Killing public wildlife for private profit

The killing of a wolf pup near Corral Creek by Sun Valley was done to protect John Peavy’s business Flat Top Sheep Company. Once again this raises the question of why public wildlife should be killed to increase the profitability of private enterprises operating on our public lands.

It is especially disconcerting that Peavy did not implement minimum measures to protect his own sheep, instead, used a taxpayer-funded “hired gun,” i.e., USDA Wildlife Services to kill OUR wolves.

Grazing on public lands is a privilege, not a right. Why should Peavy sheep, and his business interests be allowed to jeopardize, harass, and kill public wildlife? If I were to harass his sheep when I discovered them polluting our streams or otherwise damaging our public lands, I would be arrested.

It’s important to note that Peavy’s sheep (and all other livestock on our public lands) are creating ecological damage to our property. His sheep pollute the water. Many studies have documented that sheep grazing can change vegetation favoring some grazing tolerant species at the cost of others sensitive to grazing pressure. Sheep also promote the spread of weeds and alien plants like cheatgrass.

The presence of domestic sheep can transmit disease to wild bighorn sheep. And this is the primary reason bighorn sheep are absence in many mountain ranges that once inhabited.

Domestic sheep also trample and compact soil, reducing water infiltration.

The forage going into Peavy’s domestic animals is vegetation not supporting native herbivores and other wildlife. Everything from marmots to elk has less to eat, while insects that rely on flowering vegetation, including bees and hummingbirds are harmed by domestic sheep.

Yet businessmen like Peavy do not compensate the public for all these impacts. Instead, they get to graze their animals on public lands for a pittance, paying a paltry $ 1.41 an AUM to feed five ewes and lambs. Not only is this a direct subsidy Peavy’s bottom line, but the fact that we accept and allow his sheep to degrade our public lands and kill our wildlife at so little cost is absurd.

Worse, according to the report in the Mountain Express, Peavy’s herders did not even implement well-known predator deterrents like camping near the sheep band. The herders were 2-3 miles away from the sheep band.

One must say again why it’s OK for private businesses to harass OUR WILDLIFE for their profit. Whether it is shooting guns or using noisemakers to scare wolves, these actions disrupt our wildlife use of public lands. While Peavy can graze his sheep elsewhere by renting or buying private pasture, public wildlife like wolves and other predators have no place else to live.

I do not believe we should continue to subsidize private businesses on our public lands, but if we do continue to permit welfare ranchers to operate, then at the least, we should demand if there’s any conflict, the domestic animals are removed, not our wildlife.

It’s time to stop subsidizing welfare ranchers like Peavy with the destruction of our wildlife and the degradation of our plant communities.


George Wuerthner is a former ecologist botanist with the Idaho BLM among other positions.


  1. FJ Rouse Avatar
    FJ Rouse

    In total agreement with you! I say flat out, NO to open range and I also believe ranchers and herdsman need to be schooled on the damaging effects their animals have using public land and be fined heavily when found killing wildlife that has every natural right to be in the land! Needless to say taxpayer money should NEVER be used to kill as it was in this case!!! It seems the greedy, idiot gene continues to thrive.

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Not him again. 🙁 Is he still baiting wolves?

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Sorry, I may have jumped the gun. It might have been Don Peay I was thinking of – at any rate, there are many reports of both of these men having wolves killed, and for years, posted here at the TWN.

      They interviewed one rancher tonight on 60 Minutes tonight who has not had any depredation since implementing the practices suggested to prevent it. Others don’t feel they have to do anything.

      The only disappointment I had was that the ‘wolves as saints’ silliness came up again about wolf advocates, and a little bit of downplay about the benefits wolves have brought to Yellowstone’s ecosystem by detractors – I really don’t know of anyone who thinks wolves are saints – they are animals behaving as animals do.

  3. Maximilian Werner Avatar
    Maximilian Werner

    Excellent points, George. While we are waiting for the public and others to wise up and demand that changes be made to grazing policies (mainly, that it no longer be allowed for all the reasons you cited), we need to impress on the agricultural community the importance of reducing conflict through prevention. Like you I cannot understand why it appears so little was done to prevent this predation and, later, the destruction of the wolf. Then of course there is the whole question of why this wolf was singled out. But no one should expect an explanation because there is none.

