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Range Writing

On Bone Broth, and Coexistence

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
Guardian dogs
2455

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The morning after Thanksgiving our house was once again filled with the smell of cooking turkey. But this time it was because we were boiling the carcass remains from the previous day’s feast. The bones are placed in the garbage once the broth is complete, but we pour the bone broth with chunks of meat in canning jars for reheating and pouring over the kibble of our working livestock guardian dogs on cold winter mornings.

Bones from a beef roast, leg of lamb, or leftover bird carcass all provide for delicious bone broth that can be used to make soup, but we like providing a nutrition boost for hard-working dogs and females raising pups.

livestock guardian dogs

On Thanksgiving we got the turkey in the oven before daylight and proceeded to outside chores at the first welcoming rays of light. The sheep were still on their bedground with their dogs, so we went across the ranch to check our game cameras, a vital part of our wolf monitoring program.

Fresh wolf tracks in new snow confirmed that wolves had paid an early-morning visit to our sheep range – their third nocturnal visit in a week. A resident female wolf that we helped radio collar a year ago has mostly kept to herself, but after we eliminated her mate a few months ago, she’s brought in another large male to the ranch, and their excursions are becoming more frequent. This male wolf’s track is large and distinct, and I suspect it’s the elusive male we had trouble with last fall and winter.

After we lost our two top guardian dogs, the male had become emboldened, and as I checked the cameras every morning, I would find his tracks atop my boot prints from the day before. As I tracked the wolf, he tracked me, marking and tearing up the ground where I walked, and he began coming to the rocks behind the house. He avoided the cameras, approaching them from behind, until one night in a fit of rage last November he attacked a camera, taking 85 selfies in the process.

That’s when we spooled up the guardian dogs, penned and fed the sheep, and set out wolf traps. After splitting up his pack, the male disappeared from our range. It had been quiet since I’d last come across his sign, but looking at those fresh tracks in the snow, it’s with a tense familiarity.

We follow the wolf tracks through the area our sheep flock grazed the day prior and see where the wolves and the guardian dogs each marked the same territorial boundary. The sheep and their dogs use the area during the day before being pushed toward the house every afternoon. The wolves wait until darkness falls across the range before moving in to explore where the sheep had spent the day.

Two nights ago, the wind-driven snow pushed the flock into the protected cover in the bottom of Sheep Creek. We tracked the wolves up the drainage to within a half-mile of the flock as they moved in response to the sheep movement below. The tracks in the snow left by the wolves, the guardians, and the sheep, lays out the reality of coexistence on the ground. The wolves are nearby, but are currently maintaining a certain distance.

It’s been a hard-fought coexistence. We deferred grazing this range one year and a pack of six wolves took over the range as their own. When we moved in the next year, the wolf pack come within a quarter-mile of the house and our penned sheep, causing massive brawls between the warring canine cousins. The wolves killed pronghorn antelope and mule deer within half-mile of the house, and the pack lounged atop the rocky ridge overlooking our headquarters, as our guardian dogs struggled to widen the territory of protected space. We had guardian dogs injured and killed, dozens of sheep injured and killed, and we’ve injured and killed wolves.

The sheep flock has its own guardian dogs that move with the flock as it grazes, as do the cattle, and we also have a guardian dog pack that controls the area around the ranch headquarters and pens. The wolves are no longer able to roam the ridge overlooking the house because that territory has been taken by the guardian dogs.

The biggest risk is to the sheep, with their smaller size and ever-changing grazing pattern. The livestock guardian dogs have managed to impose a restricted buffer of protection around the flock, but we know that any weakness of the dog pack – or any strengthening of the wolf pack –will cause this uneasy coexistence to end. 

So we prepare the bone broth, to boost our working dogs on cold winter mornings, to nourish them for whatever may lie ahead.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Linguistic Weapons

in Column/Range Writing
Snowflake
2420

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

As National Public Radio’s Sam Sanders noted, “Words that begin with a very specific meaning, used by a very specific group of people, over time become shorthand for our politics, and eventually move from shorthand to linguistic weapon.”

These linguistic weapons are fired daily, and I’ve had a few shot at me. Fortunately for me, I’m able to deflect the shots since my lexicon is more archaic than that used by the word-weapon warriors with new verbal arsenals. What I mean is that the warspeak falls on deaf ears, since I tend to wield words with their original meanings (I’m old school). Let me provide a few examples.

Snowflake: A snowflake is that delicate work of symmetry found in nature of which no two are identical.

Hit me with the “Ok boomer” and I’ll show scorn. Not only do you not know in what generation I was birthed, but “ok Boomer” were the words called out to the huge Saint Bernard dog named Boomer who liked to put me up a tree as a child, much to the pleasure of my childhood friends who lived with said Boomer.

Triggered: Oh, I’ve got triggers; the one I use most is attached to a Henry rifle. #TrueThat.

Woke, as in past tense of wake. I was starting to get used to the new informal use of the word as an alert to societal injustice, but when that finally happened, I listened to Sam Sanders and found out that version was dead.

