Governor: Feed grounds necessary in Wyoming

Freudenthal is gearing up to defend the indefensible, — Wyoming’s winter elk feed grounds, the continued source of brucellosis transmission in elk and the place where chronic wasting disease will first show up in the Greater Yellowstone elk and deer.

If you are going, defend something so wrong, it might just pay off to say just the opposite is true. He does. “Feed grounds are a vital part of the state’s elk management and brucellosis strategy and will be a part of that strategy for the foreseeable future.” That’s what he said in Jackson, WY on Monday.

By defending the feed grounds as vital in preventing transmission of brucellosis, he can then accuse the wolves who come to the feed grounds to hunt in the winter just as naturally as bears come to backyard birdfeeders, as something menacing that needs to be killed. In fact the feedgrounds is one of the two major reasons for the proposed new 10j rule that will be argued in Cody tonight. The new 10j would allow the states to kill wolves if the wolves if they are a major cause preventing the state from meeting “herd objectives,” a term that the Federal Register says means the movements of herds, not just desired population size.

Freudenthal then gives the real reason for the pro-feedground, anti-wolf policy. The Jackson Hole News and Guide writes, “Freudenthal said the only thing that could possibly reduce the state’s dependence on supplemental feeding programs would be significant state investment to secure more wintering habitat for the animals.” [emphasis mine]. However, he said winter range would be too expensive to buy.

He is right, but not the way it seems. Wyoming state government is rolling in money from the mass industrialization of state for gas development. They have plenty of money to buy the land, but the political support for it isn’t there with a governor like him.

The expense the governor is talking about then, is political. To eliminate the feedgrounds, he would have to oppose the influential, old guard ranchers who have for a century, opposed using the successful method of Idaho and Montana — use natural winter range for wintering wildlife.

In Wyoming, it takes a lot of courage to oppose the old guard ranchers, and Freundenthal will allow disease to spread and the wolves south of Yellowstone to be killed because he has no courage. That’s what the wolf killing program is about.

Story: Governor: Feed grounds necessary in Wyoming. By Noah Brenner. July 17, 2007

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  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Ralph’s assessment here is absolutely correct. I do want to expand on the issue of purchasing winter range in Wyoming to allow elk to spread out.

    In Noah Brenner’s story in the JHN&G to which Ralph refers to here, there is a misclaim–Brenner asserts that the Wildlife Trust Fund was created, in part, to purchase wildlife habitat. This is false. Actually, the law creating the Trust Fund explicitly prohibits the Fund from purchasing land. The most that the Fund can do is purchase easements. There is a provision that allows the State Land Board to accept donations of land or to buy land, but that is separate from the Fund.

    Previous attempts to create a wildlife trust fund have failed because of the issue of buying land. The existing Fund came into existence only when the provision against buying habitat was added to the bill. Essentially, the Fund is little more than another source of financial subsidies to ranchers.

    The ranchers–actually, the Wyoming STockgrowers Association–have this thing about government ownership of land. For years, since 1941 in fact, the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission had a strategic policy to purchase winter range, primarily for elk, when it was available. Between 1941 and 1991, G&F amassed almost half a million acres of winter range throughout the State by buying land from willing sellers–virtually all ranchers who wanted to sell out.

    In 1991, G&F made an especially important purchase in the East Fork of the Wind River–nearly 40,000 acres (including BLM allotments) from Jackson lawyers Gerry Spence and Ed Moriarity. This purchase, when added to other previous purchases in the East Fork drainage, pushed the EAst Fork Wildlife Habitat Management Area (HMA) to a size twice that of the National Elk Refuge. This HMA lies just 20 miles up the highway from me and it is a magnificent place. The cost was $7.1 million, 3/4 of which came from federal Pittman-Robertson funds.

    The Stockgrowers had a fit over the purchase and forced through provisions in the Legislature that have effectively made it impossible for G&F to buy land since 1991 and have also starved the budgets of the Habitat sections in the various G&F regions from properly managing HMAs throughout the State. These areas still support wildlife on winter range, but with virtually no active help from G&F.

