Open Letter to NRDC about promoting JBarL livestock operations in Montana’s Centennial Valley

Zack Strong
Montana Office NRDC
Bozeman, Montana

Dear Zack,

I just read the article in NRDC’s On Earth about the JBarL ranch in Montana’s Centennial Valley. As the Montana representative, I suspect you had a hand in helping to promote this article.

Now I know you didn’t write the piece, and may have had little to do with shaping its editorial content, nevertheless, you are quoted in it. I feel the article does a disservice to your organization’s membership. It promotes the idea that there is some way to run livestock in the arid West that has few impacts on wildlife. And this is simply not true.

I am continuously disappointed when environmental groups promote livestock grazing as if it is somehow beneficial. The recent happy talk piece in On Earth about Peggy Dulany’s JBarL (Dulany is a Rockefeller heiress) is a case in point.

Of course what Dulany is attempting to do at the JBarL is better than what you may find at other ranches in the area. But in my view, someone with her finances could just as well get rid of the cows entirely or certainly greatly reduce the livestock numbers if she were interested in maximizing wildlife benefits.

If you do any kind of rational holistic analysis of the impacts of cattle ranching on wildlife, it’s hard to argue that on the whole that any cattle operations have a benefit for wildlife. Yet this is exactly what the article in On Earth suggests.

While the JBarL policies may be more progressive than other ranchers, when it comes to predators like wolves it is still disingenuous to be promoting beef consumption and livestock operations in the arid West.

It is somewhat like NRDC promoting “clean coal” as some kind of solution for energy. NRDC knows enough not to promote coal, and it should know not to promote livestock operations.

The problem is there is no right way to do the wrong thing. And running cows in the arid West is not a good thing–even the best policies have many impacts-impacts that the article in On Earth failed to mention.

Just to name a few — there is water pollution — cattle are the number one source of water pollution in western waterways — and I can assure you that JbarL cows cause this pollution.

The mere presence of cattle (social displacement) can scarce off native prey animals like elk for predators — there are a number of studies done in Montana showing that effect. So even though JBarL has not directly killed wolves, their cattle may still be contributing to wolf losses by driving away the food resources of wolves.

There is soil compaction and its effects on soil penetration–especially the HM methods the JBarL use that compacts soils more than traditional livestock methods.

And of course, the JBarL, like most ranches, uses irrigation–taking water from streams that negatively impacts fisheries, and other aquatic species. You may know that the Centennial Valley is one of the last places with Montana grayling and that cattle damage to riparian zones is one of the major factors leading to its decline in the valley. I do not know whether JBarL cattle graze on any streams with grayling, but they would be hard pressed to run any cattle along a stream without damaging it for grayling.

There is the trampling of riparian areas (like the attached photo) that harms stream hydrology, amphibians like frogs, and of course fish.

There is the spread of weeds–cattle are among the major sources for weed spread.

Though it appears that JBarL uses electric fences to some degree (good thing) I’m sure the ranch also has regular fencing–fencing that inhibits wildlife movement. I can recall two summers ago driving a road which I believe was through the JBarL property where a pronghorn raced along searching desperately for a way under a fence–and had to run nearly a mile before it could find a place to get under.

And who knows how many sage grouse might run into fences in the valley — sage grouse are poor fliers and regularly run into fences. One study in Wyoming showed a 30% mortality due to fence collisions.

There is the loss of hiding cover for small rodents and nesting birds — especially under the intensive herd management practiced by JBarL.

Not to mention there are plenty of studies that livestock are among the biggest sources of methane and hence GHG. And grass fed beef is even worse–be nice if that were mentioned in the article instead of promoting grass fed as superior.

There are, of course, other impacts that I could list as well. But all of the above are definitely occurring at the JBarL to one degree or another.

So it is very irresponsible in my view to be promoting any kind of livestock operations, but especially in the arid West.

Being myopic about wolves–i.e. just because these folks are less intent on killing wolves–doesn’t mean you can and should overlook all the other impacts of livestock.

