It may already be too late

Throughout the west, bighorn sheep are seeking out mates and the rams are giving an incredible display by butting heads in competition for ewes.  This is a very visible spectacle in the Gardiner Basin of Montana that lies just north of Yellowstone National Park which is filled with many kinds of wildlife including bighorn sheep and bison.  Both of these species are especially susceptible to pathogens carried by domestic sheep.  Bighorn sheep are extremely susceptible to several different pathogens that result in pneumonia and cause large scale die-offs of the sheep.  Bison are susceptible to a disease called malignant catarrhal fever (MCF) which is caused by the ovine herpes virus-2 (OHV -2). All sheep should be presumed to be carriers of the OHV-2 virus as well as the pathogens that cause pneumonia in bighorn sheep.

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

Unfortunately bighorn sheep rams are attracted to domestic sheep, and Bill Hoppe, a resident of Gardiner, Montana, has not moved his sheep out of the Gardiner Basin where several were attacked and killed by wolves earlier this spring. Last week, Kevin Hurley, a former wildlife biologist for Wyoming Game and Fish and now conservation director for the Wild Sheep Foundation, observed a bighorn sheep ram enter the field where Hoppe’s domestic sheep are grazing just across the Yellowstone River from Yellowstone National Park. There are now reports from the public of sick lambs in the vicinity of Gardiner where there is a population of bighorn sheep that uses areas inside and outside of Yellowstone National Park.

In many past episodes where domestic sheep interacted with bighorn sheep there have been very large scale die-offs of bighorn sheep. In some cases up to 95% of the herd is lost to pneumonia and lamb recruitment to the population suffers for many years after an outbreak. If there has been contact that results in an outbreak it could be disastrous to the population in and around Yellowstone National Park.

Bison will begin to move into the basin sometime this spring and they may also come into direct contact with these domestic sheep unless the sheep are moved. Last spring I witnessed both bison and bighorn sheep within a quarter mile of these sheep while on a short visit to the area.

It seems selfish for Hoppe to be putting so much wildlife at risk. And for what? To make a point about private property rights? I don’t know, but private property rights do not trump everyone else’s right to enjoy wildlife in the world’s premier national park. There are solutions and this is not over. People should be agitating for the state, county or municipalities to use their authority to regulate this clear risk to public wildlife. They have the authority to zone uses such as this just like cities regulate whether your dog has to be on a leash or whether you can have roosters in your back yard. It is an obvious nuisance that can, and should be regulated.

Here is a link to the article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:
Bighorn sheep mingle with Gardiner domestic sheep – The Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Wildlife.

About The Author

Ken Cole

Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.

106 Responses to Domestic sheep pose an imminent threat to bighorn sheep and bison in the Gardiner Basin.

  1. Immer Treue says:

    One must remember, and here comes the big if, “if” this is the same Bill Hoppe featured in the mockumentary “Yellowstone is Dead”. “If” so the hypocrisy has no limits.

  2. Immer Treue says:

    Once again brings to mind the line from Alston Chase’s “Playing God in Yellowstone”. “Without wolves the park had become just the place the early managers had hoped for: a giant game farm, a breeding ground for the victims of hunters, a place safe enough to be a good neighbor to sheep.”

    Well, I guess if he can’t have no wolves, a game farm, he can still force the issue with the sheep. Weren’t these supposed to be some sort of hobby for his grandchildren?
    If so, it’s lead to dead sheep, s dead wolf, and now bighorns…..?

    • WM says:

      I continue to imagine a larger Yellowstone NP with adequate winter range for ungulates currently migrating out, and a buffered no kill wolf zone, which would include an absence of domestic stock of whatever type in the buffer. This is a vision I wish Congressional types would embrace and create a way to happen.

      • Immer Treue says:

        As we begin to understand our primary and secondary impacts on these preserves, or last bastions of wildness, these “buffers” make more and more sense.

        Otherwise, it’s as Chase wrote.


    Here is the link to the photo a bighorn ram in with Bill Hoppe’s domestic sheep. You can see Hoppe’s domestic sheep (I counted 20 domestic sheep in his pasture about 3 weeks ago)at mile 4.5 near Gardiner.

    A radio collared bighorn ram (Nez Perce Tribe research)in Idaho traveled over 45 miles up the Salmon River last year searching for bighorn ewes.
    The bighorn ram in this photo has the potential to infect and kill every bighorn in the Yellowstone area. Bill Hoppe needs to be fined and jailed for putting his domestic sheep near the Bighorns.

    • Sam Parks says:

      Yes, Larry. Especially considering these sheep in the Gardiner Basin are part of what MTFWP calls the “Upper Yellowstone Complex” herd, which consists of I think 8 unique, but highly interconnected subpopulations throughout the Northern Yellowstone region. So even one infected ram could lead to an infection of sheep in a large area, including most of northern YNP, the Gardiner Basin, and the scattered wintering herds in the southern end of Paradise Valley.

  4. Ralph Maughan says:

    Where is Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks or the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) on this travesty? Well we all know about about the latter. DOL concerned with just one disease — the disease (brucellosis) that is transmitted in some parallel universe, but not this one, by bison to cattle.

