Project Report:
Grazing Retirement Project
- Investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-market system.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


Our goal is to promote the conservation of wolves, grizzly bears, bison, bighorn sheep and other wildlife in the Yellowstone Ecosystem by eliminating chronic conflicts with domestic livestock. We will accomplish this by providing livestock permittees with an incentive payment in exchange for their agreement to permanently retire grazing allotments.

Hank Fischer surveying the Blackrock grazing lease purchase. Teton Park is in the distance.
Hank Fischer surveying the Blackrock grazing lease purchase. Teton Park is in the distance. Photo by Barrett Walker on site visit.


Wolves and grizzly bears have reached carrying capacity in Yellowstone National Park and adjacent wilderness areas. The primary factor limiting further expansion of these large carnivore populations is the presence of domestic livestock.

During the last several decades, conservationists have experienced minimal success at changing grazing patterns in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. NWF’s goal is to promote the expansion of wolf and grizzly bear populations by retiring livestock grazing allotments that experience chronic conflicts with these large predators. NWF’s allotment retirement project relies on a market approach: we pay livestock permittees to voluntarily retire their allotments. Simultaneously, we reach agreements with federal land management agencies to permanently keep livestock off these lands.

Since the program was initiated in 2002, NWF has retired 21 grazing allotments totaling approximately 300,000 acres. These include several of the most controversial grazing allotments in the entire Yellowstone Ecosystem. The average cost has been less than $3 per acre.

These significant grazing changes have been accomplished with minimal controversy and with the support of the agricultural community. Our goal is not to put livestock producers out of business or to remove all livestock grazing from public lands. In fact, in most cases ranchers have used our payment to secure grazing in new locations where there are not significant livestock/wildlife conflicts. This approach meets an important NWF objective of trying to resolve endangered species conflicts in a manner that builds, rather than alienates, support from local communities.

We anticipate that both wolves and grizzly bears will be removed from the threatened and endangered species list in the Yellowstone Ecosystem in the near future. How extensively these large carnivore populations are able to expand beyond national park and wilderness boundaries will be directly proportional to how successful conservation interests are at resolving conflicts with livestock.

NWF has made considerable progress in the Yellowstone Ecosystem establishing the grazing retirement approach as an equitable means of resolving recurrent wildlife/livestock conflicts. The U.S. Forest Service took an important step toward institutionalizing this approach in its Environmental Impact Statement on Grizzly Bear Conservation for the Greater Yellowstone Area National Forests. This document directs forest managers to consider grazing allotment retirements as the primary solution to chronic depredation problems.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed taking grizzly bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem off the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The ESA has played a vital role in the restoration of grizzly bear and wolf populations in and around Yellowstone National Park, and delisting grizzlies represents a great conservation success. After delisting, it will take new initiatives, outside of federal law, to ensure that large carnivore populations continue to expand and occupy suitable and available habitats. Both federal and state agencies have embraced allotment retirement as one of those approaches.


Conservation groups have been attempting to change grazing patterns on public lands for the last several decades. The standard approach has been to pressure land management agencies to make administrative decisions to close grazing allotments that experience chronic conflict with wildlife. While that has sometimes succeeded, by and large it has been a failed strategy.

We believe it fails because conservation groups have failed to recognize that grazing permits have economic value. When the government cancels a valid permit without compensation, it can cause economic hardship to the livestock producer.

Our approach recognizes that grazing permits have economic value. We pay the grazing permittees the market value of the permits in exchange for their agreement to sign a waiver giving up their grazing priveleges. Concurrently we work with the land management agency to ensure the allotments are permanently retired.


Yellowstone National Park is the world's first national park. It is a trendsetter both in the U.S. and the world. Our demonstration that retiring grazing allotments can help resolve long-term conflicts between wildlife and livestock serves as a model that could be duplicated in many places in the U.S.

Information Dissemination

We make presentations at meetings attended by wildlife professionals, we discuss the mechanics of grazing retirements with other conservation groups and we place information concerning grazing retirements on various websites.

Project Link

Amount Approved
$20,000.00 on 11/30/2005 (Check sent: 12/12/2005)

  Related Organizations
National Wildlife Federation  

Hank Fischer surveying the Blackrock grazing lease purchase. Teton Park is in the distance.

PO Box 7465
Missoula, MT 59807
Missoula, MT 59807

(406) 721-6705
(406) 541-6731

Posted 8/8/2006 8:30 AM
Updated   3/4/2020 9:49 AM

  • Nonprofit

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