- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-market system.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) resolves conflict between wildlife and livestock through the market approach of compensating ranchers for retiring problematic grazing leases on federal land. Restoring wildlife populations has been linked to recovering healthy, functioning ecosystems in the Northern Rockies. Thanks to the Walker Foundation and other funders, NWF has been able to retire 34 grazing allotments in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, totaling approximately 600,000 acres. NWF has also retired nearly 65,000 acres of important wildlife habitat on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR). This approach establishes an important new national model for resolving chronic conflicts between wildlife and livestock.
Bighorn sheep, photo by Robin Poole
Since 2002, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has been retiring livestock grazing allotments that experience chronic conflict with wildlife. These problems most frequently have involved large carnivores such as grizzly bears and wolves, but have also included issues with bighorn sheep, bison and elk. During the last decade, NWF has retired nearly thirty allotments totaling more than 650,000 acres. These retirements, which are completely voluntary, have received strong support from livestock producers who typically use the payments to secure grazing in new locations without wildlife conflicts.
The National Wildlife Federation’s most recent retirements involve two domestic sheep allotments on the Beaverhead – Deerlodge National Forest in southwestern Montana. The conflict arises because domestic sheep are known to transmit diseases that can cause mass die-offs of wild sheep. Bear Canyon (4,586 acres) and Indian Creek (7,483 acres) lie in the headwaters of the Beaverhead River, a blue-ribbon trout stream about forty miles southwest of Dillon. This area houses two separate bands of wild sheep.
For the last several decades, the Forest Service has permitted domestic sheep (1200 ewes and lambs) to use these areas in the summer. Much of this area is dry, high-elevation grassland with aspen groves and conifer stands. The conflicts have been serious. A die-off in 1993 killed 75% of the herd, which then numbered close to 100. The herd began to build back up again, only to experience another devastating reduction in 1999, when 75% of the herd was again lost to disease.
The National Wildlife Federation initiated a conversation with the grazing permittee that led to an agreement to retire the permit for sheep grazing, while allowing limited use by a small number of bull cattle. NWF paid the permittee $50,000 for this retirement -- a very reasonable price for protecting two important herds of bighorn sheep.
Because wildlife conservation interests are not allowed to compete with livestock producers for grazing leases on public lands, the market system is constrained from finding an appropriate balance between the need for livestock grazing and the need for wildlife. Our approach recognizes the economic value of grazing permits and compensates livestock producers fairly for giving them up. NWF's approach of paying ranchers to retire grazing leases where there is chronic conflict between livestock and wildlife provides a market-based solution for resolving these conflicts. To the extent ranchers typically use the payments provided to them by NWF to secure new grazing in an area without wildlife conflicts, this approach provides benefits for both parties.
Conflicts between livestock and wildlife on public lands have been ongoing for several decades. The tactic favored by most environmental groups has been to compel federal agencies to administratively cancel troublesome leases. This approach has generated a great deal of controversy, but only a small amount of change. Using a market approach, during the last ten years the National Wildlife Federation has been able to retire 34 grazing allotments in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, totaling approximately 600,000 acres. In our first three years of work on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, NWF has been able to retire nearly 65,000 acres. These retirements have been accomplished with minimal controversy. We believe this approach begins to establish an important new national model for resolving conflicts between livestock and wildlife.
(Check sent: 7/1/2013)