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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Can "we have our cake (beef) and eat it too?"............Ecologist, Writer and Outdoor Acctivist George Wuerthner emphatically saids "NO" to this in the Rocky Mountain West...........As George states with knowledge, focus, passion and resolve----."I hold many of the national groups responsible for perpetuating this idea"...... "It's hard enough fighting the myths of the livestock industry without having to fight the myths perpetuated by the environmental community"............ "This idea that we have livestock and viable predator populations in the same place is simply not true".............."If the goal is to restore predators, livestock operations have to go--at least on public lands"............. "And the only way this is going to happen is when the public realizes how much it is really costing them in money, environmental degradation, losses in wildlife, etc"....... " Livestock are a cancer upon the landscape. Time for major surgery--not band aids"----------George Wuerther responding to the owner of the so-called "Predator Friendly" JBarL Ranching Operation

From: George Wuerthner ;
Date: July 9, 2015 at 6:58:38 PM CDT
To: "Meril, Rick" ;
Subject: Livestock Grazing of any kind in the arid West destroys wildlife and natural systems-----


-------- Original message --------
From: George Wuerthner <>
Date: 07/09/2015 6:32 PM (GMT-06:00)
To: "Meril, Rick" <>
Subject: Re: Very cordial response but missing the point

Not necessarily Rick for a host of reasons. That is an old myth that is used over and over again. See my condos vs cows article in Welfare Ranching.

 But the short version is this. 

First most of the private lands just aren't attractive for subsidisions. You have a skewed perspective out in California. There are millions of acres in eastern Montana, Nevada, eastern Oregon, etc. that will never be subdivided--well at least no one will move there. People want amenities.Jobs. Stores. schools. Ski resorts, good fishing, scenic vistas, etc. However even these things are not enough anymore. This trend is growing with more and more people saying they want to live in the city--not in rural subdivisions far from store, hospitals, schools, good restaurants etc. The areas with high subdivision rates all have amenities.
 Most rural counties are losing population even though there is plenty of private land for sale. Ranching isn't precluding subdivisions. The market is doing that. 

There's tons of private land for sale in North Dakota, eastern Montana, much of Wyoming, parts of Colorado, NM, AZ, Utah, etc. that no one wants. Too far from things people need. 
Second, show me where private ranches have prevented subdivisions. They don't or there would be no LA, no Front Range in Colorado, no Salt Lake City Front, no Bitterroot Valley, No Wood River Valley (Sun Valley) no Bozeman, etc. . Right now all we do is give a subsidy to ranchers who hold on to their ranches until they want to sell. And studies have shown that the vast majority of ranchers plan to sell their property when they retire. In most places all they can do is sell to other ranchers because no one else wants the land. 
Third, urbanization has grown, but it is fraction of the area affected by cows. In the entire US there is only around 66 million acres of developed land--that includes all the houses, factories, highways, etc. By contrast, we have nearly 550 million acres under livestock use, and that doesn't count the acreage used to grow livestock forage, and the grazing in forests (common for instance in the southern states). 

Fourth, I am willing to bet that rural subdivisions--all things considered--are less damaging than the cows and ranches. (Of course this depends on the ultimate density of homes). Much of the land being subdivided in places like the Gallatin Valley or Bitterroot Valley, etc. are former hay meadows. These hay meadows are basically wildlife dead zones. No diversity, mono-culture of plants, and water sucked from streams. Put in a subdivision and suddenly you have shrubs, trees, etc. and often less damage to riparian areas, etc.

 I would say that rural subdivisions are generally friendlier to predators for instance, than the ranchers they replaced. Wolves, for instance, are very welcome in the hills just above Sun Valley and the Wood River Valley. Compare that to the Big Lost River Valley near by dominated by ranching, and you get no such appreciation of predators. Same for the development around Jackson compared to the ranching dominated Upper Green River Valley. At best it is zero sum. I.e. the land wasn't being used by wildlife prior to subdivision and isn't used much now. 

Fifth, even in the attractive areas, you have a lot of amenity buyers. People like Ted Turner and others who want the land for its wildlife values. These folks do not have to run livestock on their properties. Many don't--but some do--but we shouldn't laud them for keeping the stock.---------------------------------------------------------------
On Thu, Jul 9, 2015 at 3:59 PM, Meril, wrote:
Home run response george......may I suggest that if ranching was to cease out west....we would have to make the whole region off limits to that would occur as the ranchers sold their properties


-------- Original message --------
From: George Wuerthner ;
Date: 07/09/2015 3:53 PM (GMT-06:00)
To: "Strong, Zack
Subject: Very cordial response but missing the point

Dear Zack

Ralph Maughan just forwarded me your response to my open letter about NRDC promotion of the JBarL operations in Montana on Wildlife News. Very cordial and courteous response.  I appreciate the tone and the goal you express for helping predators.

