Grazing on Washington state wildlife lands, and an ugly political deal by governor Christine Gregoire

Washington state’s governor Christine Gregoire (Democrat) open up critical wildlife lands purchased by the state to cattle grazing as a political deal — an effort to strengthen her reelection chances in a part of the state where she is a weak.

This much needed article in the Seattle Times makes that very clear.

What the article doesn’t say is that this “illegitimate political child” shows why she is weak in the area, and her cowpie politics won’t help her — she doesn’t have a clue about the economy or the politics of the area.

She must think half of the people around Ellensburg or Yakima are cattle growers or work in closer associated industries.

First of all, cattle growers are a huge minority of the population in the area. Secondly, they wouldn’t vote for a female Democrat from west of the Cascade if they lined up and told they’d be shot.

All this has done is ruin critical wildlife lands, purchased at great expense, have no perceptible impact on rural subdivisions (price of gas and mortgage availability are many time more important), and alienate her supporters.

Fortunately, the Western Watersheds Project has been busy fighting this insult to her own self-interest.

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Earlier on the Washington state wildlife lands cattle grazing-

March 27, 2007. Western Watersheds Project says it will sue to keep cattle out of Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area in Washington.

April 18, 2007. Another victory for WWP. Cattle turnout on Washington state Wildlife Areas stopped!

April 19, 2007. Photos and video of cattle in the Joseph Creek Wildlife area. Washington State.
Note if you like the song “Get the cows off our mother’s face,” you can find more from Tim Lengerich at CD baby.

May 14, 2007. Cattle vs. wildlife at Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area



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  1. Mary Walker Avatar
    Mary Walker

    Ah, finally some common sense on this issue! This makes me so mad, because Chris Gregoire is usually so good on environmental issues! But apparently she’s willing to try to sell off our environment for a hair-brained political scheme that isn’t going to help her anyway. How lacking in conviction!

    It makes me think about voting for Rossi honestly. I like his plank about eliminating taxes for hybrids and electric cars. He’s not half bad on these issues, and at the very least, you know where he stands and that he’s not going to sway with the political winds.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thank you for your comment Mary.

    Democrats figure they are going to romp all over the GOP in this election, and one can argue that they should; but it would be nice if in their victory they saw that can’t just rely on bad times and Republican incompetence.

  3. Ryan Avatar

    All politicans are the same, full of ______. Gregoire is no different, her fishing policies and catering to the indians in Washington has been a travesty with regards to ESA listed Salmonoids.

  4. JB Avatar

    “All politicans are the same, full of ______. ”

    Ryan, on that much you and I agree 100%!

  5. Brian Ertz Avatar

    The thing that gets me is that there’s less than 10% shrubsteppe left in Washington state – these areas are critically needed for wildlife. cattle is not wildlife.

    WWP in Washington State

  6. Mitch Friedman Avatar

    There’s a lot more to this than comes across here. While I totally agree with you that it’s absurd for a Dem governor to court votes among ranchers, esp at the expense of public lands, that just isn’t the driver for these grazing policies.
    Gregoire has been a great champion for conservation. One of the key areas she’s championed is keeping habitat for falling victim to sprawl. There’s a lot of pressure is some counties (Kittitas, Chelan, and esp Okanogan) for large, wildlife-rich ranches to subdivide. Gregoire and the Legislature have put a lot of money into keeping these ranches whole, mainly through DFW. In some cases DFW has purchased ranches outright, in others the agency has purchased easements that represent the development value.
    The political complication is that these appropriations to DFW to purchase land or easements are easily blocked if local county commissioners are state rep’s aren’t on board. While we’d like to believe that these folks would be as motivated by wildlife habitat as you and I, the fact is that they’re far more concerned about maintaining the viability of the agricultural economy and the land base for it.
    We need DFW to be transparent about grazing, to base their policies on science, and to protect habitat. But the situation calls for a more nuanced approach than expecting the state to buy land and keep the cows off. Going that way would almost certainly undermine our ability to bring state money and DFW as major players into keeping WA grasslands from being carved into ranchettes.
    Sorry if that sounds weasely, but believe me that there are magnificent ranches, critical to sharptail grouse and many other critters, that are weekly getting major offers from developers. The state’s role has been critical in keeping the Methow Valley intact for the last decade, and is now critical in keeping other areas, including vital habitat lankages, intact.