Furthermore, you know as well as me this is not a model that is going to be widely adopted by ranchers. JBarL is able to do it because they have Peggy Dulany with her millions behind it. Dulany doesn’t have to make a profit, but she seems intent on promoting the idea that ranching is somehow compatible with the environment.

I was particularly astounded to read that NRDC appears to be helping to “purchase” equipment and hire help. Do you think NRDC members would be happy to know they are subsidizing a Rockefeller ranch operation? “Along with conservation strategies, NRDC helps J Bar L and other ranches purchase equipment and hire range riders (and even lends a hand with the electric fencing). ”

Not to mention that Dulancy is also a welfare rancher grazing FS and BLM allotments. Do taxpayers really have to subsidize her operations? No mention of that in your article.

Not to mention you are advertising the ranch’s meat — how much is that worth?

Now I understand that one of your goals is to promote wolf recovery. And I would have no trouble if this article said if you are going to raise cattle in wolf country there are some methods that may reduce wolf/livestock conflicts. I might even agree that given a choice, I would prefer an outfit like the JBarL running cattle than some local yahoo rancher. All that is true.

However, glossing over or failing to even mention the many reasons why running cattle here in the first place is not good policy would be appreciated. Even some qualifying statements such as “of course, raising a water loving, slow moving, dim witted animal in the arid West makes no ecological sense at all. And even the best operations like the JBarL have many unacceptable impacts on the West’s natural heritage.”

If you have any influence with your magazine, or do any future articles about JBarL or any other ranches, I hope you provide a more honest appraisal of how livestock operations degrade the West.
/s/ George



  1. Dan Lynch Avatar
    Dan Lynch

    Why do billionaires run cattle on their play ranches? 1) so they can qualify for the ag exemption on their property tax 2) so the “business” expenses can be deducted on their income taxes.

  2. Kirk Robinson Avatar
    Kirk Robinson

    Good work, George. Zack really ought to explain NRDC’s justification for taking this position. Presumably they think they have a good justification, and they should be more than willing to share it with the rest of us. At least then they would be showing some respect to the rest of the team – that is, if they consider us part of the team. We could then properly debate the pros and the cons of the issue.

    Incidentally, the JbarL is not the only ranch in Centennial Valley owned by a wealthy person who is not a westerner – there is another ranch, I forget it’s name – owned by the Koch Brothers.

    I believe that these ranchers love the beautiful Centennial Valley and its wildlife even if they are not from the West. Certainly the hired help who work the ranches do. And they probably truly believe that they are benefiting the wildlife by the grazing practices they employ and by preserving the land from development. But, of course, it’s a matter of comparison. Compared to land left in its natural state, ranch land is not an improvement so far as wildlife is concerned. My guess, therefore, is that Zack and NRDC believe that the politically more feasible and expedient course is to try to promote the type of ranching practiced at JbarL, rather than criticize it.

    Takers, anyone? Zack?

    1. Elk375 Avatar

      The Koch brother’s ranch is the Matador. The Matador ranch runs from the Centennial Valley to Dillon. The J Bar L almost adjacent to a portion of the Matador.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        Do you have any comments on the Matador, ELK?

        1. Elk375 Avatar

          The Koch brother’s land is enrolled in the Block Management program and I have shot several elk on Matador property. Al least the Matador is not going to be subdivided in the near future.

          I have not ever had any dealing with the Matador.

          1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
            Ralph Maughan


            Thanks for the information.

  3. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    “These techniques are proactive rather than reactive, so they prevent conflicts from happening in the first place,” says Zack Strong, a wildlife advocate with NRDC. Along with conservation strategies, NRDC helps J Bar L and other ranches purchase equipment and hire range riders (and even lends a hand with the electric fencing).

    Mr. Strong did not say that livestock grazing is beneficial, he said it was proactive instead of reactive (Wildlife Services taking care of the problem). His organization is well aware that for every profitable ranch means there is less likelihood of the land being developed for home sites or energy extraction. Also the Rockefeller Institution was involved in promoting the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone along with another billionaire, Ted Turner.

