Wild West Welfare



“The western cattle industry has been riding the backs of taxpayers for nearly seventy years”

–T.H. Watkins, 2002

Few have profited more or longer off of American taxpayers than livestock operators who graze the public lands of the American West. Tens of thousands of square miles there have, for more than three quarters of a century, been managed essentially as grazing estates for a small minority of “permittees” – individuals or corporations holding federal grazing permits.

The scheme dates back to the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM, known at the time as the Grazing Service) placed millions of acres into “grazing allotments”. Over ensuing generations politics influenced regulations, so that permittees pay a trivial fraction of market demand. Laws typically mandate that allotments be grazed, so that if someone were to acquire a permit with the idea of protecting the land by removing domestic livestock, the permit would have to be transferred to an interest that would continue grazing.

The standard unit of measure is an “animal unit per month (AUM) – a cow plus calf or 5 sheep. To graze livestock on private land today in Montana costs $21 per AUM, but permittees pay $1.35, an imbalance typical for the public lands throughout the West. The difference, money due taxpayers, marks a unique welfare system carefully kept away from public awareness. This is not a petty issue. The BLM alone has 155 million acres in grazing allotments, and the U.S. Forest Service grazes another 95 million acres of national forest land. Together, it amounts to 8% of the contiguous United States, an area that, if seen as a square, would be 625 miles on a side – equal in extent to Montana, Wyoming and both Dakotas combined.

It is a bitter irony that the corporate world and its congressional agents, intent on killing governmental regulations so that their imaginary “free market” can go forth unhindered, protect public land welfare ranchers at taxpayer expense. If a free market is truly central to conservative philosophy, should not conservative legislators be working to guarantee that We The People get paid what the free market demands for use of our public lands, instead of a pittance?

Permits are simply 10-year leases subject to termination, and permittees lease nothing but grazing rights. Permits do not convey any property rights, and permittees are not due any compensation should permits be terminated or reduced. But for generations permits have been renewed automatically without question so that permittees, such as Cliven Bundy of recent fame, have come to think of public land they graze as a kind of personal property. So ingrained is the assumption that the welfare will be permanent that ranches have been sold as if public lands under permit were a fixed part of the ranch itself, and it is not uncommon for US citizens to be run off of their own public land by permittees, sometimes at gunpoint.

The situation has become even more senseless in the last 25 years or so, in that permittees are being paid lavish sums to “sell” their grazing permits (which, understand, they never owned in the first place) where grazing is especially damaging, where there are efforts to protect wilderness values, or, amazingly, if a permittee simply wants to retire. Permits funded by taxpayers and meant only as a privilege subject to termination, can now be “bought out”, which amounts to a double jackpot for permittees.

A startling example of the practice was an 850,000-acre buyout in 2004, in Utah-Arizona, with grazing allotments in both BLM and national forest lands, for which the seller received a whopping $4.5 million. The buyers, the Grand Canyon Trust and the Conservation Fund, are major promoters of the buyout philosophy that, ironically, is being called “free-market environmentalism”, a startling misnomer in that it rewards a blatant welfare system.

An email earlier this year to one of the trusts involved in that exchange was answered with “Permits were assumed as part of the acquisition of the ranch – meaning, the Trust did not buy-out the permits, but continues to operate under those permits.” Whoa! “The Ranch” the seller actually owned was only 1000 acres, and one is supposed to believe that 1000 acres of desert is what $4.5 million was paid for … and, oh, by the way, permits for 850,000 acres (1300 square miles) were incidental, so, technically, it was not a buyout? Please! The purchase was obviously for access to the permits. But even though the allotments are now under the control of those conservation organizations, the land must nevertheless be managed for grazing, as the law demands. The only difference, presumably, is that the new permittees will treat the land differently.

If the goal of this “technically not a buyout” buyout was to manage grazing on public land allotments in a more environmentally appropriate way … which naturally suggests it was not being managed well by the original permittee (who is now $4.5 million richer) …  why, logical citizen-owners of public land might ask, were the BLM and Forest Service not enforcing a gentler treatment of the public’s land with the previous permittee?

