Montana State Pins Hopes for Wolves on Compensation

The Great Falls Tribure explains how Montana is resting its hope for tolerance of wolves on its state compensation program following delisting. 100% compensation will be distributed for both confirmed and probable losses and the state hopes to expand the program to include compensation for “broken fences” attributed to wolves in the future.

Funny, on my land, it’s law that I am responsible for building a fence to keep the livestock off of my private property. A lot of good it does, the livestock on the adjacent state allotment blow through the fence, the grass on my side being greener. I am responsible for the repair of my fence and the costs of any damage to my private property.

The state and the cattleman impose that financial burden upon me. There is no compensation fund to keep my private property free of damage sustained, nor my family compensated, as a result of the lease of adjacent public land for use by livestock.

Check this out

There is no compensation fund should I leave a shovel or saw that I use, as a matter of livelihood no-less, in the rain. No compensation fund for the elm limb that came crashing down on my roof last fall during a wind storm. I am responsible for holding private insurance, and if I make too many claims, the premium on my insurance goes up. The natural world imposes these financial burdens upon me. They impose them on you too.

Because there is no compensation fund for my livelihood, nor my private property, that hedges me against financial burdens imposed upon me by others ~ including the natural world ~ I take care of my property against likely risk. I rebuild my fence, this time digging the posts deeper. I put away my shovel and saw because I expect rain ~ this time I oil the saw, after all, it’s a matter of livelihood. You can bet that after last fall I pruned my elm trees.

And I pay for my insurance ~ you should pay for your insurance too.

Moral Hazard

When I don’t pay for my insurance, when it’s paid for me, I am less likely to make my fence more sturdy, less likely to bring my tools in from the weather or prune the elms. When someone else insures me I am less likely to take precautions that limit risk to the property insured.

Question: Why would a livestock producer go to the extra effort of pursing predator-friendly grazing techniques when it’s cheaper to forgo the bother ? That’s what compensation does, it makes it cheaper to forgo the bother.

Compensation is a wonderful response to the livestock industry’s only rational, interest-based qualm. It eliminates financial loss. But is it about time to start asking how well this good-faith response is being received in Idaho ? Wyoming ? New Mexico ? How does it motivate the behaviors that are necessary to practically co-exist with wolves ?

How is compensation working ? From the original article about Montana :

Both those who argue that federal protections should have been removed from the wolf long ago, and those who say lifting them was premature, agree on one thing: For the wolf to survive under state management, it’s critical for the state to pay the bills of ranchers who pay the price for its return.

I see, the law is plenty for me and my fence, but for with this it’s ‘We’ll let your wolves live for a price’, it’s ransom,

To help fund the program, Edwards and the state will seek grants and private donations from the likes of Turner, who owns the Flying D ranch in southwestern Montana, and entrepreneur Roger Lang, the owner of the Sun Ranch on the Madison Range.

and a fund-raising prospect for the bureaucrats to boot.

Revival :Robert Hoskins’s essay Outstretched Palms: Aldo Leopold and the Failure of Economic Incentives to Achieve Conservation Goals






  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Bravo Ralph. Note:Brian Ertz wrote this. RM. Send this to Roger Schlicksieson (sp?) at Defenders of Wildlife and to everyone else who thinks that subsidizing/bribing the livestock industry is the best way to achieve conservation goals.

    I’d send this as an op-ed to every newspaper in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Hell, send it to Betsy Marston at HCN for a Writers on the Range column, although we both know that she’ll refuse it, since you’re telling the truth about the cowboys. Go over her head to Paul Larmer and see what happens.

    It would be interesting to see who accepts it as an op ed and who refuses it.

  2. JB Avatar

    Interesting. I agree about the incentives being in the wrong place–(i.e. incentivizing complacency), but find myself wondering about alternatives. Ralph, your analogy is a good one, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the viability of offering predator depredation insurance to livestock producers instead of compensation?

  3. vicki Avatar

    That is an interesting question. Would you suggest mandating it?

  4. The Trout Underground Avatar

    Excellent perspective, especially once you realize how much is being funneled towards “predator control” in an attempt to prevent largely minimal losses to livestock — many of which occur on already-subsidized public grazing allotments.

