- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
WildEarth Guardians’ campaign protects the threatened wildlands and endangered wildlife of the Greater Gila Bioregion through a market-based approach that retires high conflict cattle grazing allotments on national forest lands. In April 2014 we compensated a rancher to relinquish his 28,000-acre grazing allotment, which has now been administratively closed by the Gila National Forest (announced in August). This success will be leveraged; we hoped to sign additional agreements over the past 12 months (we were close) and will sign new agreements in the next 12 months. Thanks to efforts building support in the ranching community and the political support of Congressional champions, a pilot program for permanent-grazing retirements was added to must pass federal legislation in 2014. Unfortunately, Congress stripped the pilot program language from the final bill in conference. Our administrative retirement and incremental progress demonstrates the feasibility of our market-based approach.
Map of Gila area from field trip. Photo by Trip Jennings.
When we completed our first administrative grazing buyout removing livestock on 44-square miles in the heart of the Greater Gila Bioregion it helped leverage additional grasstops, grassroots, business, and rancher interest and support. We are currently engaged with additional ranchers in both Arizona and New Mexico interested in retiring their grazing permits and have received a private $2 million pledge for grazing retirement when we pass permanence legislation. While legislation authorizing a pilot grazing permit retirement program that makes retirements permanent in New Mexico and Oregon didn’t pass Congress in 2014, we have strong indications that grazing permit retirement legislation will be passed in the next two years. This is bolstered by the fact that discussions with new District Rangers on the Gila and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests have become more positive and are advancing rapidly, we expect to sign new option agreements with one or two of the four ranchers we are currently negotiating with (that will become permanent with legislation), Senator Martin Heinrich remains a champion for this effort, and we have built a large and engaged base of members and activists (over 100,000) that are ready and willing to take action on Guardians’ and this campaign’s behalf at a moments notice. We also secured a two-year, Wyss Foundation Fellow, which brought added capacity to this campaign; our Fellow has focused her efforts on engaging ranchers, mobilizing members, and engaging the NM and AZ Congressional delegations to convince them to introduce legislation to authorize a buyout program. Numerous foundations (Wilburforce, Steven Leuthold Family, Regina Bauer Frankenberg, Scurci, and Wyss Foundations, amongst others), major donors, and income from events funded this multi-year effort.
This project meets the Alex C. Walker Foundation’s purpose of exploring and developing market-based solutions. WildEarth Guardians has invested significant financial and intellectual resources over the past several years to promote a market-based solution to protect our environment by implementing a voluntary grazing permit retirement pilot project in a key wildlife/livestock conflict area on the Gila National Forest – the first happened in 2014 and we expect to sign additional agreements over the coming 12-18 months. This strategy has been used successfully in the Greater Yellowstone area, Idaho, and Oregon and we wish to demonstrate this approach is viable in the Greater Gila area, to the benefit of everyone involved. In 2015-2016 we hope to retire one to two additional grazing allotments on up to 125,000 acres, which we hope to leverage by replicating this success on other allotments across the Greater Gila.
Conflicts between ranchers and conservationists occur on public lands across the west, with increasing frequency. We will demonstrate the utility of a market-based solution to these conflicts, which we will then replicate across the Greater Gila Bioregion to facilitate Mexican gray wolf conservation. Other threatened species will also benefit including the Chiricahua leopard frog, southwest willow flycatcher, Gila trout and many others. Over the long term, this same strategy/tool can potentially be replicated across the American West where ranchers and environmental values conflict on public lands.
Dissemination of results and progress thus far has focused on outreach to area ranchers through written communications, a web portal, word of mouth and face-to-face meetings; in early 2012 and then in 2014 we did mailings to all permitees on both the Gila and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests that has led to numerous additional interested parties. In February 2014 High Country News wrote a feature length story on this project and we then received coverage in numerous other publications when we announced our agreement, which we are using in our outreach to elected officials and congressional staffers, key stakeholders, and both current and potential financial supporters. We continue to reach out to relevant NGO’s that work in the Greater Gila in order to gain their support for our strategy and in engaging elected officials and agency personnel who either help represent or make land use decisions that could impact this work; this outreach is happening primarily through letters and face-to-face meetings. We are informing WildEarth Guardians members and the general public through regular WildEarth Guardians publications and social and traditional media outlets. All of this outreach and dissemination aims to build support for our strategy so that we, and others, can replicate this market based-solution across both the Greater Gila and the wider American west where rancher/conservationist conflicts occur on public lands.
(Check sent: 7/10/2014)