    I guess they either don’t care about bighorn or Yellowstone and they want them gone or are completely gutless.

  5. john says:

    he is not concerned bout property rights, he is concerned about his daughter/granddaughters understanding of animal husbandry, i believe….

    • SAP says:

      Interesting perspective. I know that having responsibility for livestock was a real learning experience for me in my youth, and taught me an almost pathological sense of responsibility (or was that Catholicsm?).

      It’s good to teach children a sense of being a responsible citizen in a bigger world, too, though. Such as recognizing that there are some serious downsides to putting domestic sheep on the doorstep of the world’s first and arguably most famous national park.

      If the point is to teach youngsters about animal husbandry and responsibility, I’m sure we could raise enough cash to buy those sheep, and replace them with chickens safely ensconced behind a well-designed electric fence ($3,000 would be a fair price for the whole deal).

      • Ken Cole says:

        The whole thing wreaks. I wonder if there is some jealousy over the money that CUT got for allowing bison. It would be pretty easy to squeeze money out of conservationists by doing something like this.

  6. SAP says:

    What a legacy for Mr. Hoppe. Maybe his epitaph would read, “I Spent My Waning Years Doing Hateful and Ugly Things to the Beautiful Wild Place that Provided me with a Living.”

  7. john says:

    the comment made was a bit of tounge in cheek,, no seriousness was intended, although i did read that that was his reason for having them there,,,doubt the motive tho

  8. Elk375 says:

    Here is a follow up story today on the Mountain Sheep in Gardiner:

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      Thanks for the new link.

      What a disgusting weak hearted response!!

      However, if the local public did just a little to protect their interests, the “public servants” will sometimes develop some courage.

  9. Ida Lupine says:

    Throughout the west, bighorn sheep are seeking out mates and the rams are giving an incredible display by butting heads in competition for ewes.

    Do we really want to lose this and other iconic visions of our own ‘American Serengeti’ for this troublemaker?

    • SaveBears says:

      There is a simple solution, put up the money to purchase his property, then you can do as you wish. We are not talking about park land here, we are talking about land that is in private ownership.

      • JB says:

        There is another, even simpler solution: regulation. Don’t allow people to run domestic sheep near wild sheep. Problem solved.

        (There’s a whole lot I can’t do with my PRIVATE land here in Columbus, Ohio–including having sheep!)

        • SaveBears says:


          I knew you would be the first to respond, but as you know, I strongly disagree with you on the issue of private land ownership.

          • Leslie says:

            There is another simple solution: boycott this man’s tourism business

            • Elk375 says:

              This man’s business is elk hunting.

            • SaveBears says:


              I seriously doubt that you or people like you boycotting his outfitting business is going to have any effect at all, as Elk said, his business is hunting, as far as I know, you don’t hunt. So you have at it, boycott and see if it changes anything.

              • SaveBears says:

                Just to add, I am sure he would love you or anyone like you to boycott him, it means he won’t have to listen to you or see you anytime soon. Calling for a boycott against someone or someplace that you will never contact or use, is pretty useless.

              • Ralph Maughan says:


                Hoppe has been a malcontent on the issue of wolves since day one. It’s a matter of public record (his statements). I guess he has other “issues” with the Park and the American public as well, or perhaps he doesn’t believe that domestic sheep are lethal to bighorn.

              • SaveBears says:


                I am not disagreeing with you, I have spoke to this individual many times because of his affiliation with the Friends of Elk group, he is a jerk, he reminds of Ron G. over in Idaho. He does not care if his sheep cause problems. Biggest difference is Hoppe is doing things within the law as well as the zoning concerning his property and he knows it.

          • JB says:

            Save Bears:

            Okay, what is it that you disagree with? Do you think private landowners should be able to do anything with their lands?

            • SaveBears says:

              I didn’t say he should be able to do anything, what I am saying, he is doing what is within the law and rules in the state of Montana for the designation on his private property, his land is zoned for ag use, which includes running livestock. Unfortunately, he might be close to Yellowstone, but he is not in Yellowstone, so it is not a Federal issue and the state is saying there is nothing they can do, but monitor.

              Now FWP has stated, that these sheep have had nothing to do with the infections showing up in Big Horns and that they believe another herd farther away may have infected them.

              • JB says:

                And do you think laws should ever change? From my perspective the public’s interest outweighs the interest of one landowner. So the simple solution is to change the law. This could be as simple as changing the zoning. No federal intervention needed.

                Your solutions–force people to purchase lands when individual and public interests are in conflict–has a couple of problems. First, it creates an incentive for people who want to get rid of their lands to do things that are potentially harmful to the environment. Second, it is wholly reliant upon an individual’s willingness to sell (so the problem can’t be fixed if they don’t want to sell).

              • SaveBears says:


                I know you have always advocated for public interest over private rights, if it is a perceived good for the public, screw the guy who actually pays for the property.

                Montana is a rural state, you are not going to see many laws changed in the future when it comes to ranching.