  5. JB Avatar

    This may be a bit off topic, but I found it notable that FWS’s justification for the removal (i.e. killing) of wolves is based on the assumption that these actions increase public tolerance for wolves. Yet, with all of the science used in the management of wolves, they cite not a single source that tests this hypothesis (apparently best available science does not apply).

    A while back someone asked what role I thought social scientists could play in the management of wolves. Well, here you go; here’s an untested assumption that is determining the course of wolf management that could be easily tested by social scientists.

    My guess is that control and compensation do little to increase tolerance for wolves. Ranchers tolerance for wolves is so low already, I doubt that they have an impact. It is true, were control and compensation not available, affected ranchers would likely shoot, shovel, and shut up, but they would not be as effective at removing wolves as WS…in my opinion.

    A couple of quotes demonstrating this assumption from the Final Rule delisting NRM wolves:

    “The 1980 and 1987 NRM wolf recovery plans (Service 1980, p. 4; 1987, p. 3) recognized that conflict with livestock was the major reason that wolves were extirpated and that management of conflicts was a necessary component of wolf restoration. The plans also recognized that control of problem wolves was necessary to maintain local public tolerance of wolves and that removal of some wolves would not prevent the wolf population from achieving recovery.”

    “State management will provide mechanisms for the control of problem wolves, including allowing landowners to take wolves in certain situations and allowing regulated public harvest of surplus wolves in the NRM DPS. This flexibility in wolf control is expected to increase public tolerance (p.71).”

  6. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    My experience in Wyoming is that all that federal or state funding for lethal predator control achieves is increased landowner demand for lethal predator control. Tolerance for predators is no more now than it ever has been, which is very low. The DOW compensation program has been a waste of money.

    Note that over the past 4 years, the Wyoming Legislature has appropriated nearly $12 million for lethal predator control.

    I have learned that financial incentives to landowners for conservation are incentives only for more incentives. Give people what they’ll want, and they’ll want more of it. This has caused enormous problems for conservation.

    An end to government funding for lpredator control period as well as for depredation compensation payments–which originated in the late 30s when G&F departments nation wide achieved financial and budgetary independence from state legislatures, so stockgrowers found new ways to dip their fingers into game & fish funds by requiring compensation out of the state game & fish funds–and placing financial and managerial responsibility upon lanowners for protecting their private property from predators would be of enormous benefit.

    Private insurance and a requirement for non-lethal predator management for eligibility for insurance payments for depredation losses would be cheaper in the long run–we wouldn’t need Wildlife Services aerial gunning, for example–and might teach stockgrowers something about how economics really works.


  7. Buffaloed Avatar

    I should point out that Brian made this post not Ralph.

    This subject reminds me of the constant drone from the right about the “free-market” that only exists in their mind and that nobody wants. They force it on everyone but themselves.

  8. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I missed that. Thanks. Well, Brian should send it out to everyone, including HCN. It’s an important message about welfare ranching that people need to hear. If you hit a black cow on a black night on a public highway with your vehicle, you’re liable, not the cow owner. It’s a disgrace.

    Free market environmentalism is a sham, from the PERCettes to the Cato Institute to the Ayn Rand objectivists, all of whom have phony philosophical and economic arguments to justify human greed. The community? Well, it’s just something to exploit.


  9. Brian Ertz Avatar

    thank you buffaloed ~ I’m not entirely sure about Ralph’s opinion on the matter, and it’s good that it be clear that this opinion is not necessarily his ~ Ralph is away, and as such, it should be expected that any problems with the post should not be weight on his shoulders.

    Livestock and Big Game are holding our values for ransom – over wolves’ head. I have not held compensation in high regard for the reasons mentioned above in the post ~ and others, but i will say that private orgs have the right to do with their resources as they will ~ whatever that means for wolves.

    I will also say I think it odd that attempts at the rational, interest-based responsiveness would either miss or disregard consideration for the rational, interest-based moral hazard described, to say nothing of the effectiveness of the program at building tolerance for wolves ~ it hasn’t ~ and I would be happy to have a conversation on this thread about the merits of such a claim. That’s why I wrote it – and I think the merits need to be hashed out, especially now.