  7. Brian Ertz Avatar


    your description of the situation is certainly appreciated – it just seems to me that what you’re describing is political extortion on the part of the Cattleman’s Association.

    The nuanced approach you describe has included free or next to free grazing on state lands absent proper environmental analysis and thousands of DFW hours spent.

    the idea that DFW would buckle to this political extortion is really sad – especially considering the direction the state was moving in the past. monitoring efforts of both riparian conditions (riparian *isn’t* supposed to be affected) and uplands conducted by WWP following the “pilot project” on Smoothing Iron and Pintler Creek of the Asotin Wildlife Area this season give ample illustration of the degree to which these state lands need rest and to which the states’ claims of ‘improved big game habitat’ are just plain not true. Livestock are tearing it up out there.

  8. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Gregoire, DFW, and anyone else needs to know – these last remaining habitats will not be allowed to be opened to grazing for next to nothing and slide past proper environmental review and prudent regard for the public trust, regardless of the political wheeling-and-dealing justifications.

    Mitch – Gregoire, DFW, & conservation partners now have the opportunity to use the leverage WWP’s hardline affords them. you can bet the lawyers will be chomping for strict adherence to the law – that needs to be the baseline now for any new ‘open space’ acquisitions or opened wildlife areas. the political situation with county commissions etc. you describe demonstrates that the playing field had been lopsided – and until now, there was only one interest willing to tow the hardline. that’s not the case anymore – and wildlife have it better for the effort.

  9. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    The “open space” premise Mitch posits as a rationale doesn’t bear up to scrutiny. If the land is worth more on the free market, eventually ranchers will sell out/subdivide regardless of whatever welfare they’re getting for their cows on public lands.

    Solutions include a complete buyout of the ranch for conservation purposes, or thoughtful planning and zoning. For example, I live in a planned development that was a cattle ranch 30 years ago–lots are several acres, with restrictions against perimeter fencing and livestock. Open spaces, riparian areas and wildlife corridors have been preserved. We have a lot of wildlife, including elk, moose, mule deer, whitetail deer, and sandhill cranes–a lot more, I’d wager, than when the overall property was a working cattle ranch.

    WA residents should be bombarding the governor and their legislators with protests over this illegitimate and wasteful grazing scheme. Sacrificing endangered fish for votes is criminal, in my opinion. Especially ironic, where as Ralph notes, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that this will yield political capital for Gregoire.

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thank you, Debra.

    I certainly agree. I have seen too that residential developments, done properly, sometimes even improperly, often have more wildlife than cattle blasted public or private land.

    Compaction of the soil, as by livestock trampling, is now being recognized as a very important aspect of global warming. It causes the soil to become a source of greenhouse gases rather than the beneficial sink it should be.

    It think Brian Ertz will soon have quite a bit more to say about this

  11. kt Avatar

    It’s not just Washington state citizen tax $$$ going into Governor Gregoire’s scheme to gain votes by turning lands purchased for fish and wildlife into near-feedlots where prominent local cattlemen get to graze for FREE.

    Lots of our federal tax dollars go into supporting WDFW’s wildlife areas and operations involved in the Governor’s vote buying scheme across its wildlife areas. BPA funding pays for many things, some USFWS dollars I believe were used in purchasing the Smoothing Iron property in Asotin, where the purchased lands are being ripped up to put in cattle water pipelines and fences for Gregoire’s cowboy friends. This area was in better condition BEFORE WDFW acquired it than now – after a couple of year’s of FREE grazing by one of Asotin’s worst ranchers, who is also trashing nearby National Forest lands.

    Botanists have already found new weeds moving into Smoothing Iron areas subjected to grazing – including into habitat now known to be Occupied by a federally Threatened plant Silene spaldingii.

    Brian is right, it is political extortion, and the cattlemen are just going to demand more and more. What will Gregoire and Department head Koenings offer up to them next?

  12. Kristin Avatar

    Another problem with Mitch’s analysis is that not all of the land that WDFW is proposing to graze is newly-acquired land which was only acquired on a promise to graze. Instead, it is land that the WDFW has held for many years, such as the “Whiskey Dick pasture” of the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area. How does introducing grazing onto long-held state land prevent sprawl?

  13. Ed Avatar

    On the topic of crooked politician’s, anyone seen the official indictment of Uncle Ted from Alaska?