              • JB says:


                I see you’ve fallen back on your answer to everything–i.e., ‘nothing will change’. Alas, I have neither the time nor inclination to try and convince you otherwise. Certainly, people like you–people who constantly repeat the ‘it can’t be changed’ message–make change even less likely.

              • SaveBears says:


                I am never going to advocate taking a mans private rights away to use his land within the laws of the state the lands reside. He is paying for the property as well as the taxes associated with that property. Now if you or anyone else want to take over the obligations associate with owning this or any other property and change it to the use you want, then I will support you 100%in your endeavors.

                I didn’t say I agree with what Hoppe is doing, I said, he is doing the things within the law based on the state of Montana, your pubic good argument is not going to carry any weight with the state of Montana, whether you like it or not.

              • SaveBears says:


                I did not say it can’t be changed, I said based on my experience with the ranchers as well as the state of Montana, it won’t be changed!

              • JB says:

                “I am never going to advocate taking a mans private rights away to use his land within the laws of the state the lands reside.”

                Okay, how do you think the current ‘laws of the state’ came about? A: Someone decided that restricting the rights of some group was in the best interest of the people. You do understand that the implication of your position is that the law should never change, right?

                Honestly, your position makes no sense at all. You’re essentially saying that the law as it exists now is perfect and should not ever be changed because doing so, of course, will restrict the rights of someone–someone whose current behavior is ‘within the laws of the state’.

                “I did not say it can’t be changed, I said based on my experience with the ranchers as well as the state of Montana, it won’t be changed!”

                I said, “I see you’ve fallen back on your answer to everything–i.e., ‘nothing will change’. Can’t or won’t, doesn’t matter. Your message is the same–nothing will change. And the above makes it clear that you believe that nothing should change. Which makes me think I’m wasting my time communicating with you.

              • SaveBears says:

                JB Said:

                “Which makes me think I’m wasting my time communicating with you.”

                Then DON’T communicate with me JB! Take the hint!

              • WM says:

                JB and SB,

                It strikes me you two are engaged in one of those metaphysical “is-ought fallacy” discussions the philosophers often dwell upon.

                Here is a good discussion of what is going on (JB correctly point it out):


              • SaveBears says:


                I have no desire to communicate with JB any longer, I am an advocate for wildlife and spent over 20 years fighting for bison, it is unfortunate that I have a very good understanding of the way things have worked in Montana for many years now. It is tiresome to continue to have people who think they know what is going on and put those down that actually are on the ground in the affected area trying to do something. My arguments with people on here are not worth the aggravation.

              • JB says:

                “It strikes me you two are engaged in one of those metaphysical “is-ought fallacy” discussions…”

                Indeed. But I’m also trying to identify a coherent position. SB is clearly pissed about something, but his posts imply he thinks nothing should change? And, of course, we should listen to him because of all of his experience.

                So you’ve got lots of experience, SB? Great! I’m listening! Articulate something besides, ‘nothing’s going to change’. Tell us what it is you stand for. Provide the rationale that support your arguments. I’ve grown tired of this sort of shit:

                “Montana is a rural state, you are not going to see many laws changed in the future”

                “… your pubic good argument is not going to carry any weight with the state of Montana…”

                “Bringing up decent people will do nothing to effect this situation…”

                “So you have at it, boycott and see if it changes anything.”

                “…based on my experience with the ranchers as well as the state of Montana, it won’t be changed!”

                Etc. ad nauseum.

              • SaveBears says:


                If you are tired of my shit, then do yourself a favor and forget I post on this blog, I know you are not a dumb person, but you continue to engage me, if you don’t like it then knock it off!

              • SaveBears says:

                And yes, I am pissed at both sides for their extreme positions and un-willingness to sit down and try to work this out, both sides do have an interest in this, but both sides are being dumb shits with the my way or the highway crap.

                The states have got their way and right now they are telling everybody outside of these states to go to hell and the harder those outside push, the worse the states get, any progress that was made early on is gone.

                With the new states coming on with hunting it is getting worse and as long as the extremes continue, it is going to get worse.

                It is freaking stupid!

          • Leslie says:

            SB there are rules regarding private property everywhere , city or rural. I live in a very rural area yet I cannot put a trailer on my ‘private’ property. I must build in a western style, I must get permits for this and that. Private property does not mean ‘the hell with the neighborhood’. Rules can be made and should be. Maybe hoppe will only find himself the catalyst for new rules in the Gardiner area. His hubris may backfire on him.

            • SaveBears says:


              In Montana, there are very few rules unless you purchased in a new development, we don’t have convents and as long as you are not doing anything illegal on your land, they are not going to do anything.

        • SaveBears says:

          And remember JB,

          This issue is not happening in a populated area like Ohio.

          • Ken Cole says:

            What is that supposed to mean? It is happening right next to Yellowstone National Park in a gateway town that depends almost entirely on tourism. People there are kind of pissed about this, at least they were when I talked to them this spring about it. Of course you seem to be advocating the status quo again in this situation. There are regulations that could and should be put into place. Most decent people would have no problem with that. But of course, private property rights only apply to those with livestock in Montana.