    The one thing that I see compensation contributing to the effort is PR. It answered their qualm ~ or should have. I have not witnessed a real effort made to drive that point home, I haven’t seen it stick. It needs to be held as the example of good faith – and having failed – new ideas about the best way to build tolerance for wolves ought be afforded resource. If livestock on public land (the vast majority of habitat in dispute) is a condition promoting intolerance for wolves, it stands to reason – soundly – that the absence of livestock on public lands is a condition favorable to the tolerance of wolves. i hope that’s the next phase ~ I suspect it will take struggle.

    The cold, hard fact still remains ~ whether the compensation program is successful at tempering the intolerance of a particular producer, unless all producers within a wolves’ range are convinced ~ it takes only one to call in the gunships. That’s what they are doing. The ‘intolerance’ has not been marginalized to the point of producing political results – enforceable protections – favorable to wolves ~ it’s the ‘forest for the trees’ argument. Proponents of compensation and placation of Livestock have a damn good hold of describing that tree, they’ll parade the tree out and celebrate the individual success ~ and they should, it’s pretty cool to see a person change their mind like that. but if it’s all while the forest is subject to a rule completely at odds with the anecdote ~ to what avail is it. When will we admit that – or even see it ?

    public financing of these programs is particularly disheartening.
    and i’ll re-pose the obvious question (from my perspective) : How well have compensation programs worked for wolves ?

    IMO – It’s time to remember the subject of advocacy ought be the standard of advocacy, pull up the boot-straps, take that long hard breath, and begin steering resource toward the rational, interest-based reality that carrots work best with sticks.

  10. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I still think you need to shop this around as an op-ed, particularly at HCN. If Betsy turns you down, go over her head. What you’ve said here is something we’ve all understood for years. This is as good an explanation for what’s going on as any.

    Good luck.


  11. Brian Ertz Avatar


    Will do .

  12. steve c Avatar
    steve c

    I wonder now if every cow that dies of any cause will “dissappear” and be compensated as a nonconfirmed wolf kill.

  13. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    The old game wardens have a saying about compensation payments for livestock depredation: “If a cow or sheep doesn’t come off the range, a predator got it. End of story.”

    Given that the Wyoming G&F has now adopted an unbelievably generous 7X compensation formula for calves or sheep that are killed by wolves, ranchers have even more incentive to blame wolves for every cow or sheep that “doesn’t come off the range.”

    It seems that ranchers are the only welfare recipients whose payments are going up!

  14. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    In Wyoming why would a rancher do anything but run his cows into conflict areas. Looks like the payout will be higher than sending them to slaughter. Montana seems to be following suit. I should take up ranching I guess. Hell I could have a new Pick-up every other year, fill it up with tax free gas or diesel, write off every loss of livestock on my taxes in addition to other exemptions, AND have the state compensate me for the trouble. What a system.

  15. Brian Ertz Avatar

    JEFF E ~

    The Trout Underground makes a good point as well, ~ you’d get all the welfare AND the state paid extermination service (WS).

  16. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Several years ago I wrote an essay on why Aldo Leopold turned against landowner incentives, which is an interesting tale, since he’s the guy who came up with the idea in the first place. I posted that essay on New West at:

    Perhaps that can be my contribution to this issue of incentives, free-market environmentalism, and moral hazard. The whole incentives argument is rooted in the Jeffersonian yeoman farmer ideology, which asserts what great things landowners are doing for wildlife, and just need a little cash. Well, that’s the great thing about ideology: you don’t have to know anything to talk about it.

  17. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I am back now from my brief trip. I want to thank Brian for this very thoughtful essay.

    There is a very detailed public opinion poll that has been recently completed, and not released to the public.

    My examination of the it tells me that as far as public opinion in the three states, the following have nade no discernible difference in the level of support for wolves: 1. existence of compensation programs; 2. the actual number of wolves in the states; 3. the degree to which wolves are controlled for killing livestock; 4. the actual number of livestock killed.

    In other words none of this “management” has made any difference to the public. They are unaware of the facts. It is possible (because you can’t tell from a survey), that it makes some difference to the politically influential.