    And we always have to label ranchers as “welfare ranchers”. If any of you purchases meat, eggs, dairy or other “subsidized products” then I guess you would be welfare consumers, since you would be paying reduced prices. Do ranchers lobby for reduced grazing fees (of course) but it’s Congress who ultimately decides how much the AUM rate should be.

    I applaud the JBarL Ranch for their work to help minimize conflicts between wildlife and livestock and to reduce impacts due to livestock grazing. Mr. Wuerthner conveniently failed to mention the ranch is working with numerous partners and scientists who are studying whether installed structures that mimic beaver dams, rehabilitate stream channels, may benefit Arctic grayling, and on two greater sage grouse leks, biologists are investigating what factors enable populations of these iconic—and possibly soon-to-be-endangered—birds to nest successfully. The ranch is also providing much needed employment to a very rural area.

    The author states that few ranchers would be able to implement these practices yet today there are numerous other ranches that are using range riders, guard dogs, electric fencing and other techniques that were historically never thought of as cost saving methods.

    Excellent job NRDC, you are putting your money where your mouth is instead of on lawsuits that just increase friction between conservationists and ranchers.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      “His organization is well aware that for every profitable ranch means there is less likelihood of the land being developed for home sites or energy extraction”

      A dated but good read, Gary:

      “The argument that we must choose between condos and cows is a false one. Neither is desirable, and both should be restricted as much as possible. If we enact proven land conservation policies and reduce the amount of land devoted to livestock production, the West will be a better place than it is today, even as more people discover its wonders and desire to live there”

      1. Louise Kane Avatar
        Louise Kane

        +1 Nancy

    2. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      His organization is well aware that for every profitable ranch means there is less likelihood of the land being developed for home sites or energy extraction.

      Horror! I’m with ya on this one, Gary.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        It always seems to me that with ranching, it isn’t permanent damage, herds move, owners change their minds. With energy extraction the damage is extensive and permanent, and often times not even put back to a semblance of what it was before. The worst scenario is housing and development – because with that comes schools, shopping malls, roads, golf courses, lawn chemcicals and pesticide runoff, recreation, trash, waste disposal, fires, and on and on (and on and on some more) and a tremendous drain on resources.

        If we didn’t eat meat, there would be no cattle ranches. And in our overpopulated world, somebody somewhere will by buying beef and will continue to buy it. I do not eat it, but I am heartened that some ranches are trying to practice wildlife sensitive methods.

    3. Kirk Robinson Avatar
      Kirk Robinson


      It seems to me that extremely wealthy ranch owners (I hesitate to call the Kochs ranchers) can easily afford to implement good husbandry and predator friendly practices, if they want to, and still keep their ranches in operation. What about the small-timers whose families have ranched the same land for generations and who may in fact be constantly struggling and not able to afford better practices? Does NRDC help them out as well, or do you know? Surely they are no less deserving than the so-called hobby ranchers – nor is the wildlife that use their land.

      1. Louise Kane Avatar
        Louise Kane

        The question is, why do people with so much money want to degrade the land in the first place? Why must they raise cattle? If concerned about conservation and preservation why not allow the land to remain in its most natural state and protect it through a legal mechanism like a conservation easement. No condos, no cows.
        I know a wolf advocate who purchased 120 acres of land in the mdid west and protected it with a conservation easement. They are restoring the formerly degraded riparian areas and planting native species of trees. They don’t have a lot of money they bough small parcels little by little over many years until the purchase was a contiguous piece of land. People like that could use NRDCA dollars.

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          The trouble with that is, very few people think that way. Most want to squeeze every last dime they can out of the land they own and then some. And if the Federal gov’t steps in to ensure protections, then people feel it is interfering with their rights and freedoms.

          That’s why sometimes a responsible rancher is better than development IMO.

    4. Ken Cole Avatar

      “Do ranchers lobby for reduced grazing fees (of course) but it’s Congress who ultimately decides how much the AUM rate should be.”

      Actually it is not Congress, it is the BLM and Forest Service who decides and it is based on an outdated formula.