  14. kt Avatar

    Yes, Kristin is correct. The lands at Whiskey Dick that the Governor’s cowboy welfare grazing program REALLY wants to turn cows out onto have been owned by WDFW for several decades, and the cows were booted off 25 years ago. This area has been used by colleges to demonstrate the recovery of shrubsteppe following removal of grazing. I think that in part is exactly what the Washington Cattlemen’s Association REALLY doesn’t want the public to see – and seeks to destroy.

    Comparing the ungrazed WDFW Whiskey Dick lands to grazed lands shows how severe the cattle damage to sagebrush country really is …

  15. Mitch Friedman Avatar

    Which is worse: overgrazed and trashed grassland or sprawl? I’d rather not even make a choice, as both are entirely unacceptable.

    Which is worse: Grassland on which cattle are grazed using decent practices or carefully planned cluster development? I’ve come to believe the former. As Knight’s research has shown, key ecological indicators trend more negative under the latter. It’s possible that ideal development (no pets, no trails, etc.) is preferable, but we don’t see much of that.

    Do I support DFW running cattle onto long-held wildlife reserves? Of course not. In any instance where this is done, DFW should be held to a high bar of accountability: transparent process, clear objectives, lots of data and monitoring.

    Are there public lands historically under grazing lease for which I would offer my (fill in the blank) to get the cows off? Of course.

    But in those instances were ranches (in some cases with exceptional habitat value) are in the path of development (in some cases with lucrative offers pending), and were conservation buyers aren’t always available, the best or only option is for DFW to buy the land or the development rights. Neither happens without the support (or at least neutrality) of local politicians. If the conditions for that support include leasing for (hopefully improved) grazing, can accept that.

    A couple other points: A post above called for addressing this issue through zoning. If only Nirvana were so close!

    Similarly I dispute the post that says that economics (land value alone) will determine the outcomes here. That’s only so if we allow it to be. I can point you to thousands of acres of grassland that aren’t covered in sprawl today only as a consequces of people who didn’t succumb to such thinking.

    Lastly, consider a macro trend: The demographics and economics of cattle ranching are bruising. Many ranchers are clinging by their fingertips, for better or worse. Okanogan County has lost something like 70,000 acres of ag land in the last decade or so. I’ve also seen figures (questionable source though) that cattle have dropped from over 70,000 head to about 20,000 head since about 1980. So what happens when there aren’t enough acres/heads in ranching to support the Cennex, the auction yard, etc.? At what point does a Domino Effect kick in, in which ranchers are forced to sell at rates way beyond our ability to secure at least the best habitat?

    Yes, I’m an advocate for grassland biodiversity and a hater of cowpies and trampled riparian areas. But I’m no longer into a Jihad on ranchers. The unintended consequences are too high. So if you disagree with particular decisions of Gregoire and/or DFW, at least consider that some of their motives and objectives might be ones you could support.

  16. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Mitch –

    we can agree on the motive of advancing conservation value across Washington lands – and indeed, across the West. We share that want. That mutual agreement ought not pacify the importance of the details in efforts to achieve it – which is exactly what slinging the Cows versus Condo suggestion does. It lowers the question of conservation into nebulous and unverifiable standards of ecological health – replacing standards associated with critical ecological indicators with vague “open space” accomplishments.

    Perhaps the best way to approach this would be to take a look at the conditions on some of state land in question following the “pilot grazing” – and evaluate the affect of the cattle on the landscape and the ability of those lands and wildlife communities to sustain it:

    Smoothing Iron & Pintler Creek Units – Asotin Wildlife Area
    Uplands Assessment (pdf) on 6/16/08 – 6/19/08 – report by Dr. Don Johnson, Fisheries Biologist and Don Clarke, Sedimentation Geologist.

    Riparian Assessment (pdf) – report by Debra Ellers, WWP’s Western Idaho Director.

    I hope you consider these reports Mitch, and evaluate them against the likelihood of the devastating consequences of land being developed in the area of Smoothing Iron and Pintler Creek. I am told that there is virtually zero likelihood of development carving into that area – and there is NO likelihood of these existing Wildlife Areas proposed for grazing being developed because it is already state owned.

    This brings into focus the question you pose :
    Mitch says:

    Which is worse: Grassland on which cattle are grazed using decent practices or carefully planned cluster development?