    My hypothesis is that if wolves killed ten times are much livestock as they do, the level of effective opposition would be the same as it is. I think we have a test of this hypothesis in Arizona and New Mexico with the tiny number of Mexican wolves. Is opposition less there than in Idaho/Montana/ or Wyoming? Obviously not.

    Killing more than a few token wolves and compensating losses are useless in building support or diffusing opposition.

  18. Brian Ertz Avatar


    you may not be able to tell what difference these things have made to the politically influential by use of the survey ~ but the legislation and management plans that have been, and are being, passed gives a pretty good indication.

  19. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I think that as far as the politically influential are concerned, other more fundamental factors are at work. All we see are the outward obnoxious expressions of an inward and inherent political corruption. It’s not wolves at all, but the use of wolves as a fulcrum on which to lever goals of political power and economic privilege. Those are the fundamental goals of a political and economic oligarchy. Wolves provide cover for their corruption, and the propaganda they spew the rationale for their corruption. Wolf control is a kind of political “bread and circuses” to keep the “hoi polloi” diverted and distracted from the fact that they are being robbed blind.

    In the politically and ecologically astute Dune novels, author Frank Herbert has his more obnoxious and reprehensible characters quote the following: “Control the coinage and the courts, let the rabble have the rest.”

    Well, the politically influential in our states are tossing the wolves to the hoi poloi for their sport and distraction. Consider them Machiavels in cowboy boots and stetson hats. You must admit, they do a good job of it. They’ve been doing it for over a century and have lots of practice. By now, however, they’re doing it on instinct, which is one of their exploitable weaknesses.

  20. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    Well, it appears the hoi polloi are well diverted and distracted, aren’t they?


  21. JB Avatar

    “Well, it appears the hoi polloi are well diverted and distracted, aren’t they?”

    In defense of the hoi polloi; they have had a lot to think about recently. I mean they’ve only recently learned that the war was a bad idea, their health care is worthless, the economy is sinking fast (along with value or their wonderful new MacMansion), their government is hemorrhaging money, and [gasp] the globe is warming too?! Gosh, who would’ve guessed this kind of governmental mis-management was possible!? Oh right, 49% of the voting population.

    Sorry for the cynicism; apparently I’m a bit grumpy this morning.

  22. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    They continue to have the “FEAR” factor going for them and that’s how they hold on to 49%. Unbelievable!

  23. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Regarding JB’s comments, the perennial political problem is that most of the public is not politically organized. Some interests are easier to organize than others. In fact, a long-standing theory in political economy is that the narrower the interest — selfish — the easier it tends to be to get it organized and active. There are methods of by-passing the “collective action” problem. I won’t list them in this comment.

    The problem in Idaho, Wyoming, and the entire country is only partly one of political party. Much is that the selfish interests have become very well organized with little countervailing power from the broader public interests.

    In the past, this kind of situation has only been remedied by a realigning election period like 1932-6 or a period of unrest like the 1960s which, among other things, brought about an open government by 1975. This is one reason why I place a lot of hope in the election of 2008. In fact, it’s the only hope.

  24. Jennifer Avatar

    I agree with the whole issue of having insurance to pay for livestock losses. To me it’s no different than an agent or city clerk that has to be bonded, the doctor who has to carry malpractice insurance, the business that has to carry liability insurance, etc. Of course, the ranchers would argue they wouldn’t need insurance if not for the wolves. They also talk about how difficult the losses are on them, but the statistics show that the loss of livestock to predators is less than 3% a year compared to loss by disease, birthing problems, etc. Who compensates them for those losses?

    I have to agree with Jeff E’s post. If I understand the compensation program correctly the rancher gets paid more than the market value for mature cattle instead of market value for a calf. They are actually coming out ahead because they aren’t putting out any of the normal “overhead” expenses associated with raising the calf to maturity (such as feed, vaccinations, etc). If they were to carry insurance for predator losses the insurance company would only pay them fair value for the livestock at the time of loss, which means they would get paid for a calf instead of a steer. Now tell me, what do you think the ranchers will want, the continued compensation or an insurance policy? Sounds like a fine time to try ranching in the West.

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Brian Ertz