    5. Makuye Avatar

      Human conflicts generally concern the use – exploitation done by humans,and the fictive human values placed upon aspects of the exploitation.
      If we consider that this imposition may not be “the best and highest use” as is becoming increasingly visible from the ecological disturbances that are failing to follow successional regrowth of typical ecosystems. That is, natural systems failing to return to the cycles of indigenous organisms due to human exploitation.

      Agricultural use is as significant a loss to many of the organisms of an ecosystem, as is other human exploitation.
      Some attempts, such as this ranch, are, indeed, less damaging than some other.
      Here’s BLM’s required yearly overview of the state of affairs, and although it is significantly economic in that fictitious fashion of human valuation, it contains many interesting and shocking stats.
      For instance, note the sheer amount of fencing installed in New Mexico.
      Since my own concerns rest closer to George’s, rather than silently acquiescing to any presumption that humans will continue to expand their numbers on western lands, it seems clear to me that exploitive ranchers vs hobbyranchers vs. housing development, are angels-on-head-of pin, arguments.
      Will any of the above allow the return of the bison, whose migrations enriched soils and ecosystems, and fed myriad other flora and fauna?
      Answer: Montana says NO, Feds say NO, cattlemen’s associatins say NO.

      Will any of the above welcome the Grizzly Bear in its former habitat? So far, “sport” hunting groups, state wildlife “management” agencies, and numerous politicians say NO.
      Will the gray Wolf, who once followed the bison, be allowed to return?
      Corrupt politicians and most of the aforementioned above, say NO.
      Even though that wolf has been shown to alter systems toward their original speciosity and complexity, NO, say those who hold the fictive paper constituting “ownership” and social exchange.

      Even the Wapiti, or elk, that hunters and Montana and Idaho “managing” agencies desire to farm exclusively for those hunting lobbies, are reviled by cattlemen and their associations, as eating “our” grass/resources.

      Having spent more time across several decades observing the proximate ecologicaldamage that human exploitation entails on lands of the west, that, whether through severely modifying formerly open lands, or through the lesser, although topsoil-stripping, groundwater- diminishing, wildlife-excluding methods of fencing or other exclusion for farming domestics, has changed and diminished the land. Humans exploit the low and riparian areas, denying the above wild animals (along with many others; consider the sage grouse species now reviled in exploiter circles, including the US Congress) and the flora native to the areas, their healing repatriation. Original inhabitants are now excluded from most of the life-giving wintering areas.

      NRDC means natural resources defense council. Entire strongly interacting species and wild ecosystems are denied inclusion as “resource.”

      Yet, the aquatic and terrestrial species choked out by unnecessary human exploitation, were resources to one another.

      In population ecology, we often witness graphs of animal number change over time showing sigmoid curves as reproduction levels off at ecosystem carrying capacity.
      Have you who argue from human-this vs human-that positions excluding all other life, SEEN the graph of human growth?

      Here’s some enlightenment for you:

      1. Kirk Robinson Avatar
        Kirk Robinson

        Thank you, Makuye. It seems obvious to me that working to make things just a little better, ala NRDC, isn’t going to get us where we need to be. Seems to me they cater too much to the wealthy and their narrow, short-sighted interests. That’s where their power lies. Still, I do recognize that they do some good.

  4. Leslie Avatar

    The tax breaks here in WY for ‘agricultural use’ for private lands are astounding. For instance, I have a neighbor who bought up several beautiful small parcels that were to be developed. He has never fenced them and they appear as part of the adjacent NF. He just bought them to protect from development and allows people to hike on them. On his adjacent home, he runs no livestock, but instead dug two ponds for wildlife. For this he pays about $6000/yr taxes for approx. 100 acres. On the other hand, another neighbor with 100 acres and 2 horses, pays only $600/year. I have 6 acres and pay $2000/yr. None of us are rich. But there is absolutely no incentive to preserve your land. Water as well is also treated the same way. Use it or lose your rights and wildlife use solely will no count as a use.