PC: personal computer. Yup, my language is that old. And BLM is an acronym for a land management agency. And all those AI headlines initially confused me, but then I realized they weren’t referring to artificial insemination, which is what AI means for ag folks.

Safe spaces: Places like my kitchen table, where someone in need is welcome to come in and find safety and nourishment. I hope your kitchen table serves the same purpose.

Witch hunt: you know, like that thing that happened in New England when people were accused of practicing witchcraft and were then executed.

Rabid: A current favored adjective of lazy linguists who would reject such casual diction if they had ever dealt with a living being afflicted with the fatal viral disease of rabies.

Whistleblower: I know a lot of whistleblowers. Do yourself a favor and attend a sheepdog trial and you’ll get to know them as well. Whistleblowers are good people.

Perfect means as good as it could possibly be in this world. For an example of perfect, see actual snowflake.

Troll: One who lurks in darkness and is eventually knocked down while harassing a large billy goat. Hey troll, I’m your goat.

Anonymous: Like trolls, generally an unidentified person, and often one making statements or claims for which they are unwilling to have their name associated. Bottom line: Never me.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

This Is Rural America

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
2391

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

A recent Twitter rant by a University of California Berkeley PhD student philosopher that claimed rural Americans “are bad people who have made bad life decisions” and should live “uncomfortable” lives and should have to pay more for rejecting efficient city life brought predictable condemnation.

The man later deleted the tweet with a comment that “my tone is way crasser and meaner than I like to think I am” but he never actually backed down from his rural condemnation. But this bruhaha got me thinking about rural life in America, and what that actually means. 

In western Wyoming’s version of rural America, what comes to mind is broad and dramatic landscapes with vast populations of wildlife and domestic livestock (the typical Wyoming pastoral scene) with a relatively small human population density.

The community’s components include a wide variety of people. We have sheep herders from Nepal, ranchers whose familiesmoved here from the Old Country more than a century ago,immigrant families from Mexico, and people who fled natural disasters or economic instability in other areas of America.

It’s people who develop routines based upon their own priorities and rules of life. Like the gentleman who insisted on getting up early every morning and making sure the steps to the rural medial clinic were kept free of snow. He didn’t work there, or get paid, but it was important to him that anyone needing medical attention shouldn’t be deterred by Wyoming snow.

And another gentleman who served as the community grave digger. He had a paying job, but this is just something he did for his community, his way of honoring the dead.

Or the thoughtful woman who started volunteering her time to help others in need, even if just cleaning up a yard, slapping on some paint, or chopping wood. Her kind acts drew others to her side, and a loose group now mobilizes to serve wherever there is need in the community.

And it’s the artist who donates her valuable work at a fundraiser to help cover the medical expenses for an accident victim. That she’s never met the victim isn’t even considered.

It’s the relatively new couple to the community who attend nearly every public event held in the county, simply to show support. They just show up, and they’ve become valued friends to all.

It’s the woman business owner on main street who knew that the teenaged girl preparing to put a winter coat on layaway was waiting tables and living on her own, so she set up the girl’s first charge account. And she knew that girl would honor her debt.

That kind and beautiful woman who cuts hair over at the salon is a former commercial airline stewardess who survived a horrific airplane crash but has found solace in the quiet of a rural countryside. That older man you meet on the ski slope has saved more lives and birthed more babies in his decades of practicing frontier medicine than most doctors working in municipal hospitals. That friendly retired couple spent their working lives as public servants, and still dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus every Christmas.

That cattle rancher over there is a former nuclear engineer, that sheep rancher down the river has a master’s degree in education.That tiny older woman who lives alone spends hours playing her grand piano, and the suntanned woman down the road is a talented saddlemaker. That lean, bearded man cuts timber with a team of horses during the week, and volunteers for the youth hockey team on weekends. That grandmother is a retired nurse who volunteers at the bedside of the terminally ill – an earthly angel to the families she’s served. That weird-looking teenaged boy is an artist, and the goth-girl is a writer. That single mom is a small business entrepreneur and graphic designer. That single dad makes a living through hard physical labor during the day,and then takes his kids ice skating after school.

Those people in the grocery store are emergency medical technicians, fire fighters, law enforcement officers, teachers, search and rescue volunteers, military veterans, librarians, and coaches for our school sports teams.

That guy you see at a construction site is the same guy who flies a helicopter to pluck injured climbers off the face of the mountain. That guy moving cows along the road is part of the highly skilled team that is dropped in by the helicopter on a rope to stabilize the patient before evacuation. That guy you see always fishing out at the lake is also part of a swift-water rescue team that is deployed all over the region to recover those lost to the waters. That woman cheering on the local football team doesn’t have kids of her own, but is there at every game. She’s also the head of the search and rescue team.

These are the people who hitch up their stock trailers and drive towards wildfires to help their neighbors in rural subdivisions evacuate with their animals to safety. They keep their snowmachine trailers supplied with emergency equipment and go out into blizzards to find anyone lost in the wild after dark.

We’ve all heard about those lazy kids of the younger generation. Yet it was those kids that used the school shop to build a mobile library to serve the underserved areas of the county. The librarians living in town, and those folks over at the senior center, take books and meals to people who can’t leave their homes dotted around the countryside.

These are the people of rural America. They are the extra hands that suddenly appear when help is needed. These are the people who bring food as an expression of love, and who drop off books they think you’ll enjoy. These are people who weep with you, and for you, and who cheer you.

This is rural America.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

My Dog Is Not A Fur Baby

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
Livestock guardian dogs
2349

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Americans are animal lovers, so much that 95 percent of pet owners view their pets as family members. According to a survey from the American Pet Products Association, less than 15 percent of dogs in America sleep outside at night, and more than 70 percent of dogs are allowed to sleep in a person’s bed, according to another survey. In American society, dogs have become “fur babies” and humans now identify as “pet parents” – which is either a wonderful thing, or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Animals are no longer simply our companions; they’ve become children in “interspecies families.” 

Although some people dress their dogs up in clothes, or bake cakes on dog birthdays, I don’t. These human-dependent dogs provide a great service to their humans, helping them to stay active while providing health benefits, social opportunities, and companionship. I also believe that dogs can help humans in creating a moral character, and in having relationships outside of self. Even though some dog breeds are not meant to survive on their own, there are dogs throughout the world that can survive in the wild, with or without human assistance. I live with a close relative of these dogs: our livestock guardians.

Personally, to consider myself a pet parent would be a disservice to my dogs. I refuse to anthromorphize the dog out of its noble fundamental existence as a dog. We love dogs for what they are; for their character, their enduring loyalty, their unconditional love, their ability to live in the moment, and for their keen instincts – for their basic doggedness. There is a special connection when gazing into the eyes of a dog that is looking directly at you, when you understand that you are looking into the depths to a remarkable soul. That connection rises to higher plane when you and dog then join together to complete a task, with the human doing human things, and the dog doing dog things, all toward the same end, and both KNOWING that we are engaged in an active partnership. This is the reason humankind has had a dog at its side for at least 20,000 years.

I have great love and affection for our dogs, but more importantly, I also have great respect for them – for their work ethic, bravery, intelligence, independence, (all characteristics for which I also curse at times) – and their willingness to demonstrate their affection to a lowly, unworthy beast like me. 

Every day I greet sunrise with a check on the guardian dogs, and having a 100-pound canine rush at me with wagging-tail enthusiasm is always a pleasure, no matter how many times its repeated. But usually within about three minutes, the excitement at the sight of me fades and the dogs return to their true calling: watching over their sheep, a lesser species that the dogs devote their lives to protecting. I, the mere mortal, am cast aside – unless and until I join the dogs with the sheep. Then the dogs walk alongside me, slowing to rub their bodies against my legs as they pass, allowing my fingers to caress their toplines from the top of the head to the end of the tail. They move back and forth, from me to the sheep, as we all move forward as one living mass.

These dogs are my working partners. I don’t believe I live in an interspecies family, but I do live and work in an interspecies world – a world that involves daily interactions among a mixture of wild and domestic animals and humans. We aren’t apart from nature; we are all components of one nature. We are all animals.

So don’t call my dog a fur baby. It’s a dog, and I don’t want to reform the dog into a human construct. If we’re evolving closer together, I’d much prefer that humans become more dog-like rather than the reverse.

When our dogs die, they don’t go to a rainbow bridge purgatory to wait for us, their beloved humans. These faithful creatures need not wait for anyone before taking their rightful place in a divine kingdom.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

The Fallacy of Gold-Standard Predator Research

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
sheep
2311

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

As a frequent reader of new research on livestock production and carnivore conflicts, I am often reminded of the divide between researchers and practitioners. Papers will explain that research was conducted on sheep, without necessary information about those sheep, which practitioners (livestock producers) know will influence outcomes. For instance, we need to know not just the number of sheep involved, but breed, sex, age, breeding status, etc. because these cohorts may react differently in a given scenario.

Last fall, a new paper was published that cited the need for livestock protection to be more evidence-based, calling for more scientific papers to be based on “gold standards” for scientific research. A previous paper by some of the same co-authors went so far as to call for a halt to lethal control until such gold standards are achieved. Most of the only gold-standard studies cited by these authors are for non-lethal techniques, which are easier to study.

It would seem easy to support the call for “gold standards” but too often scientists fail to recognize the realities and complexities of field situations makes that unattainable, and the policy implications are significant. For example:

• Lethal versus non-lethal: 

Most studies assessing lethal versus non-lethal control of predators only acknowledge non-lethal control when undertaken or funded by government or NGOs. Rarely is there an acknowledgment or assessment of the various non-lethal measures already used by producers prior to lethal control, so it’s not really an accurate or fair assessment.

• Feasibility & Affordability: 

When livestock producers make management decisions, the feasibility and affordability of an action are foremost considerations, yet scientists expend little effort in this sort of assessment for field conditions. Having a great predator deterrent is of little use if it’s not affordable, or is only applicable in limited conditions.

