with their cattle operations to increase wildlife habitat. In fact they talk about wildlife more than their cattle operations. Of course this doesn’t usually hit the main stream media as a general rule as the above example which lumps all ranchers into the same dogpile.

    Circle Ranch in west Texas is fighting the government who wants to eradicate the native Elk there to save big horn sheep, claiming Elk are not native there. But the Elk have no negative impact on the Bighorn Sheep. Go figure!

  2. Wieglus had a contentious relationship with ranchers, biologists at the division of wildlife, statisticians, and eventually the people who ran his school. It was inevitable that he’d eventually exceed what they were able to put up with.

    His stirring and promulgation of, well, untrue statements, was thought to have caused death threats against division of wildlife officials for which Wieglus apologized. http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/outdoors/2016/aug/31/death-threats-surround-profanity-peak-wolf-pack-removal/

    Later statisticians used his own data to show his study showed the opposite of what he claimed, which is not surprising given Wiegles’ long history of being a one trick pony. http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/outdoors/2017/oct/03/statisticians-counter-wsu-profs-findings-killing-wolves-does-more-harm-good/#/0 Every study I’ve read by the man going back to pre professor days purports to show how culling this or that predator actually leads to more trouble in the form of predation. If you have a predator, Wieglus has a study to show how shooting, hunting, trapping, etc inevitably leads to more predation of livestock etc. All one needs do is look at who wrote the paper and you can skip the reading.

    Research dollars weren’t very forthcoming anyway.

  3. It was helpful to hear more of the background on this story, thanks. It looks like the main controversy was not about the research, but jumping to conclusion regarding a specific incident. While it looks like the University may have done the right thing in getting an independent evaluation of the research, it’s unfortunate that the spokesperson was “Todd Myers of Seattle-based WPC, a conservative think tank that promotes public policy based on free-market solutions.”

    The status of the research seems to be that there is, “Limited evidence on the effectiveness of interventions to reduce livestock predation by large carnivores,” and, “Controversy exists about the potential side effects of lethal control, such as disruption in carnivore social structure that could lead to increased immigration causing further livestock depredation.” https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-02323-w. So there doesn’t seem to be any basis for punishing a researcher for having a particular position. If the action was taken on behalf of the ranchers because of the research conclusions (as the original article suggested) rather than behavior, I still see that as a problem.

    • You know, I am not a conservative, but sometimes I agree with people at PERC about things. I bet I might at WPC. My point being is that they can get paid to investigate and tell us “the other side” of some things that are reported.
      Otherwise we have a ragtag bunch of DIY analysts with no funding, operating off the pensions of retirees, trying to ensure that both points of view, that all sides of the story, are heard :).

  4. Eh, both sides are crazy. Wieglus is one of those wildlife types that simply is in love with predators (not that that is bad per se) and becomes a single focus advocate. Talk to them about herbivores, bats, forbs, songbirds and their eyes glaze over with boredom or disdain. And the ranchers – little different. They’re indirectly on the public dole and as a producer in the East I resent their govt-subsidized use of public lands. I’m tire of hearing about their “ranch” of 20,000 acres only to learn they own 400 in fee and the rest is BLM land. We can do a cow-calf per acre in the East. If the playing field was level, they cannot compete. And more cows in the East that are profitable would mean less farmers selling out for subdivisions, malls, etc. Livestock production is the one thing in our economy where we allow an inefficient sector to survive. I don’t get it.

    • From my perspective, living in non-public land western cattle country, people seem to be making a living raising cattle on private lands..I’m not clear as to whether you are being specific or not as to place/ownership?

  5. 1 cow – 40 acres? Let’s say you need 500 cows to bring in $200k gross. Minus your gas, tractor, truck, hay costs, etc., etc. Would take 20,000 and your net would be about what? Maybe $75,000? Other than something like the Waggoner or King Ranch, there aren’t too many 20,000 ac+ fee-simple spreads I am willing to bet outside of Texas, maybe Nebraska or eastern Montana. Those dudes in Nevada, Utah, eastern Oregon, central Wyoming are grazing on BLM land. I guess if they have water they could make a living on cow-calf shipping feeder steers out to Omaha or Chicago, but if you do the math, it does not make economic or ecological sense. That being said if it occurs wholly on private land, more power to them I suppose.

    • Anon, I can’t argue with your numbers, but I see plenty of cow-calf operations wherever I drive from my house on the Plains of Colorado, and when I drive to my aunt’s house in western Kansas. In fact, many of my cousins raise beef cattle (in Kansas and Texas) as well as grow wheat and milo. Are all these people losing money?
      As to “ecological sense” what exactly do you mean? I think keeping a grass cover may be better for the land than growing crops.

  6. That’s private land, so its OK whether efficient or inefficient. Nobody in Texas is getting BLM subsidized help. And you can argue for ground too dry for crops (center pivot aside), grazing is the best use. And you can argue cows replace buffalo (though the range science folks at OK State can show you why that is only partially true). Still you gotta own a lot of land to produce enough cows to make a go of it. They might be growing dryland wheat, praying for wet winters and springs and making a go of that what every other or third year (probably better than dryland cotton), but if they are west of the 100th meridian, that sorghum (milo to non-southerners) is getting irrigated.


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