    1) The lands the state seeks to immediately acquire are not the only lands subjected to the chop-block of grazing following this political wheeling and dealing with local politicians (Cattleman interests). Previously acquired (and protected) lands are similarly extorted out of preservation use toward livestock use. This is largely the case in Washington – with Asotin, with Whiskey Dick, etc. The deals implicate broader landscapes than the acquisitions in question – that’s a heavier ecological toll to stack on the “cows” side of the “condos versus cows” scale.

    2) The projects were originally pursued following the political extortion of the Cattleman’s Association without proper review of the environmental consequences – that “look before you leap” review is the law and gives prudent regard for the public interest. I am disappointed with you Mitch, that you would suggestively use a politically charged word like “jihad” to describe the motives of the parties whose vindicated insistence was aimed at the prudent administration of the rule of law toward the public trust is indicative of the merit of your suggestion. “Jihad” ? I guess that says a lot about your regard for the democratically established law of the state of Washington – those parties responsible for the passage of that law affording “jihad” – and those to whom the Cattleman, Gregoire, and DFW spited in their hasty politicized leap to open state lands to livestock grazing.

    3) One example of a cost via grazing : If you took the time to read through the Uplands Report by Sedimentation Geologist Don Clark, you would likely have read through one of the more pervasive ecological tolls associated with livestock grazing – the loss of topsoil. This ecological toll is often not as conspicuous as gullied streams or barren lands but is considerable – especially when you stack it up against the ecological cost of development. You see, the loss of topsoil implicates the vegetation communities for a long time – it can take thousands of years for that topsoil to come back ! The denuded vegetation community grazed and deprived that soil is prone to cheat incursion (described) compounding the destabilization of soils (cheat don’t hold/stabilize dirt like Idaho fescue, arrowleaf balsamroot, blue-bunch wheatgrass, microbiotic soil crusts, etc etc). That loss denudes the habitat for a plethora of species including big game species, sage grouse, etc. etc. That lost soil goes somewhere – it goes into the streams. This specific Wildlife Area (Asotin) was purchased and managed by DFW with the purpose of protecting and enhancing habitat for chinook salmon, bull trout, and steelhead – NOT livestock – and the condition on grazing was that it would not affect riparian. The lost soil that went into the streams degrades the fishery – it affects the riparian. The Wildlife Area, after the “cow versus condo” political deal purported, can no longer honestly be claimed to be managed for the benefit of chinook, bull trout, and steelhead – it’s Livestock Use now – apparently to help placate “local interests” to help in acquiring some land somewhere else ? And when we sell out prudent regard for the public interest/trust and management based on verifiable ecological standards/indicators with existing state lands in Asotin and Whiskey Dick to Livestock so easily now – what does that suggest about the promise for management of future state acquisitions we may gain with those “compromises” ? It seems to me like that’s as slippery a slope as the grazed canyon walls in Pintler.

    The Point : Let’s have the debate about cows v condos and lets talk tangible ecological indicators and the full scope of habitats affected by such questions – let’s pull it out of the hypothetical and ground it in the circumstance for which it is applicable. In fact, let’s take a tour of the condition of a Wildlife Area opened to graze and you tell me that what’s being done is OK.

    Which is worse: Grassland on which cattle are grazed using decent practices or carefully planned cluster development?


    It’s possible that ideal development (no pets, no trails, etc.) is preferable, but we don’t see much of that.

    remember this ? :

    Last year, cattle were stocked in one pasture at nearly twice the levels the department’s management plans allowed. It took 11 days for anyone to notice, and an additional two days before the animals were removed, state records show.


    Then a bellow blasted from the sage. A pair of confused calves looking for their mother.

    They weren’t supposed to be here, according to the grazing schedule, nor were the more than 12 others lumbering through the dust. Trespass cows

    The real world. It’s a false suggestion. The “decent practices” you’re suggesting aren’t happening either – and this during what is “pilot grazing” – a time when these guys know they’re being watched very carefully – and on lands under NO THREAT of development.

    Mitch says :

    So what happens when there aren’t enough acres/heads in ranching to support the Cennex, the auction yard, etc.? At what point does a Domino Effect kick in, in which ranchers are forced to sell at rates way beyond our ability to secure at least the best habitat?