            • SaveBears says:


              You have hit the nail on the head, he is running livestock, hence nothing will be done. Bringing up decent people will do nothing to effect this situation, I have dealt with DOL and the state many times on issue concerning livestock/wildlife conflicts, the livestock owner always wins in Montana. And no, I am no saying keep the status quo, I have been in court many times trying to change livestock situations. Get of your freaking high horse and listen to someone who has extensive experience dealing with Montana State agencies.

            • SaveBears says:


              If I had been advocating for keeping status quo, I would still have my position with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, it is because I would not accept status quo that I got fired, because I did try to change things! So knock if off already, you don’t know me, and you don’t know what I have attempted in the past and continue to do these days to change this crap.

          • Ken Cole says:

            And remember, paying someone to do something that a decent person should be doing anyway seems more like paying ransom than anything.

            • SaveBears says:


              You over look the fact, you are not dealing with decent people on these issues. This is not a Federal issue, hell it is not even a state issue, both DOL and FWP said their hands are tied, he is running livestock on his own property which is classified as ag land.

              • Ken Cole says:

                Their hands are not tied. They can ASK him not to graze sheep there. They are just too cowardly to do it. They won’t even say it’s a bad thing in the media when it clearly is.

              • SaveBears says:

                Right they are going to ask him, FWP has talked with him many times Ken, I know people at FWP that have asked him why he is grazing on this property, his answer is always the same, because I can!

              • JB says:

                “…his answer is always the same, because I can!”

                There you go. That’s pretty good justification for changing the law so that he can’t. 😉

              • SaveBears says:


                You may be a highly respected Professor, but your understanding of land issues in Montana is seriously lacking.

              • Elk375 says:


                ++You may be a highly respected Professor, but your understanding of land issues in Montana is seriously lacking.++

                Very few people on this forum understand Montana land issues. There is no zoning where Mr. Hoppe lives and I doubt if the landowners in that area will ever create a zoning district.

              • JB says:

                SB: You consistently confuse what should be done, with what is likely to happen. My comment was clearly of the former type; it speaks to how we (as a society) might balance the public good against private interests.

                Whenever someone makes this type of argument (i.e. an argument concerning what they believe should change), you’re always right there to tell them how it will never happen because of X, Y, or Z. You do understand that the probability of an event has nothing to do with whether that event is perceived as good or bad–right?

            • WM says:


              ++They can ASK him not to graze sheep there.++

              ++And remember, paying someone to do something that a decent person should be doing anyway seems more like paying ransom than anything.++

              But isn’t that pasture a private asset, that with your suggestion, would be put to public use without compensation? Seems to me the better way is to offer some sort of alternative pasturing or compensation to get him off the ground entirely and maybe permanently.

              Ranchers are in business to make a profit, just like any other business. That is the part some NGO advocates and government worker types just don’t get while they take their nearly guaranteed monthly paycheck and benefits.

              Hoppe also has a bigger issue he believes he is advancing and that is keeping 30,000 other ranchers in business. “Never give a inch.”*

              * phrase taken from Ken Kesey’s novel “Sometimes a Great Notion.”

          • JB says:


            Honestly SB, I don’t see what population has to do with the evaluation of public policy? Granted, in high human density areas, policy changes affect more people. However, it isn’t how many people are affected but the extent to which a policy promotes the public good that determines how a policy is judged.

            “Get of your freaking high horse and listen to someone who has extensive experience dealing with Montana State agencies.”

            You might find it easier to get people to listen to you if you were to spend some time putting meaningful content in your posts rather than berating people for not having been around the block as many times as you. For example, since you believe the best solution to the current predicament is for interested parties to purchase the lands from this individual, you might consider providing details as to why you think this solution will work better than other solutions (see WM’s response below, for example). Then we could all spend our time engaged in a meaningful debate about the advantages and disadvantages of various options, as opposed to continuous pissing matches over who is most qualified to sit in judgment.

  10. Rich says:


    Good for you defending the private property rights of a wingnut. Screw the environment, native wildlife, and the adverse impact of our behavior on neighboring properties or a national park – the devil take them all. If someone wants to create an eyesore by piling up junk cars, old refrigerators, dead or diseased animals, befoul the air or water, or build hazardous structures, they should be entitled to do so as long as they are doing it on their private property. Private property rights must trump everything else at all costs.

    But wait – isn’t he required to get approval before building a house and have the associated electrical, plumbing and septic systems inspected? And why can’t he run a whore house, grow opium poppies or dam the creek without interference? What is wrong with those pesky governmental dudes that write ordinances to control what we do on our private property or how we do it? As Pogo famously said – we have met the enemy and he is us. We are after all the “me” generation and its all about us ain’t that right!

    Who was that Einstein guy who said “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”.

    • Immer Treue says:


      You guys have blinkers on. I don’t agree with everything SaveBears says, but he has said nothing as you allege.

    • SaveBears says:

      Boy Rich,

      You are way out in left field with this comment! What have you been smoking today?