More recently, an April 22, 2014 Wall Street Journal article described an Arizona rancher who had been “having difficulties with hikers and other land users on the allotment” [i.e., citizen owners of the land], receiving several hundred thousand dollars in 2003 from the Conservation Fund in exchange for his permit to graze 44,000 acres of public land. This the Journal reported as a positive outcome: “No violence, no protesters, no armed federal agents – just a check and a contract.” In other words, if U.S. citizens don’t want trouble from permittees they have been supporting financially for generations, they need to understand that these welfare ranchers, many extremely wealthy, expect to be paid yet more. To add to the insanity of it all, many permittees who have benefited for so long from governmental/taxpayer largesse, nevertheless despise “Big Government”.

The BLM, and the U.S. Forest Service are under no legal obligation to renew permits and could simply terminate them, but, as explained to me in less than great depth, “They just don’t”. As to why not, “Permittees don’t want their permits revoked”. Well, why would they? Living large off of taxpayers is a hell of a great deal, and permittees have wielded such political clout that western congressional representatives protect them. The whole setup simply reeks of rot.

Political clout extends into many western environmental organizations.  George Wuerthner, who once worked for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, wrote in a recent issue of The Wildlife News that “GYC expressly forbade me to discuss livestock production’s contribution to the issues that the organization was highlighting; ….. [W]hen I was asked to discuss the threats to the ecosystem at the organization’s annual board meeting, I was not allowed to mention livestock production even though many of the issues the group was fighting could be traced back to ranching as the ultimate source of the environmental problem. Whether it was dewatering of rivers for irrigation and its detrimental impacts of fisheries, to the spread of disease from domestic sheep to wild bighorn sheep, from the killing of bison that wandered from Yellowstone Park to opposition to wolf recovery to the continued policy of elk feed grounds in Wyoming, the ultimate source of the problem was and is livestock. However, GYC was unwilling to frame the issue that way for fear of antagonizing its board and/or regional politicians.”

Livestock grazing is a major function of some governmental bureaus, particularly of the BLM, so that any reduction of the livestock program would naturally undercut the bureaucratic need to self-perpetuate. In order to promote public lands grazing, the BLM relies heavily on proclaiming its role in maintaining a lifestyle, seemingly as if it were the Bureau’s patriotic imperative: “Livestock grazing on public lands … provides livestock-based economic opportunities … while contributing to the West’s, and America’s, social fabric and identity … and help preserve the character of the rural West.” The “system” is absolutely absurd, and few citizens are aware of its immense magnitude, the degree to which it has become firmly rooted, and the level at which they, as taxpayers, are being “fleeced”

By now, permits for millions of acres of grazing allotments have been assumed by conservation organizations that are nevertheless obliged by law to continue livestock grazing, which they attempt to do at the lowest level allowable and in hopes that there will someday emerge federal legislation that might end livestock grazing on public land altogether. This is costing millions of private-sector dollars from foundations, from corporate and citizen donations, and from what other “deep pockets” are willing to pay up. By rights, though, none of this should be necessary, given that permits were created as temporary grazing privileges.

When one tries to fit all aspects together, what emerges is a logically indefensible, covert setup involving wealthy permittees, protective legislators and governmental bureaucrats, and the result is a $500,000,000-one billion dollar per year taxpayer victimization and the ongoing degradation of a fragile, arid environment for which domestic livestock are biologically unsuited. It is a scenario so firmly in place that the bulk of the environmental community, by paying for control of permits, and by lobbying for buyout legislation, has simply caved in to the rotten political state of affairs.

The best single source of information for this issue is the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign, foremost advocate for a federal buyout program that would pay permittees $175 per AUM to retire permits. On the left side of their website are internal links to all relevant data and arguments, as well as their admission that, to use their own words, “politically, we do not have the option to simply stop paying for the federal grazing program.” Politically!

Advocates for the buyout strategy admit that it is “morally repugnant to reward resource abuse by paying to retire permit/leases”, but because they understand that domestic livestock has “done more damage to North America than the bulldozer and chainsaw combined” they have made the conscious decision to yield to the corrupt industrial/political/bureaucratic gridlock by paying the public’s way out of the mess. “While a long and glorious [sic], principled fight to end public lands livestock grazing through litigation and attrition may succeed in the end”, they write, “many species, ecosystems and watersheds already on the brink could not tolerate further livestock grazing over the time required to win on principle alone.”

Directors and lawyers for environmental organizations buying control of permits, and those lobbying for federal buyout legislation, are loathe to speak about details of their strategy, because it reveals the degree to which they have yielded to what they understand is “morally repugnant”. It makes any discussion that adheres to logic and the public interest very difficult. All things considered, the concept of buying out grazing permits, however accomplished, is a complete surrender by people who see no other path available toward ending a destructive governmental-industrial swindle of the Nation’s citizens.

