- 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 33 grazing allotments (and the 34th pending) in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, totaling nearly 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.
The National Wildlife Federation’s most recent grazing retirement involves an area immediately adjacent to Yellowstone National Park that’s critical for bison. Because most of the park consists of high-elevation habitat where food gets buried by snow in harsh winters, bison frequently migrate out of Yellowstone in difficult years.
But because of fears that bison might pass diseases to domestic livestock, they previously were killed, placed in pens or herded back into the park when they crossed the border. In some years more than a thousand bison were slaughtered when they left the park.
In 2008 NWF negotiated an agreement with the Royal Teton Ranch (which lies directly north of the park) to end livestock grazing on the 6,000-acre ranch. Then most recently, NWF negotiated a grazing retirement agreement on the 7,200-acre Slip and Slide allotment on the Gallatin National Forest. These were the two most significant livestock grazing operations north of the park.
In 2011, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer issued an executive order creating a 75,000-acre Gardiner Basin Bison Conservation Area, established to provide winter range for bison leaving Yellowstone. This action eliminates the need to harass or kill bison when they leave the park.
Slip and Slide Allotment
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 try and 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 33 grazing allotments (and the 34th pending) in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, totaling nearly 600,000 acres. In our first two 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: 7/2/2012)
Map of Gardner Basin Bison Conservation Area, outlined in red.