  11. Brian Ertz says:

    it would be interesting to see whether there is any ‘nuisance’ common-law cause of action – and whether FWP can be compelled to act. it’s likely Livestock exceptionalism has rendered immune from liability anyone who runs stock (unlike the rest of us whose use of our private property is subject to nuisance liability).

    however, Livestock’s brucellosis reactionism may be something to look into. you know very well the state of MT has authority to regulate this man’s “private property” if it were cows carrying brucellosis. it’d be interesting to see whether the existing statutes, and the rules/regs promulgated thereof, granting authority to state agencies to offend private property having to do with brucellosis – are specific to brucellosis – or whether they may impart some authority, perhaps even compel as much, to regulate private use when a similar bio-hazard/nuisance threatens public values – bighorn sheep.

    in any event, i suspect that there exists a cause of action somewhere – whether citizens have standing or whether it requires compelling FWP to act would be the question.

    • WM says:


      ++…nuisance’ common-law cause of action – and whether FWP can be compelled to act.++

      Am I correct in concluding you are now in law school? Let’s hear your common law nuisance argument and see if it has legs (gain traction), and can withstand a critique.

      • Brian Ertz says:

        The reason that I bring up nuisance is to dispel SaveBears’ notion that there is some absolute ‘private property right’ that allows individuals to use their property as they see fit. This has never been true, not ever since the notion of private property rights have been recognized. There has always been the recognition that one’s use of property has the capacity to offend another’s use of their property (or exercise of right – or to cause the experience of injury). Such has necessitated principles and causes of action that limit one’s use of ‘private property’ – i.e. Restrict the right. There have always been limits such as these. There are two general theories of nuisance which restrict property rights: public and private. Each jurisdiction adopts it’s own rules and elements that a party must demonstrate to make claim. Generally, statute trumps common-law, so legislatures can make certain uses, parties, classes, or property classes immune from nuisance claims. I suspect that such may be the case with livestock, as I know that CAFOs have been statutorily immunized from certain nuisance claims (yay Livestock exceptional ism) in the West. Open Range laws have similarly precluded individuals’ use of common-law torts and statutory causes of action as well.

        Elements which can restrict private property use:
        A nuisance is
        (a) Unreasonable conduct
        (b) Which substantially interferes with or disturbs
        (c) Use and enjoyment
        (d) Of land.

        As mentioned, all jurisdictions use varying elements with varying standards of causation, showing harm, and varying remedies depending on such.

        Ex: Pollution that crosses property lines, hazardous conditions that threaten neighboring property.

        A public nuisance involves an interference with a right common to the general public.
        A private nuisance involves a substantial interference with the private use and enjoyment of one or a number of nearby properties.

        Some courts have used the “substantial invasion” requirement to deny recovery for environmental degradation like aesthetic impairment that does not result in tangible physical changes in land or easily-measured economic harm.

        A public nuisance affects the general public. It is widespread in its range and indiscriminate in its effects.
        Is “an unreasonable interference with a traditional right common to the public.”
        Includes: gambling, prostitution, nude sunbathing, air pollution, and rock festivals.

        Ex: circumstances that create a public nuisance:
        Whether the conduct involves significant interference with public health, safety, peace comfort, or convenience,

        Whether the conduct is proscribed by a statute, ordinance, or administrative regulation, or
        Whether the conduct is of a continuing nature or has produced a permanent or long-lasting effect, and, as the actor knows or has reason to know, has a significant effect upon the public right.

        Public nuisance can generally only be brought by a public official, such as the FWP or some other willing agency, federal or state, charged with the trust of wildlife.

        Private individuals can only bring suit if he can show that his injury was different in kind (not just in degree) from the injury suffered by the rest of the community.
        The rationale for this is that it would be unreasonable to give every man a separate right of action for damage done in common.

        Remedy might be injunctive or for money damages.

        Like mentioned, it’d be interesting to see what Montana’s nuisance statutes and/or the common-law case law has to say, particularly given the likelihood of Livestock exceptionalism. However, depending on whether the the brucellosis reactionism in Montana uses language exclusive to brucellosis, or establishes some more broad statutory/regulatory framework prescribing state intervention in cases where disease threatens public values – that may give officials some ground.

        In any event – ‘private property rights’ are not and have never been absolute.

        I do not have a private property right to build a nuclear reactor in my back yard. Given the science resolving as it has with domestic sheep’s tendency to put valued bighorn sheep in jeapordy – to significantly harm such a substantial public trust – that the argument on causation seems to be getting stronger and stronger – it would seem to me that domestic sheep could qualify as a potential nuisance.

        • JB says:

          Thanks, Brian. Save Bears’ position (what I can make of it) is not only troubling insomuch as he seems to claim that private property rights are absolute, it is also troubling in that he explicitly states (over and over) that nothing will change. Private property rights have constantly evolved in this country. In fact, at one time all ‘uncultivated’ lands were open to hunting–put another way, hunters could not be guilty of ‘tresspass’:

          “…the right to hunt on unenclosed and uncultivated lands has never been disputed, and it is well known that it has been universally exercised from the first settlement of the country up to the present time [writing in 1818]…The forest was regarded as a common, in which they entered at pleasure, and exercised the privelege; and it will not be denied that animals, ferae nature, are common property, and belong to the first taker. If, therefore, usage can make law, none was ever better established.”

