Opinion: Voluntary buyout programs should phase out sheep in Western Idaho wolf country

This link to the WWP Blog is to a piece is by Debra K. Ellers, Western Idaho Director of Western Watersheds Project. She wrote in response to a story in the McCall, Idaho newspaper that was complaining about wolves making it hard to raise sheep in the mountains of the area (actually, wildfires in recent years have greatly increased the forage for sheep and elk).



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  1. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    “…27 cents per sheep per month.” That’s nuts! Shouldn’t the ranchers be paying for their own program??? Ellers has certainly raised issues that need to be addressed.

  2. elkhunter Avatar

    should you not be happy that they are doing it. Its better for the wolf I would imagine. Thats a small price to pay for your precious wolf, you dont seem to worry to much about the millions that have been spent on wolves since introduction, so why should you be concerned about some sheep buyouts? Cant make you happy I think.

  3. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Any money that has been spent is only a tiny fraction of the sum spent funding ranchers to keep ranching. The way I figure it is, if they don’t have the money to feed their livestock, then maybe they should only keep as many that their own land can sustain. From a business standpoint, anyone who knows how to run a business can see how absolutely rediculous this is. The Forest Service is gaining nothing in return except operating at a huge loss and the degradation of public land and services. FS is closing campgrounds and parks etc., because they have no money. They don’t have the money to even pay for enough personel. And then FS has to pay ranchers for not using the land. {Definitely not a business model to follow.}
    ***Wether I like or dislike wolves is irrelavent.***
    Can I go out on public land, pitch a tent and pay 27 cents a month to live there???
    Also, you are making assumptions about me, and you know almost nothing about me. Is that how you look at everything? It is a fact that making assumptions can lead to misunderstandings, destruction, loss of life……
    Have you heard the saying– “they can’t see the forest for the trees”? Are you not seeing the “big picture” because you are unable to look past the wolf re-introduction?
    *Anyway, just something to ponder.*

  4. elkhunter Avatar

    I dont like having sheep and cows everywhere either. It effects hunting. But from your previous posts I do know that you are Pro-Wolf obviously. And in all these posts everyone bitches about public land grazing. Now when the Feds have the chance to eliminate some portion of grazing you are mad. But I did not see you making posts about the millions of dollars that were spent introducing the wolves to ID. Or the millions of dollars that have been spent in litigation and that will be spent in the near future for litigation. That money could of been used for the IDFG because they are struggling just like the Parks are. If you want to talk about business models lets look at this wolf disaster as a business. MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS SPENT on bring them here. MILLIONS OF DOLLARS SPENT on litigation and endless lawsuits that will continue for who knows how long. Obviously there is not a ceiling to how much can and should be spent to preserve wolves in ID. Same thing with IDFG they are struggling financially also. And now next year they have to come up with all the money to manage your wolves. So we have all these costs that wolves bring. Now lets look at the revenue they generate. Wait, there is no revenue. YNP might generate some. And the occasional tourist that goes to ID to look at wolves instead of YNP. So if you want to look at things as a business sense, you would of cut your losses long ago. But of course us hunters and sportsman will foot the bill for your wolves.

  5. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    Oy. This idea, of removing livestock from range, is just plain not going to work. It’s far too ideal.

    Let’s think of this in simple economic terms.

    The land sheep ranchers own, as well as the range they use, is productive; meaning it generates income for someone somewhere. So, now we come along and buyout the lands, and remove the sheep from open range. Now those lands are no longer productive. Economically, something MUST replace that income with other income, or otherwise replace the value it had. And what is the most likely way this land’s income will be replaced? Development.

    The only possible way this would work is a policy decision up high to permanently protect these lands. Not even the Democrats can manage that one. There is no way to permanently support removing these lands from production. Therefore, the most logical thing to do is continue the current production, livestock, and support it as a sustainable industry; but work on making it less influencial in policy decisions, less dependent upon government handouts, and self-sustaining.

    As for the 27 cents; that’s the rate charged based on approximate yield, minus the risk ranchers take by putting their animals out in the wild. The cost reflects that risk. Don’t want to incur the risk, don’t pay the price. As you can imagine, it is quite worth the risk. Replacing range with feed is quite expensive, not sustainable economically. And given this, you can see my opposition to the Compensation Program that pays when wolves kill livestock, even on public range.

  6. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Mike Wolf-
    Since the land will not be protected, it has to be used for something no matter what. The alternative would be development, which to me is unacceptable. “…making it less influential in policy decisions, less dependent upon goverment handouts, and self-sustaining”, this certainly makes sense to me. The 27 cents; is basically minus insurance for possible loss of livestock. The discount is to offset loss, but they still get reimbursed. So the Comp. Program should not exist.
    It is a difficult situation to say the least. Thanks for the extra info. I just don’t have much hope that people will work together to achieve a more workable arrangement. It’s just too easy to continue the current arrangement.
    Are you the person who has the longhorns and who is working to restore the areas around your home? If so, I think the system you have created is great. There seems to be not many people who care to step back and really see the whole picture.

    I am getting the impression that you are a bit grouchy this morning… I hope you have a better day.