    1) This is extortion and non-sense. Livestock producers sell when the price hits right just like everyone else – there is nothing but the anecdotal suggestion that it’s any other way and no reason to believe otherwise. The state will never be able to afford to subsidize ag to beat that economic incentive – and when it does – it’d be more prudent toward conservation to use that same resource to buy the land outright and rest it. Playing into this thinly veiled threat consistently leveraged against anyone critical of Livestock is counterproductive – it gives them more power than they have, and that power is used to graze livestock –> diminish wildlife habitat.
    2)This “Domino Effect” you describe, if anything, demonstrates an economic condition in which much land would hit market in a short time – that’s a condition the state could make better acreage on for its dollar – sorta like the foreclosure crisis depreciating real-estate values happening now – but nobody’s wishing that on anyone.
    3) Many of these areas are undesirable for developers especially now – the development boon is waning. folk are just saying ‘don’t play loose politics with existing lands acquired to benefit wildlife habitat’ – that abridges the public interest/trust and threatens DFW’s objectivity – a distance from politics the department needs much if citizens of Washington are to trust that wildlife and lands will be properly managed according to science and law.
    4) Why are these local Livestock politicians allowed to veto state purchase of private property rights (whether development or outright) ? That’s a private property issue. Let them deny the sale – so what ? It’ll go to developers ? It’s going to developers anyway. It seems to me that’d be a hell of a way to piss-off a landowner looking to sell-out but whose got some inherent resentment for developers (isn’t that the suggestion ?). Let the landowner look at that state dollar and have their local Cattleman Assoc. rep on the board tell him that they know better.

    Gregoire’s and DFW’s diminishing distance with the Cattleman threatens the objectivity of wildlife management – it’s a bad move – and a cheap play for political support that will not benefit the land nor the wildlife.

    I’ll take 10 crisp Washington apples in hand over a promised bucket of rotten ones any day.

  17. Mitch Friedman Avatar

    I think Brian and I are largely arguing past one another. He’s defending a position on Asotin, Whiskey Dick, etc., that I am not disagreeing with. My point is that some of the above posts were way too quick to generalize from those specific instance to condemn DFW and Gregoire (that’s the context in which I used the term Jihad.).

    Most of my experience/focus is in the Okanogan. The development boom is far from over there, as it’s fed by Alberta oil money (Canadian second homes) and the vineyard frenzy. Just yesterday I was on a magnificently-managed ranch, some of the best sharptail habitat (and healthiest population) in the state, working with the rancher on how to stop the 1,900 acres next to him from being developed (it’s already subdivided). I could list a dozen similar examples off the top of my head (and I’m certain the these dynamics are not limited to just the Okanogan) that completely controvert the 4 points that Brian ends with. While those 4 points do appeal to my philosophy, I fear they lead to a strategic dead end on the land in some places.

    BTW, I noticed a typo in my previous post: “Which is worse: Grassland on which cattle are grazed using decent practices or carefully planned cluster development? I’ve come to believe the former. ” I meant to say the “latter.”

  18. Brian Ertz Avatar


    I don’t know much about Okanogan but it sounds like your doing good work. however – the point was, if the work in Okanogan, or work like it elsewhere, is premised on acquiring the political support of livestock associations by diminishing existing protections elsewhere – then i’d i characterize that as political extortion. If the work in Okanogan, or work like it elsewhere, simply creates a condition of pacification (not wanting to lose the cozy feelings achieved in other work) toward a willingness to stringently uphold verifiable legal and ecological standards of management – then I would similarly suggest that it is unfortunate, and reason enough for the need for there to be groups that don’t play with the Cattleman’s Association – and that political pacification often works against applying and enforcing strict scientific criteria and is is a failure on the part of any politician or the DFW worthy of criticism. this is the context of the comments above, and why i disagree that we are largely talking past each-other, the suggestion was made the “open space” conservation ought serve to reassure everyone as to Gregoire’s conservation credentials – I feel otherwise, and used an example illustrating the importance of actual on the ground verifiable ecological indicators that were traded by Gregoire for what was suggested as the vague value of “open space” – and if it was traded for that value (it has yet to be demonstrate) even as many suggest it doesn’t even go that far – then there needs to be harsh criticism. instead it seems she did it for some very unwise and counterintuitive political posturing in Eastern Washington.

    perhaps you could explain something to me – why must the cattleman approve private land/property sales to the state ? i.e. why must Gregoire sell out Asotin & Whiskey Dick to accomplish local government support for land acquisitions as was suggested ?

