The Guy Idaho Ranchers Love to Hate

“If we weren’t getting to them, they’d brush us off like a fly. After all, we’re just a little organization with 14 or 15 people, but they act like what we do is the end of the world.”

Jon Marvel sees two ways to get cows and sheep to stop grazing on public lands: Politics and litigation. He chooses the latter.

Dennis Higman does a profile on Jon for NewWest.

Fortunate for all of us who care about western public lands and wildlife, the degree to which ranchers and their politician lap-dogs whine about WWP is in direct proportion to the degree at which the organization is bringing much needed change and restoration to the western public landscape.

The Guy Idaho Ranchers Love to

There are two topics you don’t want to bring up with most Idaho ranchers: wolves and Jon Marvel, the white-haired, 63-year-old founder and executive director of the Western Watersheds Project.


  1. timz Avatar

    Read and heed all you pro-wolf folks.

    “You don’t influence change without directly taking on the people who oppose that change,” he says in a recent interview. “Collaboration simply gets you marginalized.”

    1. JerryBlack Avatar

      “Defenders and defenders of “Defenders”……..
      Note Jon’s quote: “Collaboration simply gets you marginalized.”

      1. jon Avatar

        Jon Marvel is right. The only way to stick it to these welfare ranchers is through litigation and lots of it. The more litigation on welfare ranchers, the better.

      2. Elk275 Avatar

        I do not necessary like the law, but isn’t there a 1976 multi use act governing federal lands. I think that grazing, mining, motorized recreation, wildlife and hikers and backpackers are to share. Therefore, how can you delete grazing or other uses that one does not like off of federal lands.

        Like I said, I do not necessary like the law but it is a law passed by the same congress as passed the ESA.

      3. JB Avatar


        You are correct. The “multiple-use” concept is defined is the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 for the BLM and the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act (1960) and National Forest Management Act (1976) for the Forest Service.

        There is nothing inherently wrong with the multiple-use concept, the problem is more in the implementation (e.g. selling grazing permits for 1/15 of their market value, poor enforcement, etc.).

      4. Brian Ertz Avatar

        there isn’t “multiple use” ~ lands that are grazed are managed to be grazed and to hell with the rest of the values out there.

        “multiple use” is supposed to be sustainable. not so, from an ecological/wildlife perspective.

      5. JB Avatar


        The FS/BLM lands do, in fact, allow for and promote multiple uses; however, different land-uses get emphasized in different locations. You won’t find much livestock grazing going on in the forests of the Midwest, for example. Emphasis in most locations out here is on recreation (much to the annoyance of many a forester).

        The idea that our forests and public lands should be managed for multiple uses fits with the ideals of our democratic society–it recognizes that lands provide different people with different types of benefits. It fails when locals monopolize the resource, putting their interests (e.g. livestock production, maximization of elk hunting opportunities, timber harvest, recreation) above all others. Thus, I would argue that the failure is not with the policy, per se, but its implementation by the federal agencies.

  2. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    I have participated in a collaborative group for 3 years. At that point, it fell apart due to the lack of collaboration. It was consevation v oil v ranching v BLM v the public and no one won. We all went our separate ways and a lot of friendships were ruined.


    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Rick Hammel,

      For about 10 years I worked on behalf of collaboration, none of them worked, and now at 65 years of age I wish I had my days back.

      1. JerryBlack Avatar

        Yup….me too, Ralph. Next year I’ll be 70, and I look back at the years in Washington State that myself and others wasted collaborating with the timber companies as we attempted to protect wetlands and stream corridors. It disgusts me when I look back at compromises we accepted, and to make it worse, a few years later we’d be back giving up more. Once you start, it doesn’t end.
        WWP has it right.

      2. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson

        Ditto on outfitters in Thorofare. The most one can expect is respect. Too many rangers and administrators in the Park thought they could “work with them” and give latitude.

        I always remember the soon to be permanent Mammoth fire cache guy who told the outfitter …. while eating a piece of their pie…. a guy who chonically grazed stock in the Parks SE corner…and someone I had only recently gotten to take it very seriously, the law … that he knew it was hard to keep horses out of the Park…and therefore whenever horses were found grazing there (like 60-100 horses mind you) the wranger should kick the manure…the same as outfitters were required to do while camping in the Park.