  4. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    “Welfare ranching” is a politically well established thing. The original grazing fee called for in the Taylor Grazing Act was not to be below $1.35 per AUM. If one compensates for inflation then the lowest rate that should be charged these days is about $27.00/AUM. Congress has purposely ignored inflation to appease the western ranching block and other economic interests as well.

    I recall a BLM director by the name of Jim Bacca who did his best to try increase grazing fees to about $3.90/AUM so that the BLM could get more income for it’s grazing program. He was asked to resign by Bruce Babbitt for such “audacity”.

    Both the Taylor Grazing Act and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 should be amended but I don’t see this happening. Thus we have litle choice but to just insist that livestock be removed from public lands all together.

  5. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Here’s a transcript of last night’s 60 Minutes sequence on Yellowstone wolves if anyone is interested. Overall, I think a good, fair job was done. Was it 1973 or 1974 that wolves were put on the Endangered Species list?

    And of course, Yellowstone is gorgeous in winter. I may have to visit then. Also, there are ‘outfitters’ that take people wildlife watching. Just beautiful:

    1. Maximilian Werner Avatar
      Maximilian Werner

      Hi Ida,

      I just watched the show and have mixed feelings about it. The first point I would make is that the story is better than no story at all. But I also feel like it’s the same story we’ve been hearing for some time now. In my view this is not a story about wolves. We have a pretty decent understanding of wolves, in part because of the excellent work being done by Smith and his colleagues. We also know a good deal about humans and how and why we respond to other animals the way we do. But you’d never know it watching this program. That’s what we should be talking about. Instead we get these soft treatments where questionable ideas go unchallenged. The result is that audiences (especially uninformed audiences) aren’t motivated to consider the deeper, underlying issues at work here.

      For instance, the idea that by allowing ranchers to kill wolves somehow helps to ensure that wolves will remain on the landscape (because it means ranchers aren’t powerless) seems to me both true and entirely irrational. If this is about power, then why not use that power–as the one rancher did–to invest in preventative measures? What does it say about us that power should be used in this way, especially when there are clearly other options? I know as well as anyone else that it’s hard to think critically about anything, especially ourselves. We want to remain in a steady state. But as long as we continue settling for these topical treatments, nothing is going to change in the human mind, which in my view is ground zero.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        I know, I had mixed feelings too. But I thought a good thing is that the situation is becoming more mainstream? I hope that will help, and I wasn’t aware of just how much wildlife watching brings in to the Park. I wish people would demand that no hunting is allowed at the borders of the Park; that seems a small concession to make.

        You could feel that the Park people have to walk a fine line, it’s not an easy situation.

    2. MAD Avatar

      The precursor to the ESA was called the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. A list of species was promulgated in March of 1967. The “generic” Timber Wolf (Canis l. Llycaon) and the Red Wolf were on the list.

      1. MAD Avatar

        Sorry, typo – Canis l. lycaon

        I named my first dog Lycaon. Although the Greek pronunciation is with a K sound, I called him Ly-see-on. The Greek pronunciation is lee-kaw-uhn.

  6. William Teuscher Avatar
    William Teuscher

    Spot on George!! I cant tell you the number of streams and rivers I find that have been totally decimated by over grazing and also the public lands that are posted by people who only lease these properties preventing public access. Keep up the good work!

  7. idaursine Avatar

    “A key sticking point for the conservation groups is a plan provision that would allow the state or deputized private citizens — likely ranchers affected by livestock attacks — to kill culprit wolves after two documented attacks on livestock herds by the same wolf pack, said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands.”

    Deputized private citizens???????

    1. rork Avatar

      The person quoted as say that is a ridiculous, ridiculous proposal, was not quoted saying why it was ridiculous. I think I might be able live with just giving the landowner a permit to kill some wolves. Cheap. The trouble might be if folks can let others do it, and then that right becomes worth enough that it motivates people to have wolf problems to get permits. Being from Michigan I had only ever thought of the permit as working on your property, and as having it be the only wolf hunting of any kind allowed. Perhaps that’s why there’s this deputize talk out west – maybe they are considering the situation where the land in question is public.
      I might insert some sarcasm about public land grazing in wild places, but everyone here knows how it sounds.

      1. idaursine Avatar

        To me, there’s too much potential for abuse. ‘Private citizen’ sounds too much like hunting season to me – we know that people cannot be trusted, just look at what the other Western states do and have done.

        How does anyone know an accurate number of wolf kills by these ‘private citizens’ will be reported? Or a true number of cattle losses from wolves and not something else?

        I also don’t know why non-lethal methods are so opposed.

        Lowering the number of depredations to only two, with no time limit. Telling people that historically it has been three, so not to worry – so why change it? Having two etched in legal stone means it won’t be three and is a dangerous step to take.

        But I know that these are negotiations. If the deck wasn’t stacked in favor of ranchers and hunters, they would have walked too.

  8. idaursine Avatar

    ^^A hunting season by any other name would be deputized ‘private citizens’, i.e. Jack the Wolf Hater, authorized to go out and kill them. Cutting down the number of depredations to two isn’t a good idea either.

  9. idaursine Avatar

    There’s an interesting comment I want to point out in the above link I posted. The comment stated that there are 1.5 million head of cattle in Oregon, and only 17 were lost due to wolves. (I question whether the figure was even that high, knowing what we know about the situations). The wolf population of the state is only eighty-something?

    With ranchers receiving rock-bottom, cheap grazing fees on the public lands that probably haven’t risen much higher since the 1800s (along with their mentalities), and all the other benefits ranchers receive from the government, I don’t think any more compromise is appropriate.

    Not a good way to start a wildlife program, and 5 years behind at that. I hate negotiations; they all start with asking for all they can get, even as ridiculous as this plan is, knowing full well it will be hammered down. 🙁

  10. idaursine Avatar

    ^^Sorry, the comment was in The Orgeonian – head of cattle number 1.3 million; wolf population of the state estimated to be at 124:

  11. idaursine Avatar

    More from the WaPo:

    “The groups are particularly unnerved by a provision that would allow the deputized citizens to keep wolf pelts, said Cady, who called the idea a “trophy hunt.”
    “With a population of wolves that’s 120 animals statewide, that’s a ridiculous, ridiculous proposal,” he said in an interview.”

    Just plain insulting to the intelligence. 🙁

  12. idaursine Avatar

    Offering an incentive, such as a trophy pelt, just encourages killing – and is the worst kind of throwback to the bounty hunting of old! I think there are photographs from the 1800s of such.

    It’s no wonder conservationists walked, to be insulted like that! They cannot be serious, to joke during a serious attempt at a conservation plan.

  13. idaursine Avatar

    Here’s an example of ‘deputized citizens’, a/k/a ‘freelance wolfers’. Not much has changed, from the sounds of it:

  14. idaursine Avatar

    I hope these beautiful animals are watched closely, before an angry mob of thugs tries to kill them.

  15. idaursine Avatar

    I’m still appalled by this so-called wolf management proposal! Is this where the hired a high-priced mediator to get both sides to come to an agreement? If so, the state needs to ask for their money back – this is a plan worse than ID and WY put together – the kind of plan they dream about!

    I also was curious as to whether or not radio collar information would be given to ranchers, et voila! It’s on the table!

    Talk about giving away the store! From Oregon Wild:

    “Representatives of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, including longtime anti-wolf livestock managers Todd Nash and Rod Childers, have requested that ODFW expand its program of using GPS collars and begin providing specific wolf location data to ranchers.”

    There are also a few news stories out there that are just trumpeting that ‘a plan’ is going forward in March, without giving any specifics in the body of the article, the implication being that it is ‘those radical environmentalists’ again causing the holdup.

    Just a tremendous disservice, to wildlife, and the public.

  16. idaursine Avatar

    So, between ‘deputized private citizens’, and knowing GPS locations, I think we can all do the math. We may never know how many wolves are being killed for ranching and game populations, and these people should not be given this legal loophole to exploit.

    No matter how many times we hear ‘elk and deer numbers are up, depredations down’ they just won’t accept it.

  17. Twowolves Avatar

    Didnt they recieve $300,000 from the Blaine County Land Water in 2011 or 2012… for wildlife to co-exist on private and public lands within the count

    1. idaursine Avatar

      I hadn’t heard that?


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