    I could list a dozen similar examples off the top of my head [snip] that completely controvert the 4 points that Brian ends with.

    we’re talking apples and oranges here. people are generally good. criticism or kudos for individuals is warranted on an individual basis – what is safe to generalize and what most criticism is leveraged against is the DFW & Gregoire’s political kowtow to livestock associations – these political associations in the West are objectively predisposed to ‘trouble’ with regard to efforts to uphold the public environmental interest. that doesn’t mean that every livestock producer is bad – it just means that the political capital leveraged by the associations is destructive of the values that we love – and destructive of the public interest. you suggested there may be a need to court the support of these associations. Why ?

    sharptail habitat is wonderful – and it’s good that you were able to work with the rancher.

    We’re working in Washington on conserving sage grouse, loggerhead shrike, Brewer’s sparrows, sage thrashers, sage sparrows, pygmy rabbits, Chinook salmon, Steelhead and bull trout and other shrubsteppe obligate species – by promoting the restoration of the less than 10% of shrubsteppe in Washington remaining – the whole system – many of the species are listed. To preserve this, we help wildlife agencies decide (sometimes that takes a good lawyer) to use verifiable scientific data and monitoring of key ecological indicators, because when that scientific data is collected and objectively analyzed by scientists, better management decisions are made.

    unfortunately, we were unable to work with the ranchers or livestock association – because the scientists we talk to and the data/monitoring we collect to which i believe our group has committed itself to holding as the determinate variable (along with law) – suggests the management decision of keeping livestock OFF lands acquired for restoration and preservation purposes – as we have found that the scientific data and ecological indicators – when applied fairly – usually demonstrate that livestock degrade those conditions necessary for restoration and preservation values.

    Mitch – we must not compromise the ecological integrity of those few remaining lands that we hold now in trust to future generations – as public – which exhibit scientifically verifiable critical complex and healthy ecological values – for vague political reassurances or political support on private lands of which we have less control and assurance that their restoration value will be managed with the best science applied. And the resolve with which criticism is leveraged against politicians who threaten that objective scientific management ought not be pacified by nebulous “open space” accomplishments in the past.

    i’m curious mitch – have you got a wilderness bill on the burner ?

  19. Mitch Friedman Avatar

    I’m not gonna beat this dead cow much longer. Brian asks, “why must the cattleman approve private land/property sales to the state?”

    Politics, dude. It isn’t a conspiracy involving the Cattlemen’s Association or even a veto of some mega cowboy. Anybody who works in a legislature or in Congress knows that its hard is to pass things and easy to block things. When conservationists pursue, say, an appropriation to fund DFW aquisition of grasslands, a highly motivated adversarial rep or senator can often block it. Sometimes that block occurs behind closed doors, sometimes thru a firestorm of press and public protests inflamed based by conspiratorial red herrings: “Senator Bighat Says Y2Y Aims to Transport All Cowboys To Guantonomo…”

    A little less bluster avoids this and gets a lot more done on the ground.

    Brian also asks if I’ve “got a wilderness bill on the burner.” Since I don’t know you, Brian, and can’t tell for sure whether you’re trying to be snide and insinuate something unholy, I’ll just ignore the question. If you want to clarify what you’re getting at and don’t want to meet me in the ally, maybe ask again in another way.

  20. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    Mitch….just curious: same Mitch Friedman that campaigned against cougar hunting with hounds in Washington State back in the 90’s? Sounds like they need a refresher.

  21. Mitch Friedman Avatar

    Yep. We’re working on that.

  22. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Politics, dude.

    Extortion, bro.

    Sometimes that block occurs behind closed doors, sometimes thru a firestorm of press and public protests inflamed based by conspiratorial red herrings: “Senator Bighat Says Y2Y Aims to Transport All Cowboys To Guantonomo…”

    sounds like good folk to play politics with ?