        The end result? The packer was told to pick up a bunch of t shirts for all the help in Cody… saying “KICKING SHIT IN THOROFARE”. Ya, compromise and collaboration was basically cohabitation …only the one face down on the bottom was that soon to be permanent.

        As for me, I told them to wear whatever they wanted but the law was still the same…no grazing stock in the Park.

    2. JB Avatar

      For collaborative processes to work, the groups involved must have some baseline level of trust, there must be outcomes that groups can agree are mutually beneficial (i.e. an improvement from the current situation), and they must believe that collaboration will be more productive to their cause than litigation. The literature on collaboration in natural resources is immense (and growing) with numerous examples of successes. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any that involve the livestock industry in the West.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


        You are right. There has to be some trust. Negotiations and compromise are at the heart of democratic politics, and I have participated in this with some groups and it worked. So I was overgeneralizing.

        Livestock associations are another matter. They almost never come to the table unless they hold an absolute veto from the start. They will occasionally talk a little bit with you if they are promised, or have received large benefits at the outset.

        I think the reason is that they don’t believe people of their importance should have to discuss anything, or that they are willing to take a big loss themselves just to make sure someone they don’t like receives nothing.

        Livestock issues on public lands fall into a class of political issues called “wicked problems.”

      2. Ken Cole Avatar

        One thing I think the members of the Idaho bighorn/domestic sheep learned was that any group that was formed had to have the ability to influence any outcome. This group didn’t have that ability because things were being decided in the courts and by Federal agencies that are beholden to the law. The state of Idaho could only influence its own IDFG but not the Feds.

        I think the group is finally dead.

      3. JB Avatar


        My class reads the Rittel and Webber paper that describes “wicked problems” when we talk about public land issues in the West–it is a classic!


        The researchers who study collaborative processes refer to this aspect as “decision space”. As the decision space narrows, stakeholders will have less ability and willingness to compromise, especially if they feel the interests are better served in the courts.

        One problem that I see in the West is that the local politics all favor extractive industries, while federal laws generally favor those who wish to promote conservation. It seems to me that this dichotomy serves to fuel the notions that the federal government has overstepped its bounds and that resources are being managed for out-of-state, east coast, liberal elites, when, in reality, local interests win out in the vast majority of cases.

      4. SAP Avatar

        Good discussion. JB, one thing I would add to your criteria for functional collaboration: outcomes must be measurable, and then must be measured.

      5. JB Avatar

        Good point, SAP! I think measured outcomes may be more elusive in collaborative efforts than trust is in the West. 😉

  3. DB Avatar

    FLPMA (federal land policy and magagement act of 1976) governing management of BLM lands allows for and requires multiple use and sustained yield of all resources without impairment of the land’s productivity. It also requires BLM to follow NEPA procedures in planning and implementing projects. There may be some BLM lands on which grazing is relatively benign but on most of the arid west it is destructive and totally inappropriate and must cease, one way or another.

  4. Mike Avatar

    I love this. Thanks WWP for doing the real work.

  5. Izabela Hadd Avatar
    Izabela Hadd

    I wish we had another Jon Marvel in Utah. Few weeks ago I went to Uinta Mountains and got really upset about the cows and ‘open range’ signs on the Mirror Lake Highway. We stopped to take some pics of the fall colors and I had to leave..cows everywhere and crap..crap and more crap on MY PUBLIC land.
    Not sure where to voice my opinion and if even anyone will listen here in Utah.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Izabela Hadd,

      Unfortunately, when you get into the Uinta backcountry and even deep in the High Unitas Wilderness, it is often worse, with massive, overstocked bands of sheep trashing the meadows.

  6. Mal Adapted Avatar
    Mal Adapted

    After reading some of the comments on the NewWest article, I joined WWP and gave them $100. It’s clear that WWP’s approach is the only one that will help restore public range lands, at least in the short term.

  7. Ron Kearns Avatar
    Ron Kearns

    {Quote from the very good article:

    “Excluding revolution, there are basically two ways to initiate the kind of sweeping change Marvel is seeking: politics or litigation—and he has clearly opted for the latter.”

    End Quote}

    Unfortunately—in today’s world—the ‘choice’ of litigation is the only reasonably effective means to ensure that state and federal governmental employees follow well-established and time-tested environmental law.

