What will wildlife eat when cattle graze CMR?

NASA just reported the drought in eastern Montana is so severe it is a once in a century event.

Not surprisingly, despite livestock grazing that some suggest could preclude large blazes, the drought in Eastern Montana has spawned some recent blazes including the 270,000-acre Lodgepole fire. The fire raced across grazed public and private pasture and rangelands.

Some ranchers who lost grass to the fire now must sell off their cattle, buy hay or seek out other private pastures for their cattle.

Unfortunately, some of these cowboys have requested the Department of Interior to open Montana’s Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge for grazing by their cows. And recently Secretary of Interior Zinke granted their wish and swung open the gate to grazing by their livestock.

It’s ironic that for the most part, the livestock industry regularly belittles the government, welfare queens, and paying taxes — yet they are quick to call on the government to assist with taxpayer welfare.

I do not mind helping people who have been impacted by a natural event. That’s what government is for and should do — even for people who complain about government all the time.

But allowing cattle to graze the CMR is the wrong solution. The CMR grass is needed more by native public wildlife than by privately owned cattle.

In a drought, wildlife must scramble to find food and cover. During drought, there is often as little as one-third grass production. In addition, wildlife displaced by the Lodgepole fire must search further for food, and no doubt some will be heading to the CMR.

In addition, livestock grazing during droughts is more likely to help the spread of weeds by disturbing soils and consumption of drought-weakened native places.

While the ranchers have other options from leasing other private pasture to buying hay to reducing their herds, wildlife has no other options.

Let’s give the ranchers affected by fire a helping hand — provide loans, give emergency assistance, bring in hay from other regions — but let’s not compromise the public’s wildlife by allowing cattle to graze the CMR.

These are public lands that belong to all Americans, and they should be managed to benefit all Americans. Allowing private businesses to expropriate the food and cover that otherwise is needed by the public’s wildlife is not in the public interest.




  1. Carl Avatar

    I fully agree with George’s comments! I have felt this way for years.

  2. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    Short, sweet, and to the point.

  3. GPC Avatar

    I do not feel that America’s wildlife should be displaced to accommodate private enterprise. It seems clear that substandard conditions will prevail, maybe intermittently, and livestock ranchers need to reassess their options. Government “handouts” should be the last on the list, and even then, decisions should not be carte blanche to the point of being perilous for wildlife.
    That said, I don’t believe the current administration is able to weigh and balance appropriately, so wildlife will ALWAYS take a back seat. The best hope for the wild ones are the organizations willing and able to litigate on their behalf.
    Thanks, George.

  4. Veronica Egan Avatar

    Right on target as usual, Geo! The current administration is hell bent on erasing Gummint assistance for science, education, food and housing for needy people, even heath care. But they won’t touch welfare ranching or Big AG subsidies. No way!

  5. Louise Kane Avatar
    Louise Kane


  6. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Yes. Enough concessions are made already for livelihoods. There are just some places that are not suitable for cattle grazing – like national seashores, deserts, rugged national forests.

    That new Predator Defense video just shows how rought it is out there for cattle. It could be just me, but I thought I saw one cow stumble a little, maybe it isn’t much, but it seems it is hard on their legs and feet, and if they are weakened and injured, they become even more vulnerable to predation, in addition to leaving them out on their own. The native wildlife should not bear the brunt of this.

    It should not be a given that lost and injured cattle deliberately put out in dangerous rugged areas should be covered by tax money and wildlife killing. It just should not! In some ways I do support giving a hand to farmers and ranchers during natural disasters such as drought, but not like this.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Or I’d sooner my tax money go to paying for range riders, reimbursements for losses, but not killing. All that says to me is that the ranchers don’t want the wolves there at all.

      There are so many factors that could lead to losses of cattle in the national forest that to pin it all on wolves alone seems disingenuous.

  7. snaildarter Avatar

    Its all very sad.,

  8. Rich Avatar

    Does anyone know whether the ranchers will be required to pay anything at all for grazing in the CMR or if this is just another freebie with destructive consequences?

    1. alf Avatar

      They’ll pay the standard fee for grazing on federal lands.
      It’s determined by a congressionally mandated, out of date, formula that (not surprisingly) results in fees way, way below fair market value. I don’t know what it is this year, but it’s probably barely over $2/AUM, if that (1 AUM = 1 cow-calf pair or 5 ewes and their lambs for 1 month). As an illustration of how under-priced that is, last time I checked, probably over 5 years ago, where I live, in eastern Idaho, grazing on private land was going for $20+/AUM.

      1. MAD Avatar

        Per the BLM website:
        “The Federal grazing fee for 2017 will be $1.87 per animal unit month (AUM) for public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and $1.87 per head month (HM) for lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The 2016 public land grazing fee was $2.11.”

  9. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I also think the Colville hunting ought to be challenged in court too. If it was going to held on reservation lands it would be different.

    Philosophically, they do have the right to hunt on ancestral lands, but the reality is the species hasn’t recovered fully. One of the sheep ranchers said they were ‘delighted’ that the Colville were going to hunt wolves. I’m sure he is. But let’s give ancestral rights to people for more than just convenient wolf hunting! With all the benefits ranchers get from the government and taxpayers, they need to cooperate and I’m just not seeing it.

    So the Colville can take a maximum of 6, the rancher(s) wanted the entire Smackout Pack (that’s 8 wolves estimated and an unknown number of pups)taken out, plus whatever losses are from poaching or natural causes.

    Not a good plan, and we need more than floating misinformation about ‘maybe, possibly’ a wolf population higher than 115. There could be less too. Do they do counts?

    Not impressed at all, if this is supposed to be a model for the country. It just seems like the same old model ID, MT and WY!

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Heh. The Colville might have ancestral rights to the ranches. Let’s see them honor that.

  10. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    “WDFW killed two wolves, and we hope that’s the last of the killing. Again, for animal advocates, and especially for the wolves, these are terrible outcomes. If the same set of facts existed in other states, it is important to remember, the reprisals against the wolves would have been far more severe. The influence of the WAG has tempered the passions of people traditionally bent on killing as many wolves as the law allows.”

    Actually 3 wolves have been killed – one by the rancher(s) themselves, and two by WDFW. I’m actually starting to see this with a teensy bit more understanding. The rancher(s) demanded the entire Smackout Pack be taken out, and there’s another pack being mentioned too that supposedly has killed cattle. From the Humane Society:

    Tamping Down the War on Wolves

    I’m not entirely sure that this is the end of the killing, but we shall see. If the WAG is keeping the killing at bay, then it could be so much worse I guess.


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.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

George Wuerthner