    A little less bluster avoids this and gets a lot more done on the ground.

    woah. i’m not really good with the politics – you may have noticed 🙂

    how much political capital is not rocking the boat about something like this worth ?

    mitch – i asked about wilderness because i already knew the answer – it’s not about being “unholy” – it’s about being honest. we all make political deals – the question is with whom and whether those deals leave us pinned.

    gregoire is making the wrong deal – a deal that will leave her pinned with such things involving conservation as wolf advocacy as more wolves move into washington and expand – tight lips for livestock stay tight for a long time because usually they don’t hand over their cards real soon – they like to keep it on the burner – over your head. they’ll want reformed state protections, perhaps compensation, and the right to kill without any meaningful enforcement of illegal take – and they’ll hold whatever local support for whatever prospect else over her head. but more importantly than any future deal or future extortion is the way politics robs our sight of what we have now. her deal diminishes protections for already protected lands – a great thing we have now – preserved to benefit wildlife that have less than 10% of their habitat left, many of which are endangered – it will diminish the robust standards of conservation we have now with existing lands and with newly acquired lands – that’s already self-evident, and it will be interesting to see whether the actual results/treatment of that land are enough to stop it. if gregoire responds to the heat of inflamed cattle ranchers – we’d better be ready to put the heat on any backslide against wildlife.

  23. Mitch Friedman Avatar

    First of all, none of this has anything to do with CNW’s wilderness work, which is east of the landscape we’re discussing. I reacted to that suggestion because, as you know, the notion of “quid pro quo wilderness” is a hotbutton and I think it was a cheapshot for you to bring it into this discussion.

    Second, I’ve not once disagreed with you about Asotin, Whiskey Dick, etc. What’s I’ve disagreed with are the posted comments that generalize from those issues to attack Gregoire and DFW broadly on grasslands issues.

    Third, the real political deal that I’m defending is this: Gregoire and DFW are fully committed and delivering for critical work in the Okanogan. Because of their efforts, in the past year the state brought in $5 million in a USDI Sec 6 grant, $2.5 from BPA, and the legislature appropriated $3 million (in a tough budget year) all for DFW to acquire specific properties and easements on additional properties in Okanogan County. These properties ar critical to grasland species and landscape level linkages for wide-ranging wildlife. And these land are imminently threatened with development.

    Lots more work and lots more money is needed to address the scale of the issue. We’re of course also working with conservation buyers, but the full slate of tools is needed here.

    Lastly, I can tell you unequivocally that this project, which addresses thousands and in time tens of thousands) of key acres, would be dead in the water without the support of local county commissioners and at least neutrality from local legislators. That’s only possible by reaching an acord between ag retention (their core interest) and wildlife conservation (our core interest). I don’t call that extortion; I call it life.

  24. Brian Ertz Avatar

    first of all, i don’t make suggestions regarding “quid pro quo” that i don’t already know the answer to – sorta like the questions thing.

    Mitch – perhaps you could explain to us all where the BPA & Sec 6 dollars come from – do the local interests need to ok the appropriation of those dollars ? – that’s $7.5 million – the lion’s share.

    so, as far as i can tell – what you’re suggesting is that the political wheeling & dealing went for $3 million state dollars (all WA residents dollars). that’s what disgracing these lands and the already existing protections are worth on the political-capital market ? and for that $3 million in Okanogan County, and whatever political capital elsewhere, you would suggest that gregoire is making the wise conservation moves to open lands newly acquired – AND already acquired to livestock grazing on state lands acquired for restoration of chinook, bull trout, and steelhead (Smoothing Iron/Pintler) fisheries and upland bird /sage grouse and big game restoration on Whiskey Dick ? – and dilute the protections already at hand ? for $3 million that’s what gregoire is able to demonstrate ?

    Mitch – where does BPA money come from ? Where does Sec 6 money come from ?

    i know what you’re gunna say – all that money was an all or nothing deal with the state dollars. is this true – or was that extra 3 just worth it ? and so $3 million dollars leveraged over $10 million – and the cattleman could kill that $3 million unless a political relationship with cattlemen was established which slides into opening state habitat preserves to livestock grazing ==> diminishing the restoration value of those lands – restoration being the reason they were retired in Whiskey Dick in the first place. You call it whatever you want – i’ll keep calling it extortion – because if it’s true that gregoire could have had that $7.5 million in federal dollars without selling out the rest of the state lands to livestock – then that woulda been $7.5 million more wildlife habitat that could be retired from grazing and used to benefit wildlife – enhancing the habitat and restoration value of whatever one could acquire with the $7.5 mill. even if the federal dollars weren’t available without the kowtow we need to really dig deep to consider whether those existing protections on state lands are worth selling off.