  8. Bill O'Connell Avatar
    Bill O’Connell

    This has been very interesting, although was able to (somewhat) put it out of mind, as my wife & I just got back from our annual Chico anniversary celebration (26 of 28!).
    But, there’s finally movement toward forming a citizen working group for the “Yellowstone” bison situation. Which we’ve established needs to be open to all. So that’s good…
    Reading thiskind of gives me the heebies, though. And I am a long-time participant in the Madison Elk Working Group, which… yes, it can be argued we didn’t get much. Except a 6-month hunting season! Which is now all but moot, so…
    But my first reaction, especially if we still had investigate journalism, would be to take my loaded manure spreader and park it outside! And of course, fire it up once the cameras were rolling!

  9. JG Avatar

    The remarks here continue to reflect some serious ‘we know what’s best’ attitudes, but that’s to be expected I guess, that’s human nature.

    The pioneers that settled the west and started stocking the range with cattle and farming the mountain valleys had the same attitude. In other words: “We have a higher and better use of the land.” So the Native Americans were evicted and put on reservations without regard to their humanity or way-of-life in order to allow the new Euro-American culture to use the land for their own ideas of what was best. The same attitude is now being expressed by Jon and his supporters toward the western ranching and farming sub-culture, with the same lack of regard for their humanity and way of life.

    I too get really disgusted with cowpies. And I also yearn for the unspoiled west before euro-american settlement. Its gone and will never come back. And the western ranching and farming sub-culture doesn’t deserve our disdain, our animosity, or our hatred any more than did the Native Americans who were forced to give up their independence, their land and their humanity to the utopian nanny-state known as the Indian Reservation.

    “Reform, however necessary, only breeds the need for further reform, and there is no end to it.” – J. Krishnamurti, Commentaries on Living, 3rd ed.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Well JG,

      You are right that the “unspoiled West” is never coming back, but this doesn’t mean we can’t stop or slow many of the money-wasting, land and wildlife destroying practices we have been told we have to live with. Reform is possible. For example, there is a lot more wildlife now, of almost all kinds, in most places than there was 50 years ago.

    2. JB Avatar


      I have no desire to evict ranchers, nor destroy their way of life. I do have a problem with heavily subsidizing an industry that is probably the biggest contributor to the most serious public health crisis of our time–the obesity epidemic. I also have a problem with our (U.S. citizens) land being provided as part of that subsidy. With that said, I have no problem at all with people grazing livestock on public lands, so long as they realize that predators are part of the risk inherent in this practice and pay equivalent fees to that which would be paid for grazing comparable private lands.

      Raising livestock in the West is akin to growing Oranges in North Dakota–you can figure out a way to do it, but at what cost?

      1. Elk275 Avatar

        What if the western ranch is 90% private and 10% interspersed federal lands. Small tracts of isolated BLM lands that have no fences delineating boundaries. This is very common in Eastern Montana and some places in Western Montana. I have no problem with charging market value for grazing either on state or federal lands.

        Are predators still a part of the inherent risk or should a rancher be allowed to shoot a wolf on sight on his private property, like he can with a coyote. I feel that wolves on private lands are predators and it is up to the landowner whether he/she call shoot them or allow others to shoot them. That is just my opinion.

      2. JB Avatar

        “Are predators still a part of the inherent risk or should a rancher be allowed to shoot a wolf on sight on his private property, like he can with a coyote.”

        Elk: That is an interesting statement. One could make a strong argument that what elk and deer do on private property constitutes predation–should landowners be allowed to shoot elk and deer for eating their grass? My answer to both your question and mine is a qualified “yes.” Qualified in that I think the taking of any species out of season should require landowners to show an impact and get a depredation permit.

      3. Elk275 Avatar

        In the state of Montana a rancher can get a depredation permit for deer and elk but first he must allow the general public access to hunt during the regular season. The depredation is handle by a special group of hunters who have applied for that hunt in ythe effected area. Applications are due by July 15th.

      4. JB Avatar

        In most states, such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and depredation permits are given in relation to species population objectives. In any case, as I have said a number of times, I have no problem with treating wolves just like any other game species.