          M’Conico v. Singleton, 9 S.C.L. (2 Mill.) 244 (1818).

          Clearly, much has changed, and I fully suspect that property rights will continue to evolve in pragmatic ways over time.


          The claim that Montana will not change because it is a rural state is also problematic. Clearly, Montana is one of the more rural states in the US. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Montana’s population was 52.5% urban almost a quarter century ago (1990) and the population is likely to continue to urbanize in the future. Moreover, according to the most recent Census (2010) roughly 46% of Montana residents were born outside of Montana–many of them bringing values that stand in some contrast to your average, 5th generation Montanan. Indeed, in relative to its neighbors, Montana has become increasingly progressive in recent decades.

          • SaveBears says:

            I did not say private property rights are absolute.

          • Ida Lupine says:

            Montana’s population was 52.5% urban almost a quarter century ago (1990) and the population is likely to continue to urbanize in the future.

            No doubt. Which will bring its own set of problems. Like having the wildlife as a nuisance. It’s hardly going to be an urban utopia.

            As the country’s population grew, it becomes dangerous to allow hunting close to where people live. However, as we can see, hunters are accommodated as much as possible on private lands and near private lands, at least in my state and in others.

            • Ida Lupine says:

              So I guess what I understand is that the people’s needs are always, always going to come first, whether rural or urban, and the environment and wildlife are somewhere on the bottom rungs of the ladder, to receive leftover monies and attention (if any).

              Wolf eradication has been going on since before the dawn of this country, so if change is coming it is very slow indeed.

              • SaveBears says:


                I did not say Montana can’t change, I said Montana won’t change, the is no incentive to change, I know for a fact we can change, I just don’t see us changing anytime in the near future.

                That is the problem with this conversation, you don’t seem to grasp what I am actually saying.

                Yes, we can change, no we won’t change, big difference.

            • SaveBears says:

              Being 52.5% urban is actually mis-leading in the case of Montana, we only have a population of 1.005 million people residing in the state of Montana and 10% of that population lives in Billings. If you look at the wiki page on the population of Montana and where it resides and then compare that to the land area of Montana, the urban areas are actually quite small.


              • SaveBears says:

                To add, we are the 4th largest state in the Union, at 147,042 square miles, we are 44th in population and 48th in population density.

                The population works out to 1 person per 6.86 square miles.

                The 7 major cities in Montana only take up 857.15 square miles and that is only because Butte claims a size of 716.3 square miles. So if we are to actually look at the urban centers of Montana they are 0.0058% of the state.

                That is a heck of a lot of land out there that is considered rural and not urbanized.

              • SaveBears says:

                Also, over 58% of the land in Montana is under private ownership.

              • Elk375 says:

                Wrong Save Bears:

                ++ in the case of Montana, we only have a population of 1.005 million people residing in the state of Montana ++

                ++The population works out to 1 person per 6.86 square miles.++

                The correct answer is 6.86 persons per square mile.

              • SaveBears says:

                Oooops Elk, those damn “S” get in the way..

              • SaveBears says:

                Did I say I am dyslexic?


              • JB says:

                The physical size of urban areas isn’t relevant. What is relevant is what proportion of the population lives in urbanized settings. Take a look at this map, and you’ll see the counties that voted Democratic in 2012 happen to be the population centers (Bozeman NOT included):

              • JB says:

                “Also, over 58% of the land in Montana is under private ownership.”

                Great. And that’s relevant how?

              • SaveBears says:


                What exactly are you trying to do here? As you don’t understand me, I certainly don’t understand you point.

              • SaveBears says:

                And really JB, the presidential elections have very little to do with what actually happens in the states, people put far to much weight on presidential voting.

              • SaveBears says:

                Put that 58% of private land owners up against the public good and see how that turns out for you JB.

              • SaveBears says:

                By the way JB, even with the population centers going liberal, the state still went conservative, so your point is? The state as a whole still votes conservative, in the 2012 election Romney won by 13.7%

              • JB says:

                Save Bears:

                Perhaps you should consider actually constructing an argument, as opposed to randomly placing facts. Here I will clarify things (on my side) the best I can.

                Premise: Montana’s population increasing comes from outside of Montana.

                Premise: People from outside of Montana are more likely to be progressive about property rights than people who were born and raised in Montana.

                Premise: The U.S. Population is urbanizing, Montana included.

                Premise: Urban populations are more likely to be progressive about property rights than rural populations.

                Conclusion: Montana’s property rights policies, which have historically privileged a few individuals (e.g. ranchers) could change in the near future.


                There you go, Save Bears. That’s about as simple as I can make it. Now you can go back to ensuring everyone that there is no possibility of change in Montana. After all, you live there so you know.

              • JB says:

                Sorry, should read: “assuring everyone.”

              • SaveBears says:


                You and I are talking on a completely different level.

              • SaveBears says:


                Obviously, my idea and your idea about a disagreement is completely different, have you really learned so much that you can’t understand how normal people discuss things?

                I have a Degree, I have graduated from two very distinguished schools in this country, but I can still talk to normal people, I think you have lost that ability.