I will try to do the same. 

While I appreciate the sincerity of your efforts, I definitely disagree with your strategy (and that of many organizations that think promoting some partial halfway solutions is good). 

I think your promotion of beef production, even that done by the JBarL, is ultimately more harmful for wolves and other wildlife than any benefit gained by promoting "wildlife friendly operations."

You are correct that the On Earth article as you suggest does not say that grazing livestock "has few impacts on wildlife". As you note that was not the focus. But that is exactly the problem! It is not the focus--and it should be. 

It's what you do not say that makes you culpable for the on-going environmental impacts caused by livestock production. Again to make my analogy, it would be like writing a glowing article about "clean coal" and never mentioning mountain top removal or strip mining, acid in streams, coal trains and dust in communities, and so forth. 

No one, particularly most of the big environmental organizations like NRDC are willing to tell their membership or the public all the ways that livestock production harms the environment.

While you suggest that it's unrealistic to think that people will end ranching, I would remind you people probably said that about changing laws about gay marriage ten years ago too or that we would ever get cigarette smoking banned in public places. The idea that things will never change, therefore, we should not lobby or work to change them, is one sure way to ensure that there will be no change.

it doesn't help when they aren't given a good perspective on the costs. Without that context, of course, it's not to going end. I am convinced if more organizations like NRDC published articles on how livestock production pollutes water, contributes to global warming, spread weeds, spread diseases to wildfire, promote killing of coyotes, wolves,.displaces native wildlife, destroy soil crusts, etc. etc.etc.  that we might see some change in attitudes. 

If no one talks about these things, no one has a reason to change. 

But as long as people are fed happy talk about how wolves and ranchers co-exist, there will be no reason to question the validity of ranching oN public lands.

I realize the article was focused on how you could reduce livestock-predator conflicts--but in the end the piece, and others like it, still promote the idea that livestock production is compatible with wildlife--and it is absolutely not.
To answer one last comment you wrote: "On the contrary, the message of the article—and my quote—is that using range riders and electric fencing to more proactively manage cattle may be able to reduce the risk of predation—thus keeping more wolves and other large carnivores on the landscape. I hope we can agree that that's at least a step in the right direction." 

Well actually I don't agree. I think range riders are nothing more than propaganda for several reasons. First, as you know, very few domestic animals are killed by wolves at all-that should be the focus of any article about how ranchers are wine about livestock losses when it's insignificant. They lose tens of thousands of animals to other causes, and no more than dozens to wolves--yet we promote all this focus on wolf losses as if it's significant. People would never support the war on wolves if they had any idea of how insignificant wolf depredation were to livestock operations losses.

I would have been very pleased had  your piece at least had that kind of perspective,

Second, one could have pointed out that many of these operations including the JBarL are grazing on public lands. One could ask why do we allow any wolves or other predators to be killed for depredations that occur on public lands.

 Again that would have been a real service if that had been in the article. I'm glad that JBarL is trying to avoid killing predators--great--but in the end there are only a handful of ranchers in the West who are willing and capable of practicing such measures. So in my view it is disingenious to suggest that range riders,etc. are going to reduce the killing of wolves. Yes, maybe in some small local area, but it is not a solution that will be widely adopted, so in the end, it is not a solution.  

So this promotes the idea that this is a panacea for wolf-livestock conflicts and it's not. 

Third, direct killing of wolves for depredations is probably the least of the impacts of livestock on predators. The consumption of forage that would otherwise support native ungulates and the social displacement of native ungulates by livestock presence, are likely responsible for greater indirect "wolf losses" by reducing the overall habitat and prey base available to wolves than any losses due to livestock revenge killings.

In other words, were there no livestock on public lands in the GYE, we could likely support far more elk, deer, etc. and thus far more wolves than at presence. 
In fact, pieces like the ON Earth piece, only perpetuates the notion that we have our cake (beef) and eat it too.

And I hold many of the national groups responsible for perpetuating this idea. It's hard enough fighting the myths of the livestock industry without having to fight the myths perpetuated by the environmental community. This idea that we have livestock and viable predator populations in the same place is simply not true. 

Thus if the goal is to restore predators, livestock operations have to go--at least on public lands. And the only way this is going to happen is when the public realizes how much it is really costing them in money, environmental degradation, losses in wildlife, etc. 

Livestock are a cancer upon the landscape. Time for major surgery--not band aids. 

You could make amends in my view, if you did a follow up story on the many ways that livestock production is harming the western landscape and wildlife. That is my challenge to you and On Earth--do a descent article on the impacts of livestock to public lands. I'll volunteer to write it for free. I happen to have time to do such a story this week. Look forward to hearing a go ahead from you and the editors. 


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