    If George’s argument is to go anywheres, the land politics and tax structures need to be changed.

  5. Zack Strong Avatar
    Zack Strong

    George, thanks for your letter and passion. I value your perspective. But your approach is unhelpful. Attacking your colleagues and those like the J Bar L who are on the ground trying to make a difference is not going to advance our common goals of protecting wildlife and improving ecosystems. Demanding an immediate end to all cattle ranching in the West is unrealistic and, if it discourages ranchers from making efforts to improve their management practices, risks being counter-productive.

    It’s akin to insisting that we all stop driving, then vilifying those that switch to hybrid vehicles because of all of the ecological impacts they are still causing. That’s putting perfection before progress—and it’s not going to get us anywhere.

    Further, your criticism of the On Earth article is misguided. No one is claiming that grazing livestock “has few impacts on wildlife.” Nor was that the focus of the piece. On the contrary, the message of the article—and my quote—is that using range riders and electric fencing to more proactively manage cattle may be able to reduce the risk of predation—thus keeping more wolves and other large carnivores on the landscape. I hope we can agree that that’s at least a step in the right direction.

    Lastly, I doubt there are many among us who couldn’t afford to do, or say, or spend just a little more on behalf of the wild creatures and wild places we all care so much about. So perhaps it would be more productive to support and encourage those who are making an effort—and work with them to do even more—than to condemn and dismiss them for not doing enough.

    We at NRDC will continue to work hard to make a tangible, positive difference for the wildlife and wildness of the Northern Rockies, and we encourage others to do the same.


    1. Louise Kane Avatar
      Louise Kane

      why not encourage wealthy landowners to stop hobby farming and allow the lands they own to be used as wildlife corridors?

      1. SAP Avatar

        You may not be familiar with some of these big ranches here in southwest Montana, Louise, but they already are functioning as “wildlife corridors,” in addition to just being part of the home ranges of grizzlies, wolves, and ungulates. Most of this high elevation grassland and foothill country is livestock-free from mid-October to late May. Many of the big ranches around here are already under conservation easements, so they’ll never turn into subdivisions, either.

        One could ask these landowners to stop putting cattle on their land, and you should certainly feel free to make that suggestion. But it would be incorrect to suggest that well-managed cattle grazing (which the J-L exemplifies) is mutually exclusive with wildlife living on or traveling through these ranches.

        1. Elk375 Avatar

          George it is their land, Montana is ranching country. The owners of fee property have a right to ranch and farm under the State of Montana Laws. It is not going to change anytime soon.

          I am a very strong supporter of wildlife but I also believe in private property rights. One can ask the property owner to remove his/her cattle that is up to them to comply with the request.

          1. timz Avatar

            No it’s our land as much of this grazing is on public lands.

            1. Elk375 Avatar

              Timz, think before you write. I said the owners of fee property not federal property. The Centennial Valley floor from my estimate is approximately 40% fee, 20% state and 40% federal, I am down there 4 or 5 times a year and know what is what.

              One of the problems is that there is federal land locked in private holdings that no public access or access to federal officials hence reducing the amount of available federal lands.

              I have hunted antelope in the Centennial Valley for the last 4 years and trying to find a federal parcel big enough to hunt without crossing private property is a trick. One needs a GPS with landownership maps.

              1. timz Avatar

                Elk go back to 6th grade and garner some reading skills. The focus of this issue is PUBLIC LAND grazing.

  6. George Wuerthner Avatar

    Dear Zack

    Ralph Maughan just forwarded me your response to my open letter about NRDC promotion of the JBarL operations in Montana on Wildlife News. Very cordial and courteous response. I appreciate the tone and the goal you express for helping predators.

    I will try to do the same.

    While I appreciate the sincerity of your efforts, I definitely disagree with your strategy (and that of many organizations that think promoting some partial halfway solutions is good).

    I think your promotion of beef production, even that done by the JBarL, is ultimately more harmful for wolves and other wildlife than any benefit gained by promoting “wildlife friendly operations.”

