Of Toddlers, Wolves, and Public Lands Ranchers


The following guest blog post was written by Samantha Bruegger, the Wildlife Coexistence Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians.

As I sit here thinking about wolves, my child is now peacefully sleeping in his room. I know he will awake tomorrow and much of his toddler fury will have subsided, creating a time for us to interact with each other positively. I can’t help but think of the parallels between some bad-acting livestock producers, grazing on public lands across the West, and my raging pre-bedtime toddler. The evening meltdown ritual is full of entitlement, irrational beliefs, and a lot of whining. It is now in these precious hours of silence that I understand why these tantrums are so familiar. I hear the same chorus from stock growers all week while working on carnivore coexistence.

The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, further bolstered by the Multiple Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, authorized cattlemen and sheep growers to use public land across the West to grow their personal businesses. Now, nearly a century later, the same law has enabled corporate cattleman to profit from some of America’s most picturesque forests, grasslands, and deserts. Where we hike, bike, raft, hunt and fish, cows and sheep are permitted to freely roam.

In the 193 million acre National Forest System, grazing is authorized for 6,260 permit holders at the low cost of $1.35 per month for a cow/calf pair or five sheep, on over 102 million acres public land across 29 states. Unattended cows and sheep trample valuable wildlife habitat, graze on forage intended for deer and elk, and literally defecate all over the trails and water we explore with our families and friends, or find solace in alone. Yes, much like my child during witching hour, there is poop involved, a mess made, and complete chaos. However, this is not my private living room, these are the invaluable ecosystems of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, the Colville National Forest of Washington, and the Arapaho National Forest of the Rocky Mountains, areas in which cows and sheep are invasive species. The aforementioned legislation is the parent that caves, gives toddlers what they are screaming for, in this case we’ll say a lollipop, and hopes for the best.

As many parents know, sugar before bedtime rarely ends well. Livestock producers were given a taste of the good stuff and, emboldened, have now picked up the toddler refrain of “more, more, more!” Being permitted to profit from public land was not enough for the hypocritical heifer owners. Soon, funding from the Animal Damage Control Act was funneled to grazing permit holders across the West, in a misguided attempt to appease the industry. In fact, a federal wildlife killing program was created with these funds, equipped to destroy all wildlife that stood in the way of cattle takeover. Armed with traps, poisons, cyanide bombs, snares, airplanes, and firearms, the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Wildlife Services” program took to treasured public lands to kill all things wild.

So far, the program’s indiscriminate and cruel tactics have accidentally killed numerous wild animals, including endangered species, domestic dogs, and even poisoned a child. The program still kills over a million animals annually, largely at the behest of agricultural interests. Bears and beavers are killed for timber damage, coyotes are massacred before grazing season, wolves are shot from the sky, and prairie dogs gassed in their burrows. The sugar- loaded, unhappy toddler was gifted a toy; the toy in this story is Wildlife Services.

You may have guessed by now, but the federal and state governments play the role of the exhausted and weary parents in this story. In an effort to appease the tyrannical demands of the worst in the grazing industry, the government doles out more gifts. Producers can receive compensation when cattle deaths are attributed to wolves, at twice the market value, but still demand the blood of those carnivores on public land. Producers receive free technical assistance when there are threats of coyotes, cougars, wolves, and bears, but still demand the blood of carnivores on public land. Producers claim it’s too hard to attend to cattle and sheep on public land, that there’s no way they can possibly keep an eye on them, but still demand the blood of carnivores on public land.

One cattleman, whose cows wander across 78,000 acres of the Colville National Forest in northeastern Washington, has even had 26 state-endangered wolves killed, including the Wedge Pack, Profanity Peak Pack, and the Old Profanity Territory Pack, to “protect” beef cows already destined for slaughter. Even as I write this, Washington has a kill order out for two members of the Togo Pack whose crime was eating the cows, wandering unattended, in the National Forest.  Parents are trying everything they can to appease the now spoiled child, who will never be satisfied until that child can act however he or she wants, damn the interests of anyone else in the house. Such unfettered kowtowing is, quite simply, bad parenting, and we should expect much more from the government whose job it is to consider the interests of stock-growers, anglers, hikers, and other non-consumptive users, as well as wildlife and ecosystems, in protecting public lands.

In order to protect the interests of the whole household, maybe it is bedtime for public lands grazing. Perhaps the great burden that the bad apples of the livestock industry perceive for tending to their responsibility would be lifted if they lost the privilege. Perhaps, if they got a little rest, they would wake up and understand that using the shared rivers, forests, deserts, and grasslands for their business gains is a privilege, not a right.

I think it’s about time we put livestock grazing on public lands, and the killing of so many wild animals for the benefit of cows and sheep, to bed. I hope to join you in a new dawn of coexistence, one where the toddler is a little more respectful and, perhaps, enjoyable.

11 thoughts on “Of Toddlers, Wolves, and Public Lands Ranchers”

  1. Thanks for sharing this excellent blog, Matthew. I know my range friends will protest, being long in the business of apologists for the range industry (yes cattlemen & sheepmen are nice folks but it’s a destructive extractive industry and the impacts of massive overgrazing on public lands dating back to 19th century or earlier have never been analyzed).. but I have always been appalled at the work of what used to be called “Animal Damage Control” under the Department of Agriculture which recently renamed itself “Wildlife Services” (Really?) in a pr gesture. Love the history and the image of feds as “weary parent…” I know Samantha wrote it but thanks for sharing.

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  2. I’m confused how you say “Demand coexistence” but you offer no sort of such commentary other than do away with ranching and livestock production.
    At least try to be forthcoming with your post in the title of your writings…. please.

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    • Howdy Rod.

      If you click on the links in the guest column I think you will find plenty of information about coexistence. Here are some links, and examples of the language at the links:

      https://wildearthguardians.org/wildlife-conservation/end-the-war-on-wildlife/cultivating-coexistence/

      https://wildearthguardians.org/wildlife-conservation/end-the-war-on-wildlife/reforming-wildlife-services/

      Urge the U.S. Forest Service to adopt the following core reforms to the commercial livestock grazing program:

      * Prohibit lethal predator control in specially designated areas on national forest system lands such as: Wilderness areas; proposed Wilderness areas; Natural Research Areas; Wild & Scenic River corridors; Inventoried Roadless Areas; delineated wildlife corridors and any other special management area where the protection of native wildlife need not yield to the select interests of private livestock producers;

      * Adopt Forest Plans and Forest Plan amendments that include grazing management standards designed to reduce the risk of conflicts between native carnivores and domestic livestock;

      * For all grazing term permits, allotment management plans, and annual grazing instructions for portions of the forest where carnivore-livestock conflicts have been a concern, or may become one, incorporate science-backed coexistence measures that state and federal agency wildlife experts recommend for avoiding and mitigating such conflicts. For example:

      – Require permittees to remove livestock carcasses and sick or injured livestock on the allotments so as not to become attractants or targets;

      – Delay turnout until after mid-June if an active wolf den site is within 1 mile of an allotment unit, so deer will be birthing fawns and can provide an abundant and easy prey source for wolves;

      – If an active wolf den site is within or adjacent to an allotment, delay turnout of calves in the area until they reach 200 pounds in weight to minimize depredation potential;

      – Prohibit allotment management activities by humans near active wolf den sites during the denning period, to avoid human disturbance of the site;

      – Prohibit placing salt licks or other livestock attractants near wolf dens or rendezvous sites, to minimize cattle use of these sites;

      – In the event of depredation, move livestock to another pasture/unit or another allotment;

      – Temporarily switch grazing sites and move livestock to another location away from core areas;

      – Increase the frequency of human presence by using range riders and guard animals and frequently check livestock in areas with wolves or when wolves are in the vicinity of livestock pastures.

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  3. I can’t help but think of the parallels between some bad acting WildEarth Guardian, thinking only they are right, and my raging pre-bedtime toddler.
    What an insult this article is. Hardly a a way to encourage dialogue. At least Matthew presented some ideas.

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  4. Apparently, “coexistence” in this sense means kicking people (ranchers) out. Here’s what I get out of it…
    There are many ways to manage conflicts. I think WEG (as per Matthew) agrees with using them to reduce conflicts.
    Of all those ways, (some) ranchers want to include lethal means. Which seems to be the only thing they (some ranchers/WEG) disagree about.
    Given that they disagree about that one thing, the answer is to get rid of public land ranching and say pejorative things about them… including calling them , in effect, toddlers.
    As Bob points out, if everyone who wants something is a toddler, well then let’s discuss what it takes to not be toddler-like, and why this would apply to ranchers and not to WEG.
    This gets a 9 out of 10 stars in the hatefulness column from me.

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    • Howdy Sharon. How does one livestock corporation demanding the slaughter of 26 state-endangered wolves on the Colville National Forest rank on your hatefulness scale? How does it rate on your good U.S. Forest Service management scale? How do you think the recently revised forest plan for the Colville National Forest ranked in terms of coexistence between livestock (which is permitted to graze over half of the entire national forest) and native wildlife, including state-endangered and federally-endangered species? Also Sharon, how come you don’t say too much about members of the Trump administration or members of Congress saying “pejorative things” about public lands activists or forest protection advocates or wildlife advocates? What about ranchers saying “pejorative things” about environmentalists? Why does all this always get a pass from you, but you never ever miss a change to take a shot at environmentalists and public lands protection groups?

      P.S. WildEarth Guardians is actually working closely (and successfully) with ranchers (who don’t want to slaughter all the native wildlife) in the Greater Gila Bioregion. See for yourself.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbFITFUxcVY&feature=youtu.be

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      • OK, I think they are actually saying that they want to use lethal means as a last resort.
        So are you saying “demanding” is hateful or that killing animals is hateful?
        Because there is this activity “hunting” that also kills animals (for human purposes) and I don’t think that we think hunting advocates are hateful?
        Is this a “speciesist” argument, in which the life of an elk is less worthy than the life of a wolf?

        As a rule, I don’t post hateful screeds by anyone, or if they say hateful things I tend to leave them out. If I “take a shot” at someone, I don’t call them names or say things that aren’t true in an effort to persuade. I think we can critique the actions of a group without critiquing the humans involved- and I think if it’s fair to critique the Forest Service, then it’s equally fair to critique elected officials, interest groups of various kinds, reporters, academics and so on. There is a difference between critique and hateful speech.

        I think there’s a line somewhere between humorous snarkiness and the kind of vitriol in this post. That’s why I gave it my own hatefulness rating. Please feel free to hold me accountable if I post hateful screeds and we can discuss their hatefulness.

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  5. I guess I have never understood the political power of the western range livestock people. At one taxpayer subsidized cow per 100 acres versus a cow/calf per acre where I sit looking out my back porch at this summer’s feeder steers, raising beef west of Nebraska and the Dakotas simply makes no sense at all. Moreover, their grandpappy should have filed claims on that land if they wanted to ranch it. At this point, I consider them inefficient interlopers on public land.

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    • Thanks for posting, RSB. There are plenty of successful ranchers (well as successful as that business can be) in Wyoming and Colorado who do not lease public lands. I’m not as familiar with other states. You’re welcome to take a drive.. I recommend HWY 94 from Colorado Springs east to Kit Carson.

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  6. FWIW: A significant chunk of the land within the view-shed of HWY 94 from Colorado Springs east to Kit Carson is Colorado state public land.

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