    There’s the ideological issue of government ownership of land, but the economic and political reasons for opposing the purchase of winter range for wildlife is that the control that the livestock industry can exert over land use and wildlife management policy can be lessened if you have a strong G&F Commission. In the old days, when G&F commissioners and management still had balls, and were truly politically and financially independent, G&F consistently opposed ranchers’ demands in a variety of areas, even going so far as alerting hunters when there were problems to bring pressure on state government and the legislature on behalf of G&F and wildlife. Hunters were much more supportive of conservation and G&F in the old days.

    That is no longer the case. One of the moves the Stockgrowers made after the Spence Moriarity purchase a decade and a half ago was to make G&F Commissioners at will appointees and to shift appointment authority for the G&F Director away from the Commission to the Governor. This effectively shifted total control of the Department away from the Commission to the Governor, who works for the Stockgrowers rather than the citizens or even the hunters and anglers of Wyoming. We date the emasculation of G&F, and its sorry behavior that we see today, to that time.

    Yes, there is more than adequate money in the State’s coffers to buy winter range and migration corridors, but since the Stockgrowers Association opposes such expenditures, it won’t happen.

    When you add the disease problem that feedgrounds pose, what we have is a deliberate negligence of the State’s public trust duties for wildlife conservation. The refusal to buy land for wildlife and especially elk is nearly criminal in intent and certainly in consequences.

    Given current political realities, all we can do is wait for the catastrophic consequences of deliberate mismanagement.

  2. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    What a shame that we have to read something like this. Why do politicians and groups like Wyoming Stockgrowers have to hide behind lies. And worse, why do people tolerate these kinds of things.

    I guess the truth of the matter is, people want to hear what they want to hear, and the truth, if a harsh reality, will always fall upon deaf ears until it bites them in the ass.

    But even then, even if a disaster is caused by these feedlots which effectively domesticate elk; the solution won’t be the logical, reasonable one – it will be just another means for some group, perhaps even Wyoming Stockgrowers, to wrest even more control.

  3. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Well, as long as conservation groups pursue policies of “collaboration” and “consensus” with the livestock industry, we’ll continue to see things get worse.

  4. skyrim Avatar

    Mr. Hoskins, Sir
    From Defenders web-site:
    “The ranching community is a valued partner in our effort to recover the wolf in the American West,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. “Compensating ranchers for verified livestock losses has made a huge difference in our conservation efforts.”
    How do you feel about this program? For the record, I am opposed, and stopped supporting Defenders because of it.

  5. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Dear SkyRim

    The stated purpose of the DOW compensation program when it was instituted was to improve the image of the wolf within the ranching community and develop acceptance of wolves within same. It doesn’t take much to look at the present state of affairs in Wyoming, my home state, to come to the conclusion that the program has been an utter failure. I can’t comment directly on how things are working out in other states, since I don’t live there, but it does not appear to be working in those states either.

    With the exception of certain individuals (there are always exceptions), the livestock industry in Wyoming has been leading the charge on legitimizing the “dual status” concept in Wyoming for so-called “wolf management,” which any honest and reasonable wildlife biologist would acknowledge to be a policy of re-extinction.

    The DOW, like far too many mainstream groups, has jumped on the “collaboration and consensus” bandwagon with the livestock industry. However, neither the DOW nor the other groups, such as the National Wildlife Federation or the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, can point to a single material benefit to wildlife conservation from these collaborative projects. They are all politics and marketing, while on the ground, wildlife are in dire straights.

    Needless to say, I have long since ceased supporting any of these groups. If more people like you perceived the pointlessness of collaboration and withdrew their support, perhaps these groups would find some backbone. That, however, is unlikely. Once an organization loses its backbone, it never can be found again, because all you have in these organizations are corporate hacks, and they keep the courageous out.

    It’s better to provide to financial support to groups with backbone, such as the Buffalo Field Campaign and the Western Watersheds Project.

    I hope I have answered your question.

    Robert Hoskins

  6. skyrim Avatar

    You have, and I thank you. I once supported many of the groups you mention and withdrew most of it based largely on your reasoning above. I have been encouraged by the efforts of Buffalo Field and have put them back on my list based largely on the courage of their folks in the field. Soon I will look into the W.W.P. as I am only vaguely familiar with their work.