    You are correct that the On Earth article as you suggest does not say that grazing livestock “has few impacts on wildlife”. As you note that was not the focus. But that is exactly the problem! Livestock has many impacts and in the article it is not the focus–and it should be.

    It’s what you do not say that makes you culpable for the on-going environmental impacts caused by livestock production. Again to make my analogy, it would be like writing a glowing article about “clean coal” and never mentioning mountain top removal or strip mining, acid in streams, coal trains and dust in communities, and so forth.

    No one, particularly most of the big environmental organizations like NRDC are willing to tell their membership or the public all the ways that livestock production harms the environment.

    While you suggest that it’s unrealistic to think that people will end ranching, I would remind you people probably said that about changing laws about gay marriage ten years ago too or that we would ever get cigarette smoking banned in public places. The idea that things will never change, therefore, we should not lobby or work to change them, is one sure way to ensure that there will be no change.

    it doesn’t help when they aren’t given a good perspective on the costs. Without that context, of course, it’s not to going end. I am convinced if more organizations like NRDC published articles on how livestock production pollutes water, contributes to global warming, spread weeds, spread diseases to wildfire, promote killing of coyotes, wolves,.displaces native wildlife, destroy soil crusts, etc. etc.etc. that we might see some change in attitudes.

    If no one talks about these things, no one has a reason to change.

    But as long as people are fed happy talk about how wolves and ranchers co-exist, there will be no reason to question the validity of ranching on public lands.

    I realize the article was focused on how you could reduce livestock-predator conflicts–but in the end the piece, and others like it, still promote the idea that livestock production is compatible with wildlife–and it is absolutely not.

    To answer one last comment you wrote: “On the contrary, the message of the article—and my quote—is that using range riders and electric fencing to more proactively manage cattle may be able to reduce the risk of predation—thus keeping more wolves and other large carnivores on the landscape. I hope we can agree that that’s at least a step in the right direction.”

    Well actually I don’t agree. I think range riders are nothing more than propaganda for several reasons. First, as you know, very few domestic animals are killed by wolves at all-that should be the focus of any article about how ranchers are wine about livestock losses when it’s insignificant. They lose tens of thousands of animals to other causes, and no more than dozens to wolves–yet we promote all this focus on wolf losses as if it’s significant. People would never support the war on wolves if they had any idea of how insignificant wolf depredation were to livestock operations losses.

    I would have been very pleased had your piece at least had that kind of perspective,

    Second, one could have pointed out that many of these operations including the JBarL are grazing on public lands. One could ask why do we allow any wolves or other predators to be killed for depredations that occur on public lands.

    Again that would have been a real service if that had been in the article. I’m glad that JBarL is trying to avoid killing predators–great–but in the end there are only a handful of ranchers in the West who are willing and capable of practicing such measures. So in my view it is disingenuous to suggest that range riders,etc. are going to reduce the killing of wolves. Yes, maybe in some small local area, but it is not a solution that will be widely adopted, so in the end, it is not a solution.

    So this promotes the idea that this is a panacea for wolf-livestock conflicts and it’s not.

    Third, direct killing of wolves for depredations is probably the least of the impacts of livestock on predators. The consumption of forage that would otherwise support native ungulates and the social displacement of native ungulates by livestock presence, are likely responsible for greater indirect “wolf losses” by reducing the overall habitat and prey base available to wolves than any losses due to livestock revenge killings.

    In other words, were there no livestock on public lands in the GYE, we could likely support far more elk, deer, etc. and thus far more wolves than at presence.

    In fact, pieces like the ON Earth piece, only perpetuates the notion that we have our cake (beef) and eat it too.

    And I hold many of the national groups responsible for perpetuating this idea. It’s hard enough fighting the myths of the livestock industry without having to fight the myths perpetuated by the environmental community. This idea that we have livestock and viable predator populations in the same place is simply not true.

    Thus if the goal is to restore predators, livestock operations have to go–at least on public lands. And the only way this is going to happen is when the public realizes how much it is really costing them in money, environmental degradation, losses in wildlife, etc.