    i don’t see how you can parse the political concessions with the wildlife areas from those given the prospective acquisitions. do they not inform the process of courting livestock interests political support ? gregoire is a fool if she thinks she will ever get their vote – and if it’s about the $3 million state appropriation, then she’s a fool at the bargaining table because she just sold off a whole lot of conservation value for $3 million – minus the near half million dollars on these lands alone in DFW staff time, fences, and water developments.

    here’s an analogy that i hope you consider. arid landscapes host an incredible amount of biodiversity – but the systems are very fragile. one season of livestock grazing can be tantamount to a clear-cut in the forest because the microbiotic soil crusts are so fragile and the amount of time it takes to restore them is so long. soil disturbance devastates these systems and the top-soil sloughed off the land can take thousands of years to come back – that sediment doesn’t help the fisheries – it hurts the fisheries. disturbance = weeds = more destabilized soils. disturbance/land degredation= global warming gases and loss of the sequestration potential of these lands. this is to say nothing of the whiskey dick is a critical sage grouse corridor in a state that has maybe 1,000 sage grouse left. look at the pictures again mitch – that’s the cost of the political wheeling and dealing, and that cost when pounded out politically inevitably extends across various landscapes – playing politics with livestock is a diffusive enterprise, it touches the integrity of landscapes and conservation undertakings well beyond the immediate project at hand.

    Lastly, I can tell you unequivocally that this project, which addresses thousands and in time tens of thousands) of key acres, would be dead in the water without the support of local county commissioners and at least neutrality from local legislators. That’s only possible by reaching an acord between ag retention (their core interest) and wildlife conservation (our core interest). I don’t call that extortion; I call it life.

    with one or two conservation projects on the table – it can be a confusing thing for a staffer of the governor or a conservation group to decide whether to take a hard-line on Livestock’s impact on say – whiskey dick, pintler, etc. wouldn’t want to rock the boat and compromise those future prospects ? ‘maybe we’ll just demonstrate a little bit of concern and ask them to promise it won’t happen next time’. that’s how political “life” extorts. ag retention diminishes conservation value – and i’m happy to go over the ‘cows vs condos’ thing again.

    Second, I’ve not once disagreed with you about Asotin, Whiskey Dick, etc. What’s I’ve disagreed with are the posted comments that generalize from those issues to attack Gregoire and DFW broadly on grasslands issues.

    Again, I’ll take 10 crisp Washington apples in hand over the promise of a bucket of rotten ones any day. On balance – the criticism is fair – especially when she’s got so much federal dollars that she doesn’t need to compromise away existing wildlife areas . Gregoire is losing conservation credibility from within DFW and from her constituency of conservation voters who know what’s going on – a list that grows with every article like the original one in the post – there have been many. many more people than originally intended see through the governor’s use of Washington State’s wildlife areas and wildlife heritage as cheap political chips, and the longer she lets these grazing “pilot projects” roll on the more conspicuous to conservation voters this will be.

  25. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Here is a stray comment on this controversy.

    I’ve always been a great supporter of designating Wilderness areas.

    Perhaps there is also a Wilderness area coming out of all this glad handing and giveaways to the Cattle Association?

    If so, that’s better than nothing; but after years of experience my conclusion is that keeping the Earth livable and designating Wilderness are not the same thing and could come at cross purposes if the wrong political deals are made.

    As far as open space goes, highly degraded land, from the distance can be beautiful. A golf course can be beautiful too, but that is not the same as protecting, restoring or enhancing our environment.

    Wilderness preservation is almost always about dramatic cliffs, ice (though it is melting), tundra, and sub-alpine meadows. These lands usually lack the biodiversity of less steep and more productive lands. Better to restore a degraded plain of sagebrush steppe (for our sake and posterity) than protect another alpine meadow.

    Cows are a lot like bulldozers on the arid and semi-arid lands of the West. Unlike bulldozers cows damage more of the land.

  26. Mitch Friedman Avatar

    Again, this has nothing to do with Wilderness. For one thing, Wilderness comes from Congress, not the Gov. For another, wilderness is simply not part of this in any way. Stuff that conspiracy theory somewhere.

    As for the list of questions and confusions that Brian raises, I’m done trying. I thought I’d explained things pretty clearly and simply. Guess not, but I’m done trying.

    I will leave you with this thought: Anytime somebody suggests that Gregoire is less than a tried and true conservation champion, I’m gonna call foul. She may not be perfect, but if you ever get a politician like her in Idaho, I hope you’ll think hard about how to keep him/her around.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan