Category archive

wildlife

In hunting, who is at the top of the food chain?

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Recreation/wildlife
hunting
2376

By Bill Sniffin

One of the largest armed forces in the history of the world is taking to the field right now.  We are talking about the 36 million hunters who stalking the mighty deer and elk in the USA.

Here in the Cowboy State, hunting is a fall tradition.  It is viewed as an entitlement. But the biggest difference between now and 50 years ago is that often the human hunter is not at the top of the food chain out there in the wild. More on this later.

The first time I heard the phrase about the “fun ending when you pulled the trigger,” was from my old friend, former game warden Bill Crump, when he recalled all his Wyoming hunting trips. He, of course, was talking about enjoying the fall scenery. Once you pull the trigger and kill your prey, it is time for some serious work.

Not sure what all those thousands of wives and girlfriends get in return, but they seem eager to send their hubbies and boyfriends off armed to the teeth and loaded down with food in rustic old campers. Or super-fancy brand new RVs with flush toilets, plus quad runners, huge pickup trucks, and even portable satellite television receivers.

Oh yeah, and cards.  Lots of playing cards. And quantities of liquid refreshment.

Cigars used to be a big part of the equation but surprisingly a lot of the groups I talked to recently just do not smoke. Not even a celebratory cigar?

There are a lot of very serious hunters in Wyoming.  But even some of them have decided that that hunting trip is still going to happen, the rifle may not even be removed from the scabbard. 

Sometimes these old veterans are just tired.  Maybe their wives finally confided to them that they are tired of cooking elk, deer, antelope and even moose.

Other times these hunters are more interested in taking their sons (or daughters), or grandchildren on the big hunt and really just want to concentrate on those younger folks getting their first kill.

A big reason for that annual hunting trip is that weather in the mountains or foothills of Wyoming can be so darned nice in the fall. They are just wanting to get away from the humdrum of daily life and enjoy the paradise that God has put at our disposal called Wyoming.

Plus another reason the “fun ends” is that when you pull the trigger it often signals the end of the hunting trip. Darn it, we have to leave the mountains and go back to our regular lives.

Now let’s talk about the “real” hunters.  Those men and women who are truly serious about killing their prey and filling their licenses. Most of these folks have a strong ethic where they plan to eat what they kill. They deserve our respect.

In the northwest part of Wyoming, these hunters are discovering that they are no longer at the top of the food chain.

Many folks suspect that grizzly bears are reportedly stalking both human hunters and the game those same hunters recently killed. Several hunters told me that the most uneasy feeling they can recall is when they are gutting their animal and suddenly things get real still.  Sort of like maybe some big critter has smelled your animal and is sizing up the fresh carcass.  And yours, too?

A famous photo circulated around the internet a while back showing a hunter taking a selfie photo of himself with his kill. In the background was a huge mountain lion.  Yikes.

A Cody hunter considered himself the luckiest man alive in Wyoming after his close encounter with a grizzly in the fall of 2011.    

Steve Bates, ended up on the losing end of his scrape in the Shoshone National Forest. He was happy to be alive, despite fractured ribs and cuts on his face and scalp.

A grizzly rushed him on a dead run before Bates could react.  After he was knocked over, the bear worked him over, clawed him, and chewed on him, before ambling off.

Once he recovered his senses, Bates grabbed his rifle and aimed it at the bear, then paused.  He wisely let it lope off.  Game and Fish officials said they would not track down the bear because it was reacting normally to its perceived threat.

“Considering what happened, “ Bates, recalled at the time, “I think I came out pretty good.”

That same year, a grizzly bit an Oregon hunter on the hand, also in our Shoshone National Forest.  Now that hunter must have one helluva story to tell. Names were not released.

One of my favorite bear stories concerns an old grizzly bear known as “Old Number One” – a sow in Yellowstone National Park. She was the first grizzly to ever wear a radio collar in the park.

A long-time agent for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Roy Brown of Lander, told me this story.

When the bear died some years ago, Brown headed up a necropsy procedure on the bear and the team found a surprise. The bear had six .38 caliber bullets in her head.  It must have happened many years before because skin had even grown over the injuries.

Roy says people wondered: “Hmmm, what happened to the guy who emptied his revolver into this bear?”

That poor guy may have found out first-hand where human beings are finding themselves in the food chain these days.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.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.

Grizzly bears visit Wyoming corn maze, family business works around “reality of recovery”

in News/wildlife
2285

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

As Wyoming’s grizzly bear population continues to grow, the animals are increasingly moving into situations that put them in conflict with humans, according to a state Game and Fish Department official.

Dan Thompson, director of the department’s Large Carnivore Section, said his department is facing new challenges as it attempts to manage the bears to prevent conflicts with humans as the grizzlies spread into new areas.

“It’s a term I use: ‘The reality of recovery,’” he said. “We don’t want people to be punished for a recovered grizzly population. So those are the things we deal with now. We’re trying to do what’s right for bears and for people, obviously.”

Last year, some grizzly bears made themselves at home in a corn maze in Clark run every October by the Gallagher family.

Bridget Gallagher said a sow and her cubs entered the maze 2018, forcing the family to close the operation while the Game and Fish Department worked to remove the bears. The family then put an electric fence around the maze and Gallagher said it was roughly one week before the business could open again.

“The actually made a lot of sacrifices,” Thompson said. “Shutting down their money-making efforts to make sure people were safe and we had a lot of management work to try to get the bears out of there.”

This year, the fence went up before the maze opened, Gallagher said, and no bears have been seen.

“We decided we were going to be proactive and we were going to put up the fence before we even started,” she said.

Such experiences are growing more common as the area grizzly population increases and expands, Thompson said.

“We’ve seen the grizzly bear population increase in distribution more than 50 percent since the early 2000s,” he said. “As they move into newer areas … we’re having bears move into these situations where we don’t expect the public to make the sacrifices that people did within the core (recovery area).”

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.

Outdoor recreation major contributor to Wyoming’s economy

in News/Recreation/Tourism/wildlife
2188

By Cowboy State Daily

Outdoor activity in Wyoming contributes a larger share to the state’s economic activity than the majority of states, according to a federal report.

The report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that in 2017, outdoor recreation in Wyoming generated $1.6 billion, about 4.4 percent of the state’s economic activity, well above the national average of 2.2 percent.

And the industry in Wyoming shows no signs of slowing, said Dave Glenn, of the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, a division of the Parks and Cultural Resources Department.

“The RV industry’s continuing to grow, the mountain bike industry’s continuing to grow, the (off-highway vehicles), the snow machines, the fly fishing, hunting, all those thing are growing in the state of Wyoming,” he said.

Wyoming is behind only Hawaii, Montana, Maine and Vermont in terms of how much outdoor recreation contributes to the state’s economy. Nearly 8 percent of the state’s jobs are also in outdoor recreation, the highest figure in the nation.

Glenn said he believes the state is poised to see tremendous growth in outdoor recreation, thanks to its plentiful resources.

“I think we have the ability to double or triple that number,” he said. “Wyoming has the access to public lands, we’ve got our big three national parks, we have all kinds of national forests, (Bureau of Land Management land), Red Desert, all kinds of great country. We need to work on our infrastructure so when people come here, they have something to do and to stay longer as well.”

The Parks and Cultural Resources Department, along with the state Game and Fish Department, recently joined forces to promote activities on state lands by helping commemorate National Public Lands Day.

The observation on Sept. 28 was designed to encourage people to get out and enjoy their public lands.

“Whether it’s recreation, hunting, hiking, fishing, the Game and Fish (Department) properties are open to all that,” said Ray Bredehoft, with the department.

Bredehoft said his department is working to minimize conflicts between recreational users of the land and wildlife as the number of people using public lands grows.

“We’re trying to balance that, there’s always going to be some sort of conflict,” he said. “We’re here for the wildlife, to make sure they’re here for generations to come.”

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)
2134

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.

Wyoming Native in Charge of BLM: Can He Transfer Federal Lands to States?

in Agriculture/News/wildlife
Wyoming public lands transfer
2084

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

The transfer of federal lands to Western states, once championed by President Donald Trump’s Bureau of Land Management acting director, would be a challenge as tall as Gannett Peak, say natural resource experts who have looked at the issue. 

Cheyenne native William Perry Pendley, who earned his law degree from the University of Wyoming and once worked for U.S. Sen. Cliff Hansen, has represented ranchers and others in lawsuits against the federal government’s land and water policies. He’s argued that the federal government needs to transfer its lands to the states — a position he’s recently walked back as he serves the Trump as the helm of the BLM. 

Regardless of where he stands, an act of Congress or a lawsuit would precipitate a land transfer, experts say. 

Act of Congress

Drumming up support in Congress for a land transfer law would be difficult, said Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming group that opposes transfer.

Roughly half the revenue from federal mineral production goes to the U.S. Treasury. Saying goodbye to the revenue would be a tough sell for many members of Congress. 

“Look at the Midwest – Michigan and Minnesota,” she said. “They say to come to Wyoming to go hunting…. There would be constituent backlash to that kind of idea. People see these lands as a shared national treasure.”

Anderson believes the end goal for the land transfer movement is selling the lands the private landowners, but people who support the movement dispute that conclusion.

Derek Monson, vice president of policy at the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank, doesn’t agree that members of Congress from outside the West want the federal government to hold onto the public lands. They’d be interested in disposing the lands if they studied the cost of fighting wildfires and other projects, he said. 

The group considers the transfer of public lands just one option to solving perceived problems with public land management.

However, during the first two years of the Trump administration, both the U.S. House and Senate were under Republican control, and no privatization bill passed, he noted. 

Lawsuits

If Congress fails to act, states or individuals could always try litigation. The problem with a state-initiated lawsuit – at least with Trump as president – is the risk of alienating the administration, Monson said. 

“If a court rules it has to be done, what does it mean?” Monson asked. “Does the federal government dump it on the states, all at once?”

Utah has spent over $1 million in legal analysis and public relations associated with a potential lawsuit, but the state’s attorney general hasn’t yet filed a complaint. 

State Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, a proponent of land transfer, is watching Wyoming’s westerly neighbor. 

“Utah is the lead on this,” he said. “If they get traction, maybe other states will join.”

Has the movement died down?

During the President Barack Obama years, the Wyoming Legislature discussed federal land transfer, and even paid a consulting company $75,000 to look at the issue.

Since then, there’s been less talk. Anderson believes it’s because environmental regulations have relaxed.

“They have the Trump administration in their corner, rewriting the rules,” she said. 

Miller, however, said that proponents of land transfer lost the public relations battle in Wyoming, since sportsmen groups and their mostly Republican members were among the most vocal against it. 

“The outdoor people got into the hands of keeping the lands in the swamp,” Miller said. “It makes no sense to me but the PR people did a good job.”

The Nature of Conflict: Managing Wildlife Damage

in Column/Range Writing/wildlife
2080

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I spent last week in our nation’s capital, one of 20 citizens from around the country gathered to serve on the national advisory committee for USDA Wildlife Services. The committee’s job isto provide recommendations to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue, on policies and program issues necessary to manage damage caused by depredating wildlife to safeguard our nation’s resources and safeguard public health and safety. Since Wildlife Services is tasked with resolving wildlife conflicts, much of what we discussed was about conflict.

From fellow committee members, we learned about the millions of dollars of bait fish and food fish lost annually to depredation by cormorants, and the inability to utilize measures to combat those losses due to a federal court ruling and the bird’s protect status under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act despite its abundance. That prompted discussion of similar conflicts involving other wildlife species protected under federal laws, from eagle and black vulture depredations on livestock, to conflicts involving large carnivores.

We learned about feral swine issues that plague most of the country, with an annual cost of more than $1 billion for damage and control efforts. Some states seek to eradicate this invasive species, while others use feral swine as an economic engine that funds wildlife agencies through license sales and wild pig hunting enterprises.

Wildlife Services personnel led the committee through thenational program to combat rabies in the United States, and its current focus on controlling the disease in raccoons. Although the canine rabies variant has been eliminated in the United States, wildlife populations continue to harbor the disease, with raccoons responsible for spillover infections into dogs, cats, and other wildlife species. Last year Wildlife Services distributed more than 10 million vaccination baits in 17 states to reduce rabies in wildlife. Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any known disease on the planet, and still kills one person every nine minutes globally, so the importance of this program to publichealth can’t be overstated.

Although our discussions moved from one conflict to another, our recommendations targeted methods to minimize or reduce conflict.

We talked about chronic wasting disease in ungulate populations, and how to position Wildlife Services and its National Wildlife Research Center to assist state and tribal governments in advancing scientific understanding of this disease to help combat its spread in ungulate populations.

We advanced recommendations on providing for emergency response to natural disasters, animal disease outbreaks, and other national emergencies, as well as emerging wildlife conflict issues and techniques to minimize these conflicts.

We expressed support for the development and registration of wildlife toxicants for lethal control of depredating animals, and to continue the use of existing toxicants, including M-44 devicesfor coyotes and sodium nitrite for feral swine. As animal activists work to eliminate each method of lethal control of problem animals (either through litigation or the ballot box), it’s important that Wildlife Services continue to be innovative in method development.

The use of lethal methods to resolve wildlife conflicts will remain a hot-button issue for some members of the public, and we recommended that Wildlife Services become more proactive in communicating the positive impacts of protecting resources through integrated wildlife damage management, and the relevancy and value of Wildlife Services activities to the public’s quality of life.

And no surprise to those who know me, I worked with biologists on the committee to advance a recommendation addressing scientific research, urging publication of objective science-based reviews that incorporate economic and ecological effects of wildlife damage management and the value of wildlife management for the promotion of healthy ecosystems.

Wildlife Services employs a fleet of about three dozen aircraft for conducting wildlife damage management and emergency response nationwide. From dropping rabies vaccine baits in eastern states, to capturing and tagging various species, and aerial gunning of targeted predators in the West, the aviation program involves high-risk flying, often at low altitudes and relatively slow speeds. Aviation safety has to be a top priority within the agency, and the committee’s recommendation was that the Secretary of Agriculture create and sustain the Wildlife Services Aviation Center of Excellence in Cedar City, Utah to focus on providing unmatched training services to personnel, to modernize and standardize the agency’s aerial fleet, and to encourage pilot recruitment and retention.

Although Wildlife Services may make headlines for killing millions of animals each year, those headlines never reflect that half of those animals were invasive species, and that 80 percent of the millions killed were starlings or blackbirds actively causing damage. The headlines should have read that the agency protected more than 8 million head of livestock last year, andprotected 185 threatened or endangered species, and protected the flying public at more than 800 airports.

Contrary to the slant adopted by animal activists, this agency isn’t rogue or secretive. Want to know how many animals the agency has killed in each state, for any species, any given year?It’s all available on the agency’s website.

Wildlife conflict management isn’t an easy or pleasant task, but it is necessary. The issues addressed by this federal agency have far-ranging impacts to human and animal health, public safety, and food security. 

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.

Elk hunting outlook good, deer hunting ‘mixed bag,’ says G&F report

in News/Recreation/wildlife
2021

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Fall is in the air and it’s the time of year when hunters around Wyoming are finalizing their plans for a successful hunting season. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department  has prepared a fall forecast of its eight regions to make planning much easier. 

The WGFD uses a map to define the eight regions identified as Cody, Sheridan, Jackson, Pinedale, Lander, Casper, Green River, and Laramie. 

The hunting season outlook in each region for the big three game animals — pronghorn antelope, deer and elk — is covered in the forecast, along with information on other species. 

Antelope

According to the report, pronghorn populations are up in the Casper, Green River, and Laramie regions, while in Sheridan and Cody, the populations remain stable. Although lower populations have been recorded in Pinedale, the limited number of licenses issued should mean success rates will be high, the report said. In Casper, populations are average. A GPS collar tracking program is set for the winter of 2019-20 to provide better information to Pronghorn Managers.   

Deer

The outlook for deer hunting is a “mixed bag,” according to the WGFD forecast. Although a successful hunting season is expected for the Big Horn Basin, most deer populations in Wyoming are down due to the severe winter of 2016-17. However, the Pinedale and Cody regions are seeing large populations and high quality hunting opportunities, with Cody herds expanding into new areas and habitats.

Elk

Elk hunting should be good, the report said. Populations increased in Casper, Cody, Green River, Laramie and Sheridan, with Sheridan’s populations being high due to limited hunter access to private land. The Lander and Pinedale populations remain steady in almost all areas.

The WGFD Fall 2019 Forecast also has information on moose, big horn sheep, mountain goats, bison, upland game birds and small game, including turkey and migratory game birds. 

For complete information you can read the full forecast at the WGFD website.

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