    3. Brian Ertz Avatar

      JG says:

      The same attitude is now being expressed by Jon and his supporters toward the western ranching and farming sub-culture, with the same lack of regard for their humanity and way of life.

      First, we must remember that well over half of public land ranchers make most of their living in another industry, not ranching.

      Additionally, we should acknowledge the fact that the largest welfare ranchers (the lions share of those who graze on public ground) are multimillion dollar corporations, not individuals, like Simplot Corp., Barrick Gold (an international Mining Corporation) and Mary Hewlett Jaffe (heir to the Hewlett-Packard fortune) …

      Additionally, I think it’s extremely unfair to characterize those of us who work to end public lands ranching as analogous to the genocide of indigenous peoples or as being insensitive to some important “custom and culture”.

      Livestock ranchers’ narrative of victimization is truly absurd. Who is it that has a supreme hold on western governorships, state legislatures, county commissions, etc. etc. etc. Ranchers are absurdly over-represented, as a matter of population, in all of these halls of power in the West, and it is they who make policy decisions.

      That’s a far cry from the power-dynamics of the 18th & 19th centuries as purported in your analogy.

      Additionally, environmentalists – and those of us who believe and work as Jon does, are supremely under-represented in those same halls of power, largely as a consequence of the significant efforts of the Livestock industry at keeping us OUT (see: Bush Grazing Regulations – which sought to keep public OUT of government decision-making processes, Owyhee Initiative(pdf) – “all inclusive” collaborative working group “won’t include Jon Marvel and his supporters who oppose grazing on the federal lands in the discussions”, and others). What about our “custom and culture” ? Where does that get represented ?

      You can’t (or shouldn’t) play victim when you’re the one running the show, not rationally at least — although it seems Livestock continues to make a living of it.

      Given these facts about who’s at the helm, efforts at agitation are efforts at enfranchising environmental voices, NOT excluding voices or customs or cultures. You can’t really exclude or diminish from influence if you’re not at the helm of influence with respect to the relevant vehicles of policy yourself.

      Additionally, all we do is enforce existing environmental laws, on behalf of the environment, water, wildlife, etc. If you’re not breaking the law, you got nothing to worry about. The significant, seemingly endless victories in court are vindication enough — blame the law, the will of the American people, if you believe ranchers to be victimized in some way, but once again — it’s an obscured perspective which would hold ranchers as somehow victims or otherwise edged out. Enforcement of existing law is not abuse.

      If it isn’t about the political/power realities — if your criticism is just a matter of personality, then who cares ??? what ? it’s not right that Jon Marvel doesn’t fawn over your chaps, or feel obliged to lick the boot ? bummer. i guess i wish everyone liked me enough to subsidize my custom & culture too… Unfortunately, I wasn’t born into that.

      Nor was I raised ever to believe myself entitled to it.

  10. Nancy Avatar

    Elk said: Are predators still a part of the inherent risk or should a rancher be allowed to shoot a wolf on sight on his private property, like he can with a coyote. I feel that wolves on private lands are predators and it is up to the landowner whether he/she call shoot them or allow others to shoot them. That is just my opinion.

    Elk, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I have a really nice view of the valley I live in. I can see land belonging to atleast 4 different ranches. I’ve never seen coyotes (let alone wolves) taking down cattle (or calves) because as you know and I know, young calves (and their mothers) are usually kept very close to those ranches. Then they are moved out to bigger pastures until the end of spring and then get moved to public lands for the summer.

    I have no problem with ranchers shooting wolves or coyotes IF they are indeed engaged in the act of killing cattle, on their property. Shooting them on sight? BS. Just as killing them from planes or helicopters, a day or days later, is BS.

    I really think (science aside) wolves, bears, cougars or coyotes could really give a crap about the situations they’ve put humans in lately, because humans put them in and continue to put them in those situations, including livestock dying for many other reasons other than depredation and unattended or neglected livestock.

    1. jon Avatar

      Ranchers are putting wolves in those positions and situations because they leave their livestock out in the open where predators can easily get them. To the wolves, cattle are just another meal. Wolves are not doing anything wrong. You will never stop wolves from killing livestock, so killing predators is a short term solution. Ranchers better start getting their act together. I believe there are ways to keep livestock and predators apart without having to resort to having the predators killed or killing the predators themselves.

      1. jon Avatar


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Brian Ertz