  7. d. Bailey Hill Avatar


    I am not one to label people and therefore do not like being labeled. But if you must, *pro-room enough for people and animals*, would be the accurate summation.

    YNP is doing very well since Xanterra Parks and Resorts began managing concessions. Many improvements can be seen throughout the park which would not have happened if it were not for the Yellowstone Association and Xanterra. Inprovements in just the last 3 years are astounding. The YA offers year round lodging and learning programs at the field institute, one of the most popular being about the wolves. You can find out more at; yellowstone association.org. New facilities have been either built or remodeled throught the park. Private donations from people who care about the park also play a significant roll. And I am guessing that would include persons who are interested in the wolves.
    Check out this info; http://foundationcenter.org/pnd/news/story.jhtml?id=187800039 .

  8. elkhunter Avatar

    I was mainly referring to ID, about how much wolves generate there, as a business sense. I know YNP generates income. But I doubt ID wolves generate amy amount worth talking about. But incur lots of cost.

  9. be Avatar


    the buy-out is for allotments on public land ~ are you suggesting that buy-outs would spur sell-offs of public land?

    there are any number of ideas for alternative “uses” of public land that promise more economic viability or at least less subsidy required than livestock grazing. think of native seed shortages for wildfire restoration efforts. demand is high, and if fire continues as is anticipated, it’s not going to plummet significantly. what if allotments spared degradation of livestock (thus more productive of seed) could be instead “used” as seed sources and alleviate seed shortages. this is an economic “use” of public land which would of its very nature depend on the integrity of biodiversity and wildlife values, thus provide economic incentives and positive pressures, as well as ecological, toward conservation. native seeds fetch a premium.

    that’s just one ‘could be’ example. there are viable economic models which can flip the pressures to consume/extract toward “uses” which provide economic pressures to conserve. they’re beginning to emerge already.

    of course, i’m an idealist. i don’t believe that the economic pre-conditions that you project are going to be necessarily required as suggested. We already have an alternative body of law which compells other values be considered (ESA, NEPA etc.). Given these laws are relatively more recent than the woefully out-of-date laws (Taylor, Minerals, etc.), and the political pendulum as it stands (or falls), I believe there will be the opportunity to further develope the regulatory measures necessary to make it easier and easier to imagine a world where public lands don’t require an unsustainably extractive “use”.

    in fact, in large part, emerging ecologically sound alternatives (as noted) are obstructed by the archaically established holdings and artificially competitive “uses” whose preferential “use” is ensured by the out-of-date laws and being-there first rather than their legitimate economic contribution, their ability to demonstrate ecologically sustainable “stewardship”, or other measures of contribution to the public interest that the use of public domain should require ~

    voluntary buy-outs are a win-win way of enabling public lands ranchers to maintain ownership of their private property base-camps (or even expansion) to use as they wish ~ rather than being forced to liquidate their entire operations (including private property basecamps which are subject to subdivision/development) in response to the economic pressures of floating on loans and confronting wildland fire, predators, drought, etc.

    public lands ranching is looking at an ominous future for any number of reasons ~ buy-outs give the voluntary opportunity to opt-out for cash now, rather than forcing the more painfully inevitable constrictions of its dying viability on everybody.

  10. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    One thing I forgot to point out about livestock on public lands…

    Here is something else to think about: The population, and therefore demand for meat, is steadily increasing, but certainly not decreasing by any means. Removing livestock from public grazing lands will mean that the livestock has to be fed. Private land is already being fairly well utilized for growing feed hay (and corn.) The benefit to public lands grazing, and thus why it is allowed (WE are the government after all, and it is WE who decide that public grazing is allowed) is that it reduces the costs for producing beef and sheep products. So, by removing livestock from grazing allotments, we are a) increasing the cost of meat, and b) increasing the need for cultivated land.

    I hope this is helpful in making people realize how important livestock grazing on public lands is. It means utilization of the lands for food production; and keeping them largely intact for wildlife and recreation. No, I don’t like stepping in cow dung while I’m hiking; but I like beef, so as long as the range is well managed (the real issue here), grazing on public lands is good for everyone.

    The real problem is sorting out the issues; such as massive control of things by ranchers, mismanagement (the largest issue in my opinion), and a very valid but not universal perception that ranchers are anti-wolf, and the issues that creates. I’m personally going to try to take on that issue; and work towards a truly sustainable ranching and range livestock industry. I firmly believe that sustaining range livestock utilization of select wildlands using good husbandry and range management practices is the best way to insure that wolves are here to stay. After all, while coyotes have learned to adapt to exurbanization (the development of wildlands and range), I hope no one believes that wolves will adapt to such a thing.

  11. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Good reply!

    I should add that if public land is no longer grazed by livestock that doesn’t mean it is no longer used. Quite often the grazing is deterring or driving out more valuable uses.

    Now about the base (private property) of the rancher. Continued access to the public lands via sub-market value grazing permits in no way guarantees, and might not even hinder him or her, from subdividing the base property.

    When recreational development begins in scenic country, the fact that a rancher may be making a profit hardly prevents him or her from cashing in on a much better deal (from the rancher’s individual perspective).