                As I said, we can change, at this point in time we won’t change, that is the bottom line, if you don’t have the vision to see that, then I don’t know what to tell you, you have tunnel vision is all I can say.

              • JB says:

                Save Bears:

                I know exactly how “normal people” discuss things. They relay upon heurstics to process information and make decisions, and their arguments are riddled with logical fallacies (e.g., appeals to authority, such as ‘you should listen to me, I have a degree in wildlife management’).

                If you’re not familiar with the basic form of an argument, may I suggest the following:


        • WM says:

          OK, great job on the background and theory, Brian. Here is the important part – apply it to the situation, including problems of proof of damages and causation to support the theory.

          If I understand this fact scenario, Hoppe’s sheep are on private land (at least that is what the article says), and the bighorns are coming to the sheep. Do we have an attractive nuisance of sorts here?

          From a linked article it is “presumed” domestic sheep are carriers of certain diseases to which bighorns are fatally susceptible (don’t know how that applies to bison and cows but guess it has been studied a lot more, but just substitute the wild species and the domestic carrier for the issue). Is there scientific support for that assertion? Does the nuisance theory apply to all domestic sheep wherever bighorns might be present or everywhere? Is there some link of proof that specific domestic sheep at a specific location would expose bighorn populations to
          a “substantially certain” illness/death? What would be the standard and how does the state go about enforcing it? Complete prohibition of domestic sheep in these areas? Is there a potential taking of property issue lurking in the background if it is asserted one cannot graze private sheep on private land when the state’s wildlife hop a fence and come to visit?

          Then, assuming application of such theories if there is enough authority for MFWP to do it now, would there be a “legislative fix” sought to make a new law saying MFWP can’t do it?
          A bunch of stuff to think about.

          Not supporting the status quo, which seems to be a theme here, but trying to understand application and practice of legal theories to solving a problem in an exceedingly difficult political environment.

          In my area it is the bighorn sheep on Mt. Clemans and the Ellensburg Canyon.

          • SaveBears says:


            I don’t think status quo is the theme but it sure is the accusation!

          • Brian Ertz says:

            Bighorn sheep are politically salient, relative to many other wildlife species.

            I, and many others who have struggled on the grazing issue, welcome any confrontation on the wild sheep issue, as it is fertile *and popular* ground by which to illustrate the problem with Livestock Exceptionalism in the West.

            That said, you are right. It’s a political issue that will require those who care about Wild Sheep to step up and lean in.

            On causation: you are not correct to surmise my – or anyone else’s – reliance on any news article’s suggestion that these sheep are “presumed” proximate causes. There is a robust body of scientific literature (see: Payette SEIS) which is likely to be of aid. Likewise, the degree of certainty – or the standard on causation – is likely established by statute or judicial decision. If it were a policy-making issue, let’s say FWP wanted to promulgate a policy/rule, put land-owners on notice and deal with the issue in a responsible way that involved public & public input – there’d be ample more ground upon which to stand than for FWP to sue right away. That process is just as well informed by consideration of nuisance doctrine as filing suit right away. In a court room I t’d be up to a complaining party to convince a fact-finder with the scientific literature and the facts presented on the ground as to causation.

            The thoughts concerning nuisance and/or existing statute that provides direction for abating disease transmission issues is not intended to be anything other than a wild thought ~ suing the person is one – or establishing a policy rationale for a rule within agency or legislative initiative is another ~ and citizens approaching FWP with knowledge, leaning into the agency to do something is important. and here’s one for you:

            Approaching this man with a check is as good as any other solution.

            If that doesn’t work, seek other options with check in hand – but be sure to include a non-disclosure provision such that others don’t find incentive to truck sheep onto their proximate properties for promise of a pay-off.

            In any event – FWP sitting on their hands ought not be an option we get too comfortable with. Also, receiving any excuse from FWP, such as “we can’t do anything” is likewise bogus. They just need more heat.

            As for your worry about a “legislative fix” ~ bring it on. What would a “fix” like that look like on the ground ? For bighorn sheep ? Seems to me that it looks a whole lot the same as inaction for fear of prompting a “legislative fix” ~ the only difference being a public debate. A public debate that’s worth having.

  12. Ida Lupine says:

    Urban doesn’t always mean progressive values either. Rural, basic values I don’t want to see go extinct!

    I think all humans have a basic connection with nature, but modern life has changed it. I don’t want to see the country just people and their domestic pets and livestock.

    For example, our current administration is very concerned with the people’s welfare – but just doesn’t know (or care) about the environment and wildlife except as it applies to human use. Growing the economy and creating jobs trumps the environment and wildlife too. In the past, the Democratic party was much more concerned with protecting the environment and wildlife, even the Republican party was (Richard Nixon – but because of party divides the Democrats will never acknowledge it). Today, the Democrats are only marginally better. To see all of our protective laws crumbling is very disappointing.

    Putting Sally Jewell in charge of the Interior because she likes to climb mountains – tells me that the only value the administration puts on our wild places is for human recreation (and energy extraction). It doesn’t value our wild places in and of themselves. So they’ve tossed a few crumbs to us like a bill for ships to slow down in whale zones – it’s the least they could do, isn’t it? And even that isn’t enforced. (I can’t wait to see what’s planned for the enforcement of preventing raptor kills by wind farms also when they’ve only got the industry’s word on things) I’ve read comments where climbing mountains in the public eye makes them automatically an environmentalist!