• Gold means controlled:

Gold standard research usually takes place under captive-animal scenarios, where variables can be limited by researchers. This is in contrast to field conditions, where researchers would have little or no control of variables that influence outcomes. Researchers need to understand that difference, and that just because “gold” standards aren’t achieved doesn’t mean field research isn’t valid and useful. Researchers shouldn’t stretch to such broad condemnation as did those calling for a halt to lethal control because “gold” standards weren’t used in the studies they reviewed. That recommendation was simply the reflection of researcher bias.

• Motivations Differ:

Acknowledge the motivations and goals of researcher and livestock producers are not the same thing. Much research is being conducted to reduce conflicts between domestic livestock and wild predators, yet livestock producers are rarely included in study design, and livestock producers readily find flaws in implementing recommendations resulting from the research. Perhaps if livestock producers were more involved in study design, the results could be more readily adopted.

• Partnerships: 

The new paper refers to “livestock owners” only twice; once was to discredit the use of the livestock owner’s “perceived effectiveness” of an intervention, noting “widespread placebo effects, whereby patients feel better simply because they have participated.”

Although in an opening paragraph the authors stated, “Livestock owners, natural resource managers, and decision-makers each have an important role to play in research partnerships to collaboratively guide the testing of predator control interventions,” the paper substantially ignored the livestock owner value and role in such research.

• Animal husbandry ethics:

To achieve gold standard research in this field requires experiments that are ethically questionable. A true test of effectiveness of no-control, non-lethal control, and lethal-control would result in the deaths of domestic animals without intervention to protect them during the research. I, as a livestock producer, find that intolerable and would refuse to participate in such research that would result in pain, suffering and death for the animals I am responsible to tend.

Until researchers bridge the divide between the needs of scientists and the needs of practitioners, I see little room for progress. 

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Outdoor Recreation & Tourism: A Look at the Numbers

in Column/Range Writing/Recreation/Tourism
Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Tourism:
2267

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows that outdoor recreation contributes 4.4. percent of Wyoming’s gross domestic product. That’s something to celebrate, with Wyoming’s percentage among the highest in the nation, behind only Hawaii, Montana, and Maine.

According to the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office, outdoor recreation “contributes $1.6 billion to Wyoming’s economy” and “accounts for 23,036 jobs or 8 percent of total employment in Wyoming which is the highest in the nation. Those jobs also account for 4.7 percent of total compensation in the state, which is second in the nation behind Hawaii at 5.1 percent.”

Curious about how these numbers are compiled, I turned to the BEA website for the details, including the methodology used in these estimates. The BEA report attempts to isolate the economic activity associated with outdoor recreation spending and production within a state’s economy.

The largest chunk (72%) of the $1.6 billion outdoor recreation value contributed to the state’s economy is in the form of “supporting outdoor recreation,” primarily via travel and tourism (food, beverages, lodging, shopping, souvenirs, and transportation) more than 50 miles from home.

Another 20% of that $1.6 billion is classified as “conventional” outdoor recreation such as bicycling, boating, fishing, climbing/camping/hiking, hunting, shooting sports, motorcycle/all-terrain vehicle use, recreational flying, RVing, snow activities (skiing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, dog mushing), and other conventional outdoor activities such as skating, rafting, rock hounding, races, running/walking/jogging, and wildlife watching and birding.

The remaining 8% is “other” outdoor recreation including amusement/water parks, festivals, sporting events, concerts, guided tour and outfitted travel, gardening, game areas (tennis and golf), field sports, swimming, yard sports, and multi-use apparel and accessories (bug spray, sunscreen, coolers, GPS equipment, watches, backpacks, etc.).

The new BEA report puts outdoor recreation’s contribution to Wyoming’s economy at $1.6 billion, and I understand the methodology used to generate that number. Seeking more information about our state’s top industries, I turned to the Wyoming Business Council’s industry profiles, where I read that the #2 industry in Wyoming is tourism, with “$5.6 billion consumer spending on outdoor rec.”

Although the business council suggests “50,000 jobs created by outdoor rec – more than oil, gas, mining and extraction combined,” the BAE reports the total outdoor recreation employment level in Wyoming is just over 23,000 people in 2017. It took some searching, but I found that the numbers cited by the Wyoming Business Council came from the trade group Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). The bottom line is that the OIA’s numbers were about double the numbers released by the BEA, apparently because they used a different methodology.

The Wyoming Office of Tourism uses yet another number: “domestic and international visitors in Wyoming spent $3.8 billion” in the state in 2018, with the state’s tourism industry supporting 32,290 full and part-time jobs.”

Further digging revealed that the State of Wyoming’s website description of the state’s economy is sadly outdated, with most recent statistics more than a decade old. That same state information page still lists Matt Mead as Wyoming’s governor, an indication of neglecting to keep up with the times.

Curious about the state’s other top industries, I looked for agricultural statistics. The Wyoming Business Council’s estimate of $1.8 billion in agriculture worth to the state’s economy annually was an easy one, since that number comes from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the majority of that number ($1.44 billion) is simply cash receipts for ag products sold (cattle, sheep, hogs, hay, sugarbeets, corn, etc.). But those statistics don’t attempt to demonstrate the total value of ag spending in the state (such as the sales of vehicles, machinery, equipment, veterinary services and supplies, outdoor clothing and farm/ranch supplies, etc.) or the investment in ag facilities and properties.

Mining (oil, gas, trona, and coal) have ranked #1 in contributions to Wyoming’s economy, providing substantial revenues to governments, employing workers, and gross production values. But with so much upheaval in various segments of the state’s mining industry in the last few years, and wary of the importance of what was being measured or and how it was being valued, I gave up trying.

I don’t doubt the importance of the outdoor recreation industry, and my guess is that the BAE report is the closest to being accurate, but it also has its limitations. All these assessments for various industry sectors sum up what we already knew: they compare apples to oranges and every segment of Wyoming’s economy is important.

What we can agree on is that the majority of people in Wyoming participate in outdoor recreation, whether it’s rig hands stopping to admire a bull moose on the way to work on a drilling rig, a parent purchasing a child’s first bicycle, or a rancher taking new neighbors out to visit a local sage grouse lek. We’re all in this together.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Grizzly Recovery Reflected in Upper Green Conflict

in Agriculture/Column/News/Range Writing/wildlife
Upper Green River Wyoming
2233

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The Bridger-Teton National Forest’s announcement of its decision to reauthorize cattle grazing in the Upper Green River region 30 miles north of Pinedale was met with the predictable hysteria of anti-grazing activists who claim the plan “institutionalizes overgrazing” and “negligent livestock management” on national forest lands. These activists are pushing to rid public lands of livestock and cite conflicts between grizzly bears and cattle in the Upper Green to justify their position. It’s no matter that the truth undermines their outrageous claims.

For perspective, the Upper Green is the largest cattle grazing allotment in the National Forest system, used annually by area cattle ranchers for well over a century. With more than 80 percent of Sublette County in federal or state land, public lands livestock grazing is a vital component of the area’s character and ag economy. The county’s pastoral landscapes with majestic mountain views showcase the glorious mixture of land uses, from primitive recreation, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing, to tourism and energy development. As the Forest Service notes: “In places where agriculture increasingly operates alongside a larger, non-agricultural economy and greater range of adjacent land uses, farms and ranches continue to be important. They contribute to local economic diversity, the scenery they provide can be part of the mix of amenities that attract and retain people and businesses across a range of industries, and they are often an important part of local culture and community vitality.”

The Bridger-Teton decision authorizes a maximum of 8,819 head of livestock annually (or 8,772 cow/calf pairs or yearlings, and 47 horses), from mid-June to mid-October. The agency found that there is more than enough forage for both livestock and wildlife, noting that even when overestimating forage utilization, the “combined elk and livestock forage use on lands suitable and capable for grazing was less than the amount of forage available.”

This is not a prescription for overgrazing, and the grazing association have been active land stewards. “The Upper Green River Cattle Association is proactive in the management of the Upper Green River allotment,” according to the Forest Service record of decision reauthorizing grazing, which noted that this is demonstrated by the “voluntary permittee monitoring and adjustments to grazing practices that have occurred on the allotments for over 30 years. The permittees regularly seek information and assistance from experts in research when a problem confronts them and have a documented willingness to try new management concepts and options or take on additional responsibility if it is to the benefit of the natural resources.”

One of the biggest problems has been grizzly bear depredation on cattle, and the Upper Green has been a hotspot for these conflicts – even though it is located more than 25 miles outside the original grizzly bear recovery zone. From 2010-2018, there were 527 confirmed conflicts, and 35 grizzly bears were removed from the allotments in response. 

Noting that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population has exceeded recovery goals and continues to expand into new areas, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) reports: “This means historical activities, which are comparable to the proposed action, have had little to no discernable effect on the population’s trend toward recovery, and we do not expect continuation of these activities to reverse the trend.”

Conflicts in the Upper Green have increased an average of 9% per year as the grizzly population density has increased, and FWS noted, “The conflict and management data indicate an expanding grizzly bear population with the action area concurrent with increasing occupancy and distribution of grizzly bears throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Because more bears are moving into areas with more human and livestock use, we expect even more conflicts and management actions will occur in the future.”

FWS issued a biological opinion for cattle grazing in the area, determining that it “will not jeopardize the continued existence of the grizzly bear.” The agency estimated that 72 grizzly bears could be removed from the Upper Green over the next 10 years, primarily due to management removal within the allotments, and that “will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of grizzly bears.”

FWS also noted that the cattle permittees have tried a variety of practices over the years to reduce conflicts “with varying degrees of success,” including conducting several conflict reduction workshops, changing grazing rotations and systems, hiring 5-6 range riders and utilizing five rider camps on the allotments in addition to day help, and experimenting with herding techniques in attempt to deter predation.

The top human causes of grizzly bear deaths in the Yellowstone ecosystem are defense of life and property (20.2% of all mortalities 1997-2017), followed by hunting-related defense of life and property (18.2%). The grizzly bear mortalities in the Upper Green due to livestock depredations accounted for 7.28% of all grizzly mortalities in the ecosystem from 2010-2018. Despite daily human presence in an area with a high grizzly bear density, there have been no self-defense actions taken by range riders, although FWS notes that this will always be a potential.

FWS notes that although in the last two years the number of problem grizzlies removed from the Upper Green has increased, “these bears were chronic depredators over the last few years, removal of these bears may reduce the number of conflicts and removals in the next year or two.”

 “The number of removals has been cyclical: as the depredating individuals have been removed, the number of conflicts in the following years has temporarily decreased until other bears learn depredating behaviors and the scenario repeats itself,” FWS wrote. “We believe the increasing trend in conflicts and removals and the cyclical nature of these occurrences is due to an expanding grizzly bear population, which we expect will continue in and around the action area. As a result of an expanding bear population, we believe the action area will continue to experience a regular increase in the number of conflicts and management removals over the next 10 years of the grazing permit.”

Grizzly bear mortalities in the Upper Green due to conflicts with livestock are not the result of a failure to manage grizzlies or cattle. It’s a reality of the success of grizzly bear recovery. Those who advocate the non-lethal management of conflict bears are more interested in removing livestock grazing from public lands than providing for a landscape in which traditional uses can continue.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Get real: Dumping Disneyland for nature

in Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Range Writing elk in traffic
National Park visitors oblivious to the danger posed by a bull elk among them. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)
2201

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

When instances of human-wildlife conflicts make the news, wildlife and land managers should feed reporters “thematic information or contextual data,” including information about the low likelihood of such conflict, as in “only the nth time in x-years,” in attempt to “help counteract the intense emotions” media consumers may feel that after learning of these conflicts, which “can lead to unfavorable opinions about the risks associated with spending time in nature and national parks.”

That’s the point of a paper published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin last year by three researchers at Colorado State University (CSU), which also noted that when a grizzly bear killed a person in Yellowstone National Park in 2015, the National Park Service failed to mention that there were only 38 reported cases of humans injured by bears in 36 years, while 104 million people visited the park, “and only 8 known fatalities in the park’s 145-year history.”

This kind of media framing  – especially those noting that “only” X number of people have been killed by a particular species – sets my teeth on edge. When journalists are reporting breaking news about a severe conflict (such as that involving the death of a human being by a wild animal), thematic reporting be damned. Each death is a loss of human life, a human’s story, and it is entirely appropriate to report in an episodic manner.

I would hate to be a family member reading an article about the attack on my loved one only to see that loss of life minimized by taking the thematic approach, which seems to be advanced in order to minimize the negative aspects of such human-wildlife encounters. It’s like when I have a dozen dead sheep in my field due to a wolf attack, and wolf advocates respond that livestock losses to wolves are less than one-half of one percent of the nation’s livestock inventory.

The CSU researchers wrote: “We conclude that it is reasonable to assume that if a reader with minimal experience in nature reacts with emotion to these episodic stories, those emotions are likely to be of the sort that has a negative effect on attitudes about spending time in nature, such as fear.”

Perhaps it’s past time for the public to learn that wild animals are not the Disneyesque characters they’ve been portrayed for decades. Perhaps scaring people into the reality that human-wildlife conflicts do exist across the nation is what’s needed. Perhaps people should once again learn some fear and respect for the wild animals that share the planet. Perhaps then we won’t have people trying to put wild bison calves into their cars so they don’t get cold, etc.

Besides, every year we hear news stories of “rare” attacks on humans by large carnivores. Since it’s every year, and multiple times every year, perhaps it’s not so rare in the modern age. 

I generally try to keep up with scientific literature involving human-wildlife conflicts, and a new paper in the journal Human-Wildlife Interactions by Michael Conover examined the number of human fatalities, injuries and illnesses in the United States due to wildlife, conservatively finding that more than 174,000 people were injured and 700 killed by conflicts with wild animals every year in the United States. This includes everything from wildlife-vehicle collisions, snakebites,  and zoonotic diseases, to attacks on humans by large predators. Conover said large predator attacks were “rare,” while also noting that “attacks by alligators, cougars, polar bears, grizzly bears, black bears, and coyotes have been increasing in recent decades in North America.”

According to the Conover paper, the “best estimate” of the annual number of people injured by grizzly bears in the United States is 0.8. But I contend that this number is grossly understated, and based on outdated information (plus the source cited in the paper referred only to grizzly bear attacks on humans in Alaska).

According to other current research, there were 62 attacks by grizzly bears on humans in the tri-state area of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, from 2000-2015, and seven fatalities during that time. There were an additional 51 attacks in Alaska, with another seven fatalities. This totals to 7.53 attacks annually for the United States – substantially higher than Conover’s estimate.

But back to the fear issue, Conover noted that rebounding populations of animals “which currently enjoy either complete or partial legal protection, certainly have less reason to fear humans than they did previously. Fear of humans have deterred predator attacks in the past but less so today.”

And the fear needs to flow both directions, according to Conover. “Today, many people no longer have a healthy fear of dangerous animals and engage in activities that put them in harm’s way. This naivety also contributes to the increasing frequency of people being injured by wildlife.”

Conover recommends: “Biologists can teach dangerous animals to fear humans and educate humans to recognize and avoid dangerous situations involving wildlife.”

With more than 80 percent of the American public residing in urban areas, I understand the importance of connecting people to nature. But rather than have the American public remain ignorant about the natural world and its wild animals, we need to work to educate the public of the reality of human-wildlife conflicts so that we can seek to minimize these conflicts.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Dear Hunters

in Column/Range Writing
Wyoming mule deer
A mule deer buck stays in the shadows on Wyoming’s sagebrush steppe. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)
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Dear Hunters,

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I am happy that you’re out having adventures, and hopefully getting some tasty meat for the freezer. I know that you look forward to hunting season all year long, and it’s a big part of why you are in this great state, whether as a resident or a visitor.

And I appreciate that so far this year, all but one of you have honored our ranch gates by leaving them as you find them. (We’ve still got six more yearling heifers to move into the correct pasture because of the one who didn’t close the gate.) I really appreciate you hunters who stop and visit, so we can share where the livestock and wildlife are currently located as we attempt to avoid conflict and increase your chance of success.

So far it’s a better year for us than the past few when we’ve had a lock shot off a gate (and the game camera that captured the act stolen); other gates and fences were cut or left open; and traps set out for a critical animal damage control project were tampered with so they wouldn’t work. Last fall I was hollered at by a group of armed men that had climbed through a fence to kill an antelope on private ground and then tried to evade the game warden by racing out through the sagebrush.

But that was last year. We’ve tried to do better, to make things better for all of us. We repaired things that were broken, checked all the gates, posted more informative signs along property lines, and hoped for a better season this year. It was a real pleasure (and relief) to see some of the same great hunters this year as we have in the last few years, and once again we enjoyed visiting with them and their families as we helped pack their game back to their vehicles. They thoughtfully brought a box of dog treats for our working dogs, guaranteeing we’ll be happy to see them again next season.

What you probably don’t know is that after the hunters leave, we return to where the game carcasses have been dressed out to pick up the discarded remains – because we don’t want to have attractants bringing more predators to our livestock pastures. It’s something hunters don’t need to think about, but we do.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a few encounters with hunters this year that have left me fighting negative feelings. You asked me where to find some sage grouse, so I told you. You shot one right off the mud puddle where it had come for a morning drink. That bird didn’t even fly before you took the shot. Legal? Sure. Repulsive? That too. 

When you flushed that covey of grouse, you pulled the trigger even though my truck was approaching directly in your shot line. Since you missed both the grouse and my truck, I’m guessing you didn’t do a split-second calculation that the shot wouldn’t reach me, so that was a shot you shouldn’t have taken.

You watched me get out to open a barbed-wire gate, pull through and park out of the way before getting out to close the gate behind me. You pulled through that gate and didn’t even put down the window to thank me as you rolled through that cold morning. I was flabbergasted by such behavior out in the countryside, because that’s just not how we roll out here.

The same gate that two groups of hunters with permission to access private ranch lands for their own pleasure have passed through numerous times, but not stopping to lend a hand. 

I suppose I’m sensitive about these things because as I write, I’m overly tired. After starting the day yesterday with a flat tire on one ranch truck, that truck was abandoned while I was on the run all day, moving livestock and doing triage on a variety of issues that developed throughout the day, and feeding, managing, and doctoring animals, even putting one down. I didn’t get everything done before dark, and the truck with the flat tire is still sitting in the same spot next to the main ranch gate.

Adding to my distress was a hunter who spent the day hiding along the property line near our ranch headquarters. Yes, it was legal because the adjacent piece is public land (thousands of acres of it!). But hiding near livestock guardian dogs that are actively watching over livestock is generally a bad idea. After a dog alerted me to the man’s presence, I kept close tabs on the guardians and the man all day, but it was an added worry that kept me on that side of the ranch as I tried to keep on top of a trying day.

Parking a vehicle so that an access route is blocked is inconsiderate to other users of Wyoming’s outdoors. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

Adding to my distress was a hunter who spent the day hiding along the property line near our ranch headquarters. Yes, it was legal because the adjacent piece is public land (thousands of acres of it!). But hiding near livestock guardian dogs that are actively watching over livestock is generally a bad idea. After a dog alerted me to the man’s presence, I kept close tabs on the guardians and the man all day, but it was an added worry that kept me on that side of the ranch as I tried to keep on top of a trying day.

And I’m missing an Idaho bowhunter this year who we always enjoy watching: the man will hike for miles before taking his game. Perhaps other things got in the way of your slow stalks through Wyoming sagebrush this season, but I’m hopeful you’ll return to your annual ritual in our neighborhood.

But today is a new day, time to try again. This morning, a hunter given permission to access private ground came through before sunrise, parked his 4-wheeler in the middle of the two-track road above the river, pulled the key out and walked away. It took every bit of personal willpower for me to resist the urge to hook onto that obstacle and drag it out of the roadway, just as I would a downed tree.

Let’s all do better tomorrow. I’ll try if you will. I’ll try to be a better host, to not let little things become major irritants, and to be considerate of your needs as a hunter. I’m betting that you will be willing to give me equal consideration for my job as a livestock and land manager. Let’s all remember that we share Wyoming’s great outdoors and share some of the best of ourselves in the process. Good luck out there!

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com

The World’s Gone Crazy Cotillion

in Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Range Pack livestock guardian dogs
Some legislative proposals ignore the reality of working dogs like these livestock guardian dogs on the range in western Wyoming. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Every now and then, my brain hits playback on the Waylon Jennings’ song “The World’s Gone Crazy (Cotillion)” written by Jennings and Shel Silverstein. Last week the song was stuck in my head, as the lyrics are apropos to much current news.

“The villains have turned into heroes
The heroes have turned into heels.”
Outdoor Dogs

For those of us who use dogs for outdoor work, pleasure, or sport, a bill making its way through the Massachusetts legislature is viewed as the next troubling trend in animal ownership, as our canine friends become “fur babies” instead of respected beings with unique ecological histories.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (an animal rights organization) named Massachusetts Senator Mark Montigny as one of America’s Top Ten Animal Defenders of 2019 for his work to protect animals, including his successful effort to allow civilians to break into vehicles to rescue animals, as well as enacting a state prohibition on leaving a dog outside at night or during extreme weather.

Now Montigny proposes to outlaw outdoor dogs. Although his new proposal, Senate File No. 990, claims to be “improving enforcement for tethering violations,” in reality the bill states: “No person owning or keeping a dog shall chain, confine, or tether a dog outside and unattended for longer than five hours, or outside from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

According to the bill, “outside and unattended” means “any dog who is exposed to the elements for a duration of longer than 15 minutes and not in visual range and physical presence of the owner. This expressly includes, but is not limited to, a dog in a securely fenced-in yard, a dog in a kennel, or a dog tethered. For purposes of this section a dog shall be considered ‘outside’ regardless of access to an outdoor doghouse or similar structure.”

Yup, that would be a ban on outdoor dogs. 

As others have pointed out, Montigny’s bill provides more stringent requirements of dog owners than it does on parents of children. Massachusetts doesn’t have a prohibition on leaving children outside for more than 15 minutes without an adult present and in visual range.

“The meek they ain’t inheriting nothing
The leaders are falling behind”
Spotted Owls, Again

Earlier this month, WildEarth Guardians celebrated its successful lawsuit to shut down all timber management on 12 million acres of six national forests to protect the Mexican spotted owl, a threatened species.

Although federal officials have determined that range-wide population monitoring of this elusive little raptor is “logistically and financially impossible,” the court ruled that “claims that the range-wide monitoring is not feasible because of budgetary concerns do not relieve Defendants from finding a solution” and “Budget complications are no excuse.”

So federal agencies are not allowed to issue biological opinions that determine that specific timber management actions will not jeopardize the species, and without those “no jeopardy” opinions, no timber activity is allowed – effectively halting all timber management in six national forests in Arizona and New Mexico. 

Last week the U.S. Forest Service issued a public notice that in light of the Sept. 11 court ruling, all “timber management actions in Region 3 national forests must cease pending formal consultation,” and that it had immediately “suspended issuance of active and new commercial and personal-use forest product permits.”

It’s not just commercial timber sales that are impacted. Residents of New Mexico and Arizona are no longer able to get fuel wood permits, and agency use of prescribed burning to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires is banned. Restoration-focused activities including thinning operations and hazardous-fuels reduction projects designed to benefit wildlife and protect communities from fire danger are also prohibited by the court order, as is the elimination of diseased trees. The order includes all national forests in New Mexico and the Tonto National Forest in Arizona (the fifth largest forest in the nation).

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the Forest Service has asked the federal court to clarify if the order includes activities such as the cutting of already dead or downed trees, and is awaiting court direction on that issue. 

After the huge public backlash caused by the order, WildEarth Guardians has also asked the court to allow firewood permits for personal use, but it is not known when the court will rule on the group’s motion. The Albuquerque Journal reports that there are about 9,000 active fuel wood permits that can no longer be used by people who traditionally visit the national forests to collect firewood for winter heating of their residences.

WildEarth Guardians got exactly what it had requested from the court, and human beings are set to suffer from the court order. This is the group that made news earlier this year when one of its staffers and an outside contractor were reportedly caught embezzling from federal and state grants for restoration work. In May, WildEarth Guardians turned in one of its staffers in the felony fraud kickback scheme. 

“The dealers all want to be lovers
And the lovers all want to make deals”

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

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