    If the rancher grazes uninteresting country from the standpoint of development, a subsidy through low grazing fees is clearly not needed to prevent subdivision because no one wants the property to subdivide.

    To Elkhunter,

    Idaho wolves generate very little income and they generate very little cost too. Almost all of the cost is from minor livestock depredations and a much higher (and by that I mean probably unnecessary) high expenditure to kill the wolves by unduly high tech means (such as shooting them from helicopters instead of trapping them.

    In addition, most of the costs and benefits of wolves are of the difficult to quantify, non-market variety.

  12. elkhunter Avatar

    I thought that the yearly budget for wolf management will be around 3 million a year for ID? I dont remember where I read that, I could be wrong though. And it cost quite a few millions to bring them here in the first place, and I am sure the legal costs incurred from them is tremendous. That was my only point Ralph, is that Bailey was complaining about paying ranchers to sell off allottments, yet ignoring the costs that wolves have incurred since being here. But I do agree with everyone that public land grazing should be monitored alot more aggressively to prevent range damage. I dont feel it should be ended though, cause I do like a nice T-bone steak and dont want to spend a fortune to buy one!

  13. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Here is something that all of us forgot to consider; Ethanol.
    The consequences of of manufacturing will drive up the cost of corn. I am guessing that some ranchers supplement the livestocks diet with corn and other grains. And there are not many ranchers that will pay for the drastic rise of the price. And not just grain but other products that are used on a daily basis. More energy is expended to produce the fuel, than the fuel alone will yield. The price of meat will go sky high. What if the “powers that be” use this as a strategy to try to produce corn on our public lands for which there is not enough water to irrigate. In my opinion the people who are promoting ethanol, need to look outside their little bubble of reality. It would create some serious problems for everyone. Hopefully common sense will prevail.

    Are you thinking of the Montana Dept of Livestock? They receive 3 million + annually to “manage” the GYE bison. {Our tax dollars at work}

  14. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think the folly of ethanol is going to come to head very quickly because it is going to create an increase in the cost of foods of all kinds that just cannot be ignored.

    Our vehicle fuels have been subsidized and the true costs hidden from us in many ways over the years, but corn is in so many food products that a vast price acceleration is underway. If you shop for food, you can already see it.

    We should be greatful because the negative feedback from a lot of bad ideas is slow to show up in any obvious way. This time I think the feedback will be pretty quick.

  15. Buffaloed Avatar


    Your T-Bone steak isn’t going to go away if public lands ranching ends. Your elk hunting will get better though because the amount of forage available for elk will increase.

    It seems to me that much of the funds allocated to the IDFG were diverted to Wildlife Services so that they could spend it on helicopter flights. When they realized last year that they still had all of these funds left over they decided the best way to use it would be to fly around and take pot-shots at wolf packs that had killed livestock, in some cases more than a month earlier, from a helicopter. As far as I know there are scarcely few wolves left in the former ranges of the Gold Fork, and Orphan packs, there were many other wolves killed north of McCall, and there is still livestock being killed at nearly the same rate as before.

    Did this money accomplish anything? It’s like the livestock people are being compensated three times. First, with low grazing fees second, with Defenders of Wildlife compensation and third with massive expenditures by Wildlife Services to fly around in helicopters to kill wolves. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but the ranchers still complain about wolves and drive around with bumper stickers that say “save 100 elk kill a wolf”. Maybe the bumper sticker should say “save 10,000 elk, 1000 buffalo, 100,000 coyotes, 150 wolves, END WELFARE RANCHING”

    I wish I had a deal like that.

  16. Layton Avatar


    Having much trouble with paranoia attacks lately??

    “It seems to me that much of the funds allocated to the IDFG were diverted to Wildlife Services so that they could spend it on helicopter flights. When they realized last year that they still had all of these funds left over they decided the best way to use it would be to fly around and take pot-shots at wolf packs that had killed livestock, in some cases more than a month earlier, from a helicopter.”

    Do you have ANYTHING to back that up?? Usually I try to take folks at their word, but this is just to silly.

    F&G (a state org.) diverting $$ to ANY federal org.?? What in the world would make you think that could happen??

    As for the DOW folks reimbursing ranchers for lost critters — MAYBE, if the wolves leave 50 or 100 sheep laying around in one night, otherwise it’s almost impossible to “prove” to them that the lost cow was a wolf kill.

    There’s a report on F&G’s website now about a single kill of over 40 sheep that MIGHT get the rancher reimbursed.

    “As far as I know there are scarcely few wolves left in the former ranges of the Gold Fork”

    Methinks you don’t look very far, the fire fighters on the North Fork fire are hearing and seeing them quite regularly.

    C’mon bud, be serious — the puppies are doing quite well all over the central Idaho area, there are packs on No Business, Red Ridge, Mud Creek (big and little), Warm Springs Creek, Josephine Lake, Brundage, etc., ad nauseum. I certainly don’t know why the Gold Fork pack(s) would all of a sudden come up among the missing.

    Displaced by the fires? Maybe, but certainly not for long. Meanwhile they are out there making life miserable for critters in other areas. They’ll be baaaaaack.