    • SaveBears says:

      In that theme Ida, there are only two urban areas in Montana that would possibly be considered progressive and only because they have large populations of Young college students in them and that is Missoula and Bozeman. So can Montana change? yes, is it likely to happen? Not during the lifetime of any of us posting on this blog and probably not in the lifetimes of our children’s children. All places evolve, but in the case of Montana, there is really no incentive to change things.

      • Ida Lupine says:

        Young college kids today aren’t even as idealistic as they once were. In some ways, I’d be glad to see places like Montana never change, and hold on to their unique character.

  13. Ida Lupine says:

    Romney wasn’t that bad as governor of Massachusetts. He actually helped write legislation for passage of oil tankers through protect our waters after an oil spill we had in 2003. The US gov’t sued though. I participated at the cleanup and oiled, crying birds isn’t a pretty sound or sight.

    He might have been not too bad if the ultra conservatives hadn’t gotten hold of him. You know how politicians all make promises they don’t keep to get elected? I have a kind of funny thought that with Romney, he may have made promises to the ultra conservatives that he wouldn’t keep. Who knows?

  14. Ida Lupine says:

    Premise: People from outside of Montana are more likely to be progressive about property rights than people who were born and raised in Montana.

    Ain’t necessarily so. Didn’t someone from outside of Montana just have a grizzly shot for spoiling his bird feeder?

    • Nancy says:

      I think that was Idaho, Ida. Island Park or somewhere close to there.

      • SAP says:

        Yes – just nw of Henry’s Lake. A rugged individual from Arizona — shotgunned a mother grizzly for getting into his chicken feeder.

  15. Sam Parks says:

    I’m tired of all this talk about property rights being sacred in Montana. Couldn’t be further from the truth:

    So I guess this is Montana’s theory on property rights: if you want to destroy wildlife, you have property rights. If you want to help wildlife and allow them to use your land, you do not have property rights.

    • SaveBears says:

      Be tired Sam, because you are not understanding what is being discussed, I would imagine you rent and don’t own.

      • Sam Parks says:

        Savebears (Dave): First of all, it is impossible for me to respond to your accusation that I do not understand what is being discussed here, because you don’t provide any evidence.

        That said, I am sure I understand this issue far better than you do.

        Whether or not, I own land, is irrelevant. Did we somehow transport back in time to the days when only wealthy landowners have a say? Well sorry, but I am not wealthy (quite poor in fact). But to answer your question, I usually rent 6 months of the year, and am camping around the west the other 6. You are right though, I do not and would never “own” land. I find it insulting when somebody claims they “own” land. Land is not something that can be owned. Especially considering the land we stand on was never conceded to us, in any kind of legal manner, by the native peoples that once lived here. Theft does not translate to legal ownership.

        • SaveBears says:


          First who is Dave? I have stated many times, My Name is Donald. Yes, based on the laws of the United States, we can own land and many of us do own land. You don’t have to be wealthy to own land, you just have to be dedicated. You are wrong, the United states won the land by way of war, war has always been a way to “win” land. You are bringing the Native Americans into this argument, for one, this is not an argument about Native Americans, and if you want it to be, we won the war.

        • WM says:

          ++ I find it insulting when somebody claims they “own” land. Land is not something that can be owned. Especially considering the land we stand on was never conceded to us, in any kind of legal manner, by the native peoples that once lived here.++

          Another metaphysical cosmic traveler on this site, it appears. OK, if you have a problem with “ownership” just think of it as a right of possession which is only good for as long as you possess those rights until somebody bigger, stronger, and maybe meaner takes it from you, or restricts what you can do. This is mostly the way every civilization throughout the world has done it since time began. Even happened with Native American tribes as against each other, though the nomadic lifestyle of some gives us a different perception of some. How about those cliff dwelling tribes – you don’t think they believed they owned the land they cultivated until some other tribes tried to steal their grain and kick them off (or why some tribes got marginalized, while others flourished and terrorized their neighbors, taking some as slaves)? Just think, Sam, we could all be speaking Japanese or German had things turned out differently just seventy years ago, or so?

          • Montana Boy says:

            Thanks for placing that comment when I read Sam’s comment last night I knew some restraint was needed.

  16. Donald J. Jackson says:

    This message is just so everyone knows who I am, I know it will be in moderation for a while, but I am tired of being accused, My Name is Donald.

  17. Ida Lupine says:

    Yeah, we like the name SaveBears!

    • SaveBears says:

      That is fine with me, I just wanted to let people know I have a name, I am tired of being accused of being someone that I am not.

  18. Sid says:

    It would be cool to start a program similar to the American Prairie Reserve around Yellowstone, I think the public would be willing to give money to a program like this because Yellowstone is so popular and well known. Slowly buying up private land that goes for sale around yellowstone and surrounding national forest, it would make problems like this more rare. The money is there for this but someone has to start it up.


December 2013


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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