William Willers is emeritus professor of biology, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh now living in Middleton, WI. He is founder of Superior Wilderness Action Network (SWAN) and editor of Learning to Listen to the Land and Unmanaged Landscapes, both from Island Press.

Bloody Budget Bill….

Originally posted on Howling For Justice:

September 12, 2014

This was posted in the aftermath of the disastrous sellout of wolves by the US Senate and President Obama in 2011.


April 23, 2011

A dead on opinion piece from the Christian Science Monitor. It explains how Congress played “let’s make a deal” with wolves lives in a BUDGET BILL.  This was especially egregious because Democrats led the charge, betraying wolves and their base.


True cost of budget deal will be paid in blood – of gray wolves

 One of the most unfortunate riders of the recent budget deal is the decision to strip the gray wolf of the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Science has been subordinated to political instrumentalism, setting a dangerous precedent for the future.

ByDavid N. Cassuto APRIL 19, 2011

Many words have been spent on the budget compromise struck between Republicans and Democrats in the…

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UPDATE: Huckleberry Pack Alpha Female Shot Aerially by WDFW Contract Sharpshooter

Originally posted on Howling For Justice:

huckleberry pack pups 2012 WDFW

Huckleberry Pack Pups – 2012/WDFW

September 10, 2014

This post was sent to me by “Anonymous For Wolves”

Huckleberry pack alpha female shot aerially by WDFW contract sharpshooter

On September 4th, WDFW posted a News Release under the Latest News link on their website wdfw.wa.gov) with this heading, Sheep moved from scene of wolf attacks. The release reads that rancher Dave Dashiell worked over the Labor Day weekend collecting his flock of 1800 sheep to eventually truck them, somewhat prematurely, to their winter pasture area.

This is good news for Stevens County Huckleberry wolf pack as it acts as a stay of execution after a WDFW contract sharpshooter from USDA Wildlife Services, shot dead the breeding female from a helicopter on August 23. The pack had been preying on Dashiell’s sheep with WDFW determining the need for lethal action. “If non-lethal tools fail, lethal actions can be taken. It is…

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Gray Wolves in the Crosshairs

Originally posted on Howling For Justice:


Mt. Emily male wolf/odfw

September 9, 2014

Howling for Justice turns five on September 16 and “Gray Wolves In The Crosshairs” was my first post.

It’s hard to believe all that’s happened  to wolves in the past  five years, much of it bad. We had such high hopes of prevailing in the courts, because we were winning! After the initial delisting in the Spring of 2009 and sadly losing 500 wolves the first year, Judge Molloy relisted wolves on August 5, 2010. But the victory was short-lived, the anti-wolf forces knew they were losing so they turned to Congress to trump the ESA and delist wolves. And Congress listened.  In the Spring of 2011 the US Senate  betrayed wolves. Apparently they valued holding onto their Senate majority more than the lives of wolves. The wolf delisting rider, attached to a must pass budget bill, will forever live in infamy as…

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How’s This For Karma?: Uncontrolled Hunting Leads to New Deadly Diseases Including Ebola

Killing large and small animals (defaunation) is seriously affecting humans’ health and well being, through a negative affect on agriculture and increased occurrences of animal-human disease transmission. Ebola and many other serious diseases have appeared as a result of increased contact with wild animals. Large scale hunting and anthropogenic transformation of natural habitats together with climate change is increasing animal-human disease transfer. More:


Killing Wolves

Originally posted on Howling For Justice:

Earth Island Journal Stands Up For Wolves

Earth Island Journal Stands Up For Wolves

Summer is almost over and instead of wolves being allowed to raise their young pups in peace they’re being subjected to pain, suffering and death because wolf hunting season is upon them once more.  This will be the fourth wolf hunt in Montana and Idaho, there would have been five but Judge Molloy relisted wolves in the Northern Rockies in 2010, stopping the fall hunt. It was a short-lived victory because Senate Democrats passed a wolf delisting rider (with no judicial review) in the Spring of 2011. The rider was sneakily tacked onto a budget bill and all Democrat Senators, save three, voted for it. Obama signed it into law, effectively ending the ability of advocates to fight the delisting in court.

Here are the links to  fish and game agencies who promote and profit off the killing of wolves for sport.  The Idaho…

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Scratch a Fundamentalist Christian and You’ll Find an Islamic Extremist

Originally posted on Woodgate's View:


At first glance this photo may come across as someone of the “radical Islam” persuasion.  You wouldn’t be too far off the mark in thinking this.

Sadly it’s just Phil Robertson of the Duck Dynasty reality TV show on A&E gaining  a bit more notoriety for saying small-minded stuff that essentially makes him no better than the Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq.

Talking to Sean Hannity on the FOX network, Roberston said, referring to radical Islam, that “you either have to convert them … or kill them”.

The convert or die ultimatum has for the most part been the cry of extremists within the Islamic faith, by so-called jihadists who take passages from the Quran to a literal state that many Muslims do not agree with.

The horrible executions of American journalists recently by ISIS is unsettling to say the least and demands that this cruelty be dealt with…

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Patricia Randolph’s Madravenspeak: Coming soon: many bear families’ last afternoon together

Originally posted on Wisconsin Wildlife Ethic-Vote Our Wildlife:


“I see kids for violence and anger issues who are trained hunters by age 12. How can I help in fighting this scourge? The state agencies are recruiting women and children at an alarming rate — they have the funds and the access.” — Karin McKenna, school counselor

In July a Madravenspeak reader emailed a link to an Alaska Dispatch news story of a black bear family’s last afternoon. He said, “It is one of the saddest stories I have seen.” The story has pictures of a mother bear with her two spring cubs, swimming in a lake together, frequenting some tourist spots in East Anchorage. “She didn’t show any aggressive behavior, but there was just so much accessible garbage,” so the state agency, comparable to our Department of Natural Resources (DNR), decided to shoot the mother, and haul the babies off to an Alaska zoo. Bears are being killed for…

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ACTION ALERT: What’s Up In Red Wolf Country?

Originally posted on Howling For Justice:

Wild Muse: http://sciencetrio.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/something-fishy-is-brewing-in-red-wolf-country-will-the-red-wolf-program-survive/

Red wolf puppies FWS Ryan NordsvenRed wolf puppies FWS Ryan Nordsven

Something fishy is brewing in Red Wolf Country: Will the red wolf program survive?

Posted at 9:50 pm

For a few weeks now, I’ve been suspecting that something awfully fishy is going on in Red Wolf Country. I can’t escape the premonition that higher-ups in the Fish and Wildlife Service are positioning their pawns to kill or significantly alter the red wolf reintroduction program. Three years have passed since I finished writing my book on red wolves, and it’s been one year since it was published. But so much has changed since then I can only shake my head in disbelief. All the hope I held onto when completing the book is wavering.

Red wolves are globally endangered, and though a captive population exists in some 40-plus breeding facilities across the U.S., the planet’s only wild red…

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Environmental and Animal Groups: Views on Hunting


There are a number of local, state, national and international organizations that publicly concern themselves with caring for animals and protecting the environment. Some have their foundations a century ago or longer (such as Audubon Society in the late 1800s), while others are relatively new to the scene (such as Love Canada Geese in 2005). Among these groups are several that clearly state their opposition to any form of hunting (particularly the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting), while others publicly align themselves with hunters (including The Wilderness Society ). Some organizations have chosen to maintain a neutral or “apolitical” stance with regard to hunting, or take exception to particular types of hunting or targets of hunting (such as Defenders of Wildlife, which focuses much of its effort on ending aerial hunting of wolves) but typically do not address the broader ecological impact of hunting.


This wiki is designed primarily with the objective of providing information for anyone interested in learning more about the specific views on hunting held by numerous purportedly pro-animal and pro-environment organizations. As with any wiki, it is intended as a work in progress, with the goal of encouraging collaborative efforts to add more information and more groups as new knowledge is found or developed. The initial outline is focused on identifying organizations that belong to three main groups as described above:

  • Organizations that publicly oppose hunting
  • Organizations that ally themselves with hunters
  • Organizations that are self-described as neutral, or oppose only limited types or targets of hunting

Within each group, organizations will be added as support for their group membership becomes available (whether as quoted on their websites, or confirmed by an official representative via documented communication), and anecdotes, examples, and other information related to each organization’s views on hunting will be used to develop a clearer view of where these environmental and animal organizations stand on hunting.

Continued: http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Environmental_and_Animal_Groups:_Views_on_Hunting