    Livestock are a cancer upon the landscape. Time for major surgery–not band aids.

    You could make amends in my view, if you did a follow up story on the many ways that livestock production is harming the western landscape and wildlife. That is my challenge to you and On Earth–do a descent article on the impacts of livestock to public lands. I’ll volunteer to write it for free. I happen to have time to do such a story this week. Look forward to hearing a go ahead from you and the editors.


    1. Nancy Avatar

      + 1 George.

    2. Jerry Black Avatar
      Jerry Black

      Thankyou George for this follow-up….
      Looking forward to a response from Zack and NRDC on the negative impacts of livestock on our wildlife and our public lands….I won’t hold my breath.

  7. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    The article was about how certain livestock practices are showing less predation and if the public is willing to spend more for beef products from “predator friendly” ranches, NOT about the impacts of livestock grazing. There is conflicting research on the impacts of “well managed” grazing to the environment and to some specific wildlife species (i.e greater sage grouse, pronghorn antelope and numerous fish species) and that would be a interesting subject on this website but would need to be written by a non-biased author.

    The author insinuates that livestock are allowed to roam free reign on public lands; overgrazing, destroying stream banks, causing excess pollution, allowing weeds to infest vast pastures and generally wreaking havoc on the landscape. The BLM and FS employ range conservationist who are responsible for making sure impacts due to livestock grazing are meeting the laws (i.e. Clean Water Act) and terms and conditions of grazing permits (i.e. adequate vegetation cover and protection of riparian areas). I know the Clive Bundys get the headlines but I think if you monitored ten random public grazing allotments, nine would be in compliance with meeting federal laws (strongest in the US) and agency policies. In a perfect world all ten would be in compliance but of course we don’t live in a perfect world.

    The number of livestock grazed on public lands has been steadily declining and will continue as conditions warrant (i.e. drought, wildfire). From a practical standpoint, there are numerous scattered federal tracts located adjacent to private land (as mentioned by Elk 375) and if livestock grazing is prohibited on those federal lands, a huge increase in the amount of fencing would need to occur (keep livestock within private holdings). Talk about impacts to wildlife movement.

    To meet the demand of livestock products, if livestock were removed from public land, those cows would need to be raised somewhere and that somewhere would probably be feedlots and more intensively on private land (without strong environmental protection standards). To feed those cows in feedlots would take a huge increase in hay and grain, thus requiring even more water for irrigation.

    As for wildlife movement, this ranch is located outside of any identified critical corridors for elk, grizzlies, cougar or other species and if it were I have no doubt that NRDC would not be providing support for livestock grazing in this area.

    Livestock will be raised by someone and there will be impacts. My question is do we want them raised by more “predator friendly” ranches or by ranches using gun of first choice? NRDC chose to support the former.

    1. Elk375 Avatar

      Plus +1

  8. Kirk Robinson Avatar
    Kirk Robinson

    I have a belated thought on this topic, in case this reaches any one.

    To my mind this discussion did not end as well as it might have. People will side with George or with Zack or be undecided, but to me the real issue is whether a large, well-financed conservation/environmental organization such as NRDC (and many others, no doubt, though I have never worked for one and don’t know much about them) has moral obligations to its members and potential contributors.

    I trust that everyone will agree that the answer can only be yes. And certainly one of these obligations for an organization that addresses issues of livestock grazing on public lands is to provide its members and potential contributors with the scientifically documented impacts of public lands grazing to wildlife and water quality. To not do so would be a kind of dishonesty bordering on fraud.

    We expect drug manufacturers to provide important information about their products, including warnings, to potential users even when the use of the drug is likely to be beneficial over all. Similarly, we expect medical doctors to give us both the pros and cons of a particular surgery and not just a recommendation. And well we should. It would be malpractice for them not do so. So why shouldn’t the same be true in parallel cases such as this?

    Being forthright in this way would also show respect to the employees who are expected to support the work of an organization, and would tend to make the organization and its board pay more attention to how well their policies, programs and projects do at achieving the goals of wildlife conservation and environmental health.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner