A yearling from the HD Ranch herd believed to be killed by a grizzly bear. (Provided by Josh Longwell)

Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners backed agency staff last week and approved compensation for trophy game damage to stock that amounted to $388,696 less than two ranchers claimed.

With one dissenting vote in the two separate cases, the appointed citizen commission approved $71,339 to Josh Longwell of HD Ranch and $11,626 to Christian Peterson of Crandall Creek Ranch. Longwell claimed $322,685 in stock and other losses to grizzly bears and mountain lions; Peterson claimed $128,857 for losses to grizzlies and wolves.

Commissioners heard arguments by the ranchers — some aimed at commissioners’ emotions, others at their logic — about how wildlife caused them economic losses in 2020.

Although Wyoming considers wildlife to be the property of the state, the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity holds that the state can’t be sued for such damage.

Wyoming statutes, however, surrender that immunity in certain cases involving wildlife-caused damage, but only within strict sideboards. In the two cases, the ranchers’ claims exceeded those legislatively mandated limits, department officials told commissioners. Commissioners made their decision after the ranchers appealed department decisions limiting the compensation for “damage” to property.

Peterson said the agency should compensate him for lost yearling cattle at the same rate it compensates ranchers for verified losses of calves. Game and Fish will compensate for the value of calves confirmed killed by trophy game, plus a “multiplier” for suspected losses, depending on the landscape and predator.

But law limits compensation for yearling cattle to only the verified lost stock itself. Peterson and his attorney made other arguments for more money that the commission ultimately rejected. Those included that he should be paid for drone flights, SD computer cards, extra ranch hands, the maintenance of their housing and other expenses incurred because of wolves and grizzlies.

Longwell, who has lost previous appeals of agency compensation limits, sought repayment for calves lost to grizzlies based on a 20-times multiplier, far above the highest multiplier prescribed in Wyoming law.

“You guys are going to break me,” Longwell told the commission. “It’s private property,” he said of some places where killings have taken place. “You don’t have my permission to manage bears on it, you don’t have my permission to have bears on it.”

Wyoming law and regulation don’t allow for Longwell’s arithmetic, Luke Ellsbury, large carnivore conflict biologist, told the commission. “The claimant applied an unlawful multiplier of 20 to his calf losses,” he said.

Drones, ranch hands, housing expenses

Both the HD and Crandall Creek ranches lie outside the eastern border of Yellowstone National Park and have leases to graze on U.S. Forest Service property. At Crandall Creek, Peterson said he switched his operation from a cow/calf ranch to one that runs larger yearlings only — in an attempt to reduce losses to predators.

Calling himself a progressive rancher, Peterson said he uses drones extensively to keep track of cattle, and tries to hedge his bets by monitoring commodity markets. Stock losses led him to buy two-way radios to keep the ranch team safe and coordinated. He also hired and housed two additional cowboys to ride 55,000 acres of Forest Service grazing leases, according to his claim.

HD ranch manager Josh Longwell and his wife Holli. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Game and Fish biologists verified eight yearling steers killed by grizzlies and two by wolves in 2020. Regulations don’t allow a multiplier to be applied to yearling losses, so the department recommended $11,626 for damages.

Peterson’s claim of $128,857 challenged Game and Fish’s regulations on two fronts. First, he said, yearling losses should be compensated with the same multiplier as calves. Under that reasoning, Peterson claimed 49.9 yearling steers “damaged” by grizzlies and wolves for a value of $59,072.

“There’s no definition of calf,” Peterson’s attorney Jalie Meinecke told the commissioners. “I believe the law allows you to interpret that term as you wish.”

In a lot of cases, she said, there’s “essentially no difference” between the size of a baby calf at the end of the [grazing] season and the size of a yearling at the beginning of a grazing season.

“And so … the multiplier is absolutely applicable to a yearling operation to protect Christian and other operators like him,” Meinecke said.

Peterson’s second point was that wolves and grizzlies created additional expenses. He listed 12 items required because of wolves and grizzlies — everything from scouting flights to drones, the maintenance of cowboys’ housing and programming two-way radios — totaling $69,785. 

But the agency isn’t allowed to compensate for such incidental expenses, biologist Ellsbury told the commission. “It’s not a bear actually damaging radios — any of that,” he said.

The rancher contends those expenses are actual damages, not what are referred to as consequential damages, Peterson’s attorney Meinecke argued. She referred to Longwell’s recent loss in court and said he was unsuccessful, in part, because he sought reimbursement for expenses that were not presented to Game and Fish as actual damages.

“We are presenting those to you at this initial stage so that as we go through this process we can have you, and then potentially an arbitration panel and the court, determine whether these [are] actual damages,” Meinecke told the commission.

Longwell’s familiar story

Longwell’s 2020 appeal involved cattle and sheep lost to grizzly bears and mountain lions. He claimed payment for the value of 320 calves, six yearling steers, 3.5 lambs and 3.5 ewes lost to grizzly bears, plus 80.5 lambs lost to mountain lions.

The department agreed with his mountain lion losses, but verified only 30 calf losses and three yearling steer losses to grizzlies. The Game and Fish Department challenged Longwell’s assertion that he should be paid according to a 20-times multiplier for his calf losses. Longwell also sought to apply a three-times multiplier for his loss of yearling steers, a calculation Ellsbury said regulations do not allow.

A Game and Fish Department trap set for a grizzly bear where Josh Longwell grazes HD Ranch cattle. (Provided by Josh Longwell)

Longwell has filed several claims and appeals in recent years. The Game and Fish Commission has sided with its staff, including when the rancher claimed $422,971 for losses in 2018. It said only $89,498 was allowed by law and regulation.

An arbitration panel, however, sided with Longwell in that dispute and settled on $339,927, a figure Wyoming appealed in court. Wyoming’s appeal focused on losses to grizzly bears, only, and Judge Bill Simpson of Cody sided largely with the state and cut the arbitration panel’s amount down to $61,202.

Longwell told the commission July 14 he was taking that case to the Wyoming Supreme Court. As he has before, Longwell argued constitutional issues for his claim of losses in 2020, saying the government was taking private property without compensation.

He told of a decade of conflicts with grizzly bears that have not waned, despite Game and Fish efforts to trap and move grizzlies depredating on stock. Much of the problem, Longwell contends, stems from federal protection of Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies under the Endangered Species Act.

Scientists debate how many grizzlies are in the ecosystem, whether they are increasing in numbers or expanding from core habitat because of a loss of natural food like whitebark pine nuts and cutthroat trout. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has tried to remove the Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly from federal protection, but courts have halted those efforts, saying the federal agency has failed to take several factors into account, including the effect such action might have on other grizzly populations.

“You know you got bears running out your ears,” Longwell told commissioners. “I don’t know if I can last 10 more years. And we hadn’t even got into, you know, the fact of the stress and all the bullcrap I have to deal with — all these kinds of meetings, arbitration, hiring a lawyer.

“But the real cost,” he said, “is the devaluation of a piece of property when you can’t run livestock on it.

“I need you guys to stand up to somebody and get some freakin’ answers,” Longwell said about federal protection of grizzly bears. While Wyoming has spent tens of millions of dollars on grizzly bear conservation, the federal government has kicked in 5% of that amount, Longwell claimed.

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Wyoming’s grizzly bear conservation expenses, plus compensation for stock kills, come from Game and Fish’s budget, which is largely made up of revenue from hunting licenses.

“The people of Wyoming ought to be irate,” Longwell said. “Hunters and anglers that are paying for this ought to be … blowing the steam out their ears over this deal.”

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. Reply to Roni: I’m not sure about this Roni and haven’t done my research but I suspect that the Wyoming Legislature waived sovereign immunity for livestock losses due to large carnivores when the existing statutes were enacted. In a ranching state with many ranchers in the legislature it stands to reason. Maybe someone else has more definitive info on this matter. Lee

  2. “Although Wyoming considers wildlife to be the property of the state, the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity holds that the state can’t be sued for such damage,” caught my attention.
    Why? Because it made me wonder what “damages” environmental groups present to BLM and Forest Service that motivates BLM and Forest Service to “immediately settle” without a hearing.
    Couple givens one must keep in mind include: 1) Range Allotment Owners (RAO) own compensatory property on Federal Land. 2) RAO vested property rights date back to the 1800’s. 3) Many of the critters (like the wolves in CO) they now have to contend to have been located there artificially.
    In the past, the who-so-evers who want predators artificially placed in those areas, made compensation promises. Are they keeping theirpromises?

    .

  3. “Although Wyoming considers wildlife to be the property of the state, the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity holds that the state can’t be sued for such damage,” caught my attention.
    Why? Because it made me wonder what “damages” environmental groups present to BLM and Forest Service that motivates BLM and Forest Service to “immediately settle” without a hearing.
    Couple givens one must keep in mind include: 1) Range Allotment Owners (RAO) own compensatory property on Federal Land. 2) RAO vested property rights date back to the 1800’s. 3) Many of the critters (like the wolves in CO) they now have to contend to have been located there artificially.
    In the past, the who-so-evers who want predators artificially placed in those areas, made compensation promises. Are they keeping their promises?

  4. CROSS v. WYOMING GAME AND FISH COMMISSION:

    All, I found an interesting Wyoming Supreme Court case dating to 1962 wherein a rancher on the DuNoir Valley had shot two moose that were causing property damage. The Supreme Court ruled Cross had a right to do so but only after ever reasonable effort had been made to solve the problems by other means. In this case, both Cross and the Game and Fish Department had a long history of attempting to eliminate the problem by other means.

    The implications of this ruling is that private property owners not only have a right to file claims for livestock losses by large carnivores, but in some cases, the private landowners can “take the matter into their own hands.” The ruling specifies when a landowner may defend his property:

    ” In conclusion, though we may be guilty of tautology, we feel that before a defendant can resort to force in protecting his property from wild animals protected by law he should use every remedy available to him before killing such animals. He should only use force as is reasonably necessary and suitable to protect his property and must only use force and means as a reasonably prudent man would use under these circumstances.”

    From my readings, these extreme cases only arise with a long history of Game and fish trying to resolve the problem. In other words, a reasonable man would have given Game and Fish every opportunity to solve the depredation problem before shooting a large carnivore. I can’t imagine this interpretation extends to any large carnivore protected by the ESA.

    Please read these cases – they are all important. Lee

  5. NICK IN RED LAKE FALLS:

    A few more thoughts on land use in Wyoming such as grazing. Its actually sort of a back burner issue since mineral development is the big driver of everything here – the mineral industry pays something like 80% of the taxes in Wyoming; therefore, the powers to be push mineral development hard. If the tax money doesn’t come in there will be further cuts in the State’s budget including education and social services – even Medicaid. The State has a severe mineral addiction.

    But the other matter I wanted to share with you is the significant influx of people relocating from more urban areas. Its really noticeable here in our little sleepy back water town. One of my friends out on Owl Creek shares an irrigation ditch with seven other land owners and he has three new neighbors. One from Pennsylvania, one from New York and one from South Carolina. Property values have been driven way, way up and the old time land owners are cashing in and retiring. This trend will rapidly become a more significant issue with respect to land use than grazing in Wyoming. We really don’t know where this trend will go – it sort of caught us off guard.

    One obvious affect of the influx will be agricultural land taken out of production for subdivisions and commercial/industrial use. So grazing issues will diminish and a new economy will emerge not quite as dependent on agriculture and other natural resources. This rapid change in demographics is occurring in most western states except for California but they are experiencing outward migration from the big cities like San Francisco to smaller cities and rural areas.

    Rapid changes in land use and demographics out here will definitely have an affect on wildlife habitat. But I read an article about outward migration from Minneapolis after the riots and Red Lake Falls can expect some new residents.

    In some areas of NW Wyoming this will result in more human/grizzly bear encounters as the bears migrate out and the humans migrate in. Not a good scenario. Our wildlife does best with fewer human residents – we always like to brag that we have more antelope than people. With all the mineral development and influx of new residents it spells trouble for wildlife. Conservation easements and large ranches holding firm and not selling out are the bright points.

  6. Nick: Land ownership is a colossal mess out west as a result of the homesteading acts which opened up the west and Alaska to settlers – but so was Minnesota except that it doesn’t work as well out here. In many areas the landownership is a patchwork of Federal, State , tribal and private land. Some progress has been made by consolidating land ownership via land trades; however, this is a long tern solution. The Nature conservancy purchased at least two NW Wyoming ranches – the Red Canyon Ranch south of Lander and the Heart Mountain Ranch outside of Cody. They are operating these ranches themselves but the use of the land hasn’t changed too much.

    One interesting development in the west has been Ted Turner purchasing at least four large properties making him one of the largest land owners in the US. Large properties like his make it possible to change land use in the west and revert back to practices like running buffalo.

    One of the least known impacts on land use in the west is the positive side of many large ranches not subdividing for urban development. Most of the front range ( Rocky MT. front range ) has been lost as wildlife habitat. One of the reasons I support the HD ranch in our county is their opposition to subdividing. Once its subdivided, there goes the habitat for most species – its so bad in Colorado that the elk are forced to winter among the houses on the bottom land because that was their traditional habitat.

    You’re right, it would have been better if the Government had had the foresight to withdraw large tracts of land in the west from homesteading. But we have another enormous issue with split estate; that is, one party owns the surface estate and other parties own the mineral estate underneath you. I mean you can be using the best management practices on the surface and here come the oil and gas companies. In recent years, the State and Federal governments have leased out extremely large tracts of land in Wyoming for mineral development The most recent EIS issued in Douglas, Wyoming approved oil and gas development on about 1.2 million acres of land all at once!! You wouldn’t believe what the mineral leasing map of Wyoming looks like – there’s more leased land than unleased land.

    There are some notable efforts out here to try and preserve large tracts of land while it can still be done ; however, I think we’re losing land to subdivisions and population growth faster than land is conserved. Oh, there is one other positive development out here – a lot of land owners are selling conservation easements on their land which means it can’t be subdivided – yeh!!! The land is still subject to grazing and other ag uses such as irrigation and hay harvesting but its protected long term. Our current County Planner worked for the Wyoming Stockgrowers Assn. on this issue on a full time basis – their goal, to try and preserve as much of the open land as possible for traditional uses.

    I’m pro ranching in spite of the best use of the land uses questions but the alternatives are much, much worse. What they found in Colorado was that ranches, by not subdividing, were one of the most effective methods of preserving habitat – and if they enter into a conservation agreements, the habitat can be protected forever. Its changing fast out here Nick but its a race between developers and conservationists. But significant progress is being made mostly by conservation agreements and ranchers refusing to sell out to developers.

  7. I agree with your stance Kel. Raise cattle in a region with a landscape and climate that can support the dietary and spatial needs of the animal. That’s why most of our beef is raised east of the 100th meridian. Why bend and break a landscape and limit/fragment the range of species to national parks to fit the needs of a few producers, and at the publics expense?

  8. ENOUGH of this Josh Longwell/Frank Robbins/HD Ranch ‘being wronged’ BS! I won’t go into detail here but this is a 20+ saga of welfare ranching and wanting someone else to pay the bills. Google them.

    1. the only thing that changes with this crew is the names of the ranch managers.

      before too long we’ll be seeing a younger Longwell name complaining that their handout isn’t enough and that they DESERVE more. it is the HD ranch way…..

  9. CROW TRIBE vs. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ( AND STATE OF WYOMING ):

    All, there is a lot of information on the internet about the 9th Circuit Court ruling last year that affirmed the Montana Federal Court decision that the grizzly bears should continue to be listed. I also searched ” 9th Circuit Court Appeals grizzly” and found abundant info. The State of Wyoming was a defendant in this case along with the United States of America ( Department of Interior and USFWS ). There were hundreds of petitioners in the case. It appears to me that the State of Wyoming let the US Attorney’s Office take the lead in this case and Wyoming was probably a silent partner.

    This is the case which determined the present listed status of grizzly bears in Wyoming – and it was decided in Montana and in California with the 9th Circuit court of Appeals. It is notable that the petitioners were pro-active and successfully introduced the case in Montana – thus avoiding Wyoming Federal Court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. This is normal procedure and is just how the game is played.

    Personally, I would like to see the grizzly bear issues in Wyoming argued here rather than in the 9th. Previously, it appears that Wyoming and Montana were separated as distinct populations so one would wonder why our distinct population of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem was affected by this ruling?? These Federal Court issues require us to be pro-active if we are to achieve delisting. Is it possible for the State of Wyoming to file in the 10th based on distinct populations – we need to do something and soon.

    The Governor’s Office, Wyoming Attorney General and Game and Fish need to take legal action in Federal Court here in Wyoming and become more pro-active. They will need experienced outside legal counsel though. Does anyone else have further insight on this matter.

    1. Mr. Campbell:

      Thanks for your informed, detailed, and thoughtful posts. We agree on a few things:

      1) The governor appoints individuals as Game and Fish commissioners without attempting to balance (often competing) interests of multiple stakeholders.

      As a result, we typically have a WGF commission populated almost exclusively by ranchers and outfitters, who are passionate about wildlife so long as it’s convenient and doesn’t affect their bottom line. The chosen professions of these individuals results in built-in conflicts of interest for their appointed posts. This is overlooked both because we live in a state whose economy depends on extraction, and because (societally) we have devalued expertise, conflating hunting enthusiasts for experts on the species that they hunt.

      2) Grizzly bears should be delisted from the ESA, given they have met the 1975 recovery criteria.

      3) to a degree, compensation for livestock depredation should be paid by all taxpaying U.S. citizens (note: this would also mean that all taxpaying U.S. citizens–and not just Wyomingites–should be given agency over the wildlife of Wyoming).

      4) WGF employees sometimes tell WGF commissioners only what they ‘want to hear’.

      We disagree on the following.

      WGF employees sometimes tell WGF commissioners only what they ‘want to hear’ because of some sort of hidden, nefarious motive. In fact, WGF employees often perceive themselves to be muzzled. They tell WGF commissioners what they ‘want to hear’ because, if they don’t, there is a strong chance that they will be labeled squeaky wheels. There is a low but non-zero chance that they will be reported to their superiors and, ultimately, the governor, which could result in a loss of their jobs. As a result, the very individuals that you and I recognize as natural resource experts are sidelined.

      Also, while I am not as well versed in the legality of compensation as you are, there is a logical disconnect in your argument.

      You cite lack of adherence to the law as a (perhaps legitimate) grievance for Mr. Longwell, stating that ‘the law and the courts ruling stands’. Then, you go on (without irony) to imply that the ESA needs to be revised, seemingly just because you don’t like it, or because it’s a pain for some people.

      My point is this: if it’s the law and various court rulings that necessitate such a high degree of compensation for Mr. Longwell, those laws also need to be revised–much as you’re arguing for the ESA.

      The point is a philosophical one. It’s no longer the 1950s. Things have changed. The rest of the world has changed with it. Wyoming ranching hasn’t. Why do we continue to lionize these individuals (particularly in light of their martyred demeanors)? We’ve forced other antiquated professions to adapt or die. The assumption that ranchers can continue doing things the way they’ve always done them represents an unfortunate combination of naivete and entitlement.

  10. Reply to Mike Schmid:

    Mike, I was amazed you don’t understand that it’s the State of Wyoming’s responsibility to take action in Federal Court and not the private landowners – in this case the High Island Ranch. The High Island Ranch – Josh Longwell in particular – has risen to the occasion, especially by going directly to the Game and Fish Commission. In past legal disputes, they have gone all the way to the US Supreme Court with Karen Budd-Falen representing them.

    Could you provide documentation in the public forum that The State of Wyoming has intervened in the Federal legal proceedings which have resulted in the continuation of the grizzly bear listing. Whenever the pro-listing activists file in Federal court the State should intervene and achieve “standings” as a legitimate involved party to the filing. By doing so, the State can become involved and eventually appeal an unfavorable ruling should occasion arise. However, I think the latest ruling was in the 9th circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Was the State of Wyoming a party to this action???

    Are you aware that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver can issue a decision contrary to the 9th Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco’s ruling; and that, the law can be applied differently in different circuit courts?? Should the State of Wyoming file a delisting case in Federal Court in Wyoming, and it proceeds to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver, we might be able to get a contrary decision. However, the State of Wyoming and Game and Fish must know how to play this game on the highest level in order to prevail and get the grizzlies delisted and under management of Game and Fish.

    However, you directly challenge Josh Longwell to enter this battle as a private property owner!!! Unbelievable!!! It is YOUR responsibility as a Game and Fish Commissioner to advance the discussion on when the State of Wyoming will finally rise to the occasion in Federal Court so we can delist. Please don’t try to shift the blame to the private property owners for your failures.

    One of the big problems here is that Game and Fish Commissioners are political appointees and do not have to have any appreciable experience in natural resource issues. To be effective as a participant in natural resource matters, one must have at least 10 years of involvement in issues and preferably up to 40 years of experience. In the whole State of Wyoming we only have about 2 or 3 dozen experienced experts in natural resource issues. They include Angus Thuermer, Dan Helig. Jill Morrison, Karen Budd-Falen, Harriet Hagemann, Doug Thompson, Ken Hamilton, 4 to 5 long term employees of the various conservation districts, about 6 ranchers, and several University of Wyoming faculty members. Game and Fish Commission members rarely rise to this level but I can think of several – especially Mike Healy.

    The problem with inexperienced commission members is that they are dependent on the information which Game and Fish staff present to them and the staff has a long history of only telling the commission members what they want them to hear and conveniently forgetting the rest of the story. And with respect to legal issues such as Federal Court filings the department really doesn’t have a clue. That’s why outside legal council such as Karen and Harriet is a must – the Assistant Attorney Generals assigned to represent Game and Fish do not have the 10-40 years of actual experience in natural resource issues in order to effectively represent the department As a result, the State of Wyoming misses the boat on the delisting matters and gets our butt kicked by the pro-listing activists.

    So what is your response. To naturally blame it on the ranchers and try to shift the responsibility to Josh Longwell for the State’s failures. You even try to shift the responsibility to everyone else – such as the USFWS and the environmental groups – for the department’s failures. So blame everyone else but don’t look in the mirror.

    1. I don’t find it amazing that I don’t understand every legal procedure, I am not an attorney and don’t claim to be astute in every aspect of the law. Something tells me though Mr. Longwell probably has other avenues to pursue his claims. Saying this I think you missed my whole point…the G&F Commission gave authority to the G&F Dept. to write a check to Mr. Longwell for as much as they could by law. I listened to him every spring bad mouth the commission, call them names etc.. He even said, I know how this will turn out but here I am. Maybe he should direct some of his frustrations at our state legislature the very body that approved the compensation plan that the Commission is bound by to pay landowners for their losses. I am pretty sure he knows his local legislators. The legislature largely made up of ranchers designed and approved the 3.5x multiplier for grizzly losses and the 7x multiplier used for Wolf losses. Mr. Longwell says it should be a 20x multiplier, a random number he jerked out of the sky. I was a commissioner in District 3 which has a very large loss for ranchers due to Grizzlies and Wolves in the upper green river country. I saw everyone of those loss reports and damage claims. While I was on the commission we approved every one of them, again for the maximum we could by law. Guess what? Not one of these generational ranching families contested the payment or took the Commission to arbitration, not one!

      I have spent my entire career in the Oil & Gas business in western Wyoming running my own businesses. Our industry has been whittled down to about a 4 month work season. This is caused mostly from wildlife regulations everything from winter range restrictions, migration corridors, strutting sage grouse, nesting raptors, burrowing owls, mountain plovers, elk calving seasons just to name a few. I have had no recourse for any taxpayer group to compensate me for my losses, but you know what, we have adjusted and we are still in business. I only wish I had a mechanism to file a claim to some Gov’t entity and get reimbursed to any degree. To this day I do not understand why hunters & anglers are responsible for Josh Longwells loss.

      I get his frustrations and his losses, I have family and friends that that are in the cattle/ranching business, He needs to buck up and find another way to address this situation if he thinks he deserves more……name calling ended in high school for most of us.

  11. EFFECTS OF THE ESA:

    It would be useful to review one of the great weaknesses of the ESA and that is it burdens private landowners with much of the cost of providing critical habitat without compensation. And this can apply to plants, amphibians, insects, etc. Some argue that the loss of their private property rights actually becomes a TAKINGS; that is, government seizure of private property without compensation. If and when the ESA is revised, this is the most important item to be corrected.

    EXAMPLE: Measure 38 in Oregon. Various Oregon Counties were zoning private property as wetlands and/or wildlife habitat and denying property owners permits to use their land. In other words, you had to pay property tax on the land but could never use it for anything. The matter was put on the ballot in the general election by petition and passed easily – Counties could not TAKE private property without compensation. The Oregon Supreme Court upheld the results of the election and the Counties were given something like 90 days to either pay the claims of a TAKING or remove the zoning restrictions on the land. The Counties did not have the funds to compensate the numerous claims that came in and decided to remove the zoning restrictions.

    With respect to the impact of wolf and grizzly bear listings, it is now becoming clear that a significant amount of the burden for recovering these species is falling on private property and BLM lands adjacent to the designated habitat – primarily through outward migration of the wolves and grizzlies. In some ways, our affected ranchers are lucky that the State of Wyoming compensates for livestock losses – in most ESA situations there is no compensation at all. Remember the irrigators in the central valley of California who lost their water due to designated habitat for a small fish/minnow. I don’t think they got any compensation for loss of their water.

    Please keep in mind that the High Island Ranch and the Peterson Ranch fall within this category. Josh Longwell has alluded to potential TAKINGS of their property rights and he might have a case here although they are at least getting some compensation for their losses. The pity is that Wyoming hunters and fishing license holders are paying the cost when its really a national issue – everyone should be compensating these private property owners for their losses. I’d estimated 95% of the citizens of the US want the wolves and grizzlies recovered – but guess who has to pay for it.

    A critical habitat designation or listed species occupying your property can happen to anyone – and since its a Federal action, the property owners have virtually no options. These are not greedy ranchers, they’re just several of thousands of private property owners in the US carrying this burden. And they deserve the predation compensation they receive – just lucky it’s compensated for in Wyoming. This is not a situation the ranchers created, this situation was created by the ESA and it is the law of the land until grizzlies are delisted.

  12. CAL KING’S BOOK:

    About 15 years ago I read a book about the wildlife in the Big Horn Basin by Cal King a respected Game and Fish warden from Thermopolis. I’m trying to remember this from then, so I may be slightly off. In the middle of the book, in just a few sentences, Cal referenced a court case which originated in the Ten Sleep area wherein three ranchers ( probably Washakie County sheep ranchers ) had taken Game and Fish to court over predator losses due to mountain lions. Apparently, Game and Fish was NOT taking responsibility for the livestock losses and wouldn’t allow the ranchers to control the mountain lions.

    The District Court ruled against Game and Fish and likened the State’s ownership of large carnivores to an individual’s ownership of a dog which runs and kills the neighbors chickens. That is, the owner of the carnivore, whether it be private ownership of a dog or the State’s ownership of large carnivores, is responsible for the damage their carnivore inflicts and must pay the damages. I got the impression from Cal’s book that he considered this a landmark case in Wyoming and largely set the current system of awarding damages to the property owner with the predation loss. Possibly, the legislature enacted legislation as a result of this case and others.

    If anyone has more knowledge of this early case, or a copy of the court proceedings, please make it available to all. This is the heart of the matter, like it or not, the State is responsible for predation losses to ranchers livestock.

    Other comments have attempted to put the responsibility ( shift the responsibility ) to the ranchers with statements like they should have known better, poor management, trying to milk the system for taxpayers and sportsman money, etc. Say what you want, but the law and the court’s ruling stands. Please read up on the legal precedents in Wyoming which determine where we are today. Any factual legal evidence would be welcome – please bring it forward.

    NOTE: It seems coyotes are not part of Game and Fish’s responsibility since the legislature has designated them as a pest listed in the Weed and Pest Act of 1973. That”s why they can be shot at any time, including aerial hunting – and quite honestly, I don’t think Game and Fish wants that problem.

  13. STATE AGENCIES HAVE FAILED MISERABLY IN federal COURT
    The grizzlies have been recovered for some time and Wyoming was close to taking over management of the great bears several times but environmental groups had the resolve to go into Federal Court in front of sympathetic liberal judges and keep the grizzlies on the T&E list . WHY DIDN’T THE STATE AGENCIES RISE TO THE LEVEL OF THE DISPUTE AND PETITION TO DELIST IN FRONT OF REASONABLE JUDGES??? It isn’t the responsibility of the ranchers to pursue this legal action – its the responsibility of the Governor’s Office and Game and Fish. They have failed the ranchers big time, and then turn around and blame the ranchers. The ranchers have been thrown under the bus by the inaction in Federal Court of the State of Wyoming. And we have Harriet Hagemann and Karen Budd-Falen, recognized experts in Federal Court, and the State hasn’t had the vision to utilize them.

    This dispute has to be fought on the highest level even if it means going to the Supreme Court of the United States. Wyoming has been notably absent and doesn’t seem to function on the level as the environmental groups. The environmental groups function on the highest level and they’re light years ahead of our State agencies.. Game and Fish has brought much of this upon themselves – there’s no reason the grizzlies aren’t under State management right now other than inaction and not functioning on the highest level.

    Make no doubt, this is a matter for the Federal Courts – preferably in Wyoming and not Montana on the 9th Court of Appeals in California.

    Don’t blame the ranchers for the failures of the Governor’s Office and Game and Fish.
    .

  14. What are the facts regarding who is footing the bill for both compensation for damages and grizzly bear management? The feds or WGF?
    Your article quotes Longwell on the topic but does not address the facts. Perhaps a follow up article could provide good information.
    thanks

    1. Compensation for livestock losses to wildlife comes out of the G&F fund. That is, out of our hunting and fishing license fees that should be going to wildlife and habitat conservation and management.

      A little history. Before the creation of the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission in the mid 1930s, hunting and fishing license fees collected by the State of Wyoming were fair game for the Legislature to raid for non-wildlife purposes. This was considered a major problem for conservation by well known writers and scientists such as Aldo Leopold, the father of game management and one of the first American conservationists to think ecologically.

      The statutory solution to legislative theft of wildlife funds in Wyoming and most of the United States was to create independent wildlife commissions at the state level that controlled their own budgets.

      In Wyoming, the only reason an independent game and fish commission bill passed into law is because Democrats controlled the legislature and governor’s office; it was the middle of the Great Depression in which Democrats were implementing FDR’s New Deal for all kinds of unprecedented problems throughout the country, to include conservation.

      The New Deal was a radical and necessary response to the Depression. Nonetheless, conservatives and Republicans opposed it bitterly, their arrogance and greed being placed below the common good as a matter of public policy.

      Although Democrats controlled state government, the Stockgrowers had enough pull to place a “tax,” as it were, on the Commission, requiring it to compensate livestock operators for wildlife “damage” to ranches and livestock. This is the origin of the restriction on state sovereignty immunity that Angus mentioned above.

      Since then, the Stockgrowers have been relentless in trying to raid the G&F budget, often succeeding. They’ve tried several times to turn federal Pittman-Robertson funds, based on a national excise tax on firearms and ammunition with the goal of funding habitat conservation, to predator control for livestock. They have secured for landowners owning at least 160 acres exemptions from having to participate in the lottery for highly sought after hunting licenses. They have tried to secure marketable hunting licenses for landowners and outfitters as “incentives” for conservation, essentially privatizing wildlife. turning them into the “king’s deer.” They are responsible for the string of 22 state elk feedgrounds, put into place to shortstop elk migrations thorough private ranches to historic winter ranges, primarily in the Upper Green River Basin and the Red Desert. In short, they are responsible for the brucellosis and chronic wasting disease hazards feedgrounds present. The feedgrounds may be the worst “tax” Stockgrowers have imposed on the G&F Fund, not to mention Wyoming’s precious wildlife and wildlife and habitat.

      The compensation demands placed on the Commission by the above mentioned ranchers need to be seen in the light of history. Stockgrowers have, since the 1930s, imposed significant financial and policy hardships on wildlife conservation and management. It’s been a power play, a demand for tribute from hunters and anglers, and an expression of contempt for the things that represent the best of what Wyoming is.

      It’s about time these “taxes” are repealed as contrary to Wyoming’s sovereign public trust duty to protect the State’s resources against private exploitation.

  15. This article is hard for me to read without getting angry at this rancher, Josh Longwell. His pain is real and I understand their loss, but the way he goes about fighting this is misguided. I felt as a G&F Commissioner that compensation was due and I believe the other commissioners did as well. The commission has always given Longwell as much as we could by law….his response, calling people names, making fun of the green jackets that commissioners were asked to wear at commission meetings, and blaming people that are on his side that do all they can by law to compensate him.
    When he spoke before the commission he always talked about how brave he was because he was the only one that would come and berate the Commission publicly. He constantly reminded us of how much backbone he had. I had some words for him this spring because I knew he would be back, I just wish I was there to deliver them.
    I wanted to tell him to gather up some of that backbone and all of his manhood and go after the folks that are really causing him the grief and that is the USFWS, the environmental groups as well as their activist judges. They are the folks that shut us down every time we try to get these Grizzlies delisted. By going after the G&F Dept. and Commission he is really only hurting the people that believe the same way he does and that is our hunting community. They are the folks that pay these damage claims through licenses they purchase. By going after the G&F Dept., Commission and ultimately hunters, he does the dirty work for the environmental groups. He plays right into their hand by driving the wedge deeper between hunters and landowners. These groups believe in divide and conquer, they sit back and watch this and smile. They have a great partner in Josh Longwell.
    Come on Josh and company, take on the really hard work, get that backbone standing up straight and go after the folks that are really against you. It is not hunters, the G&F Dept. or the G&F Commission. They may be your ally in a battle with these groups.

  16. Should we, the public, be paying compensation to ranchers like Peterson who neglect to cowboy their cattle? Who leave stock on public lands all winter and then include those cows in their depredation compensation? Who have cattle roaming in areas that are not their allotments? Or cattle on public areas off-limits to livestock? Who have so little knowledge of where their cows are, have so few riders on the landscape, that they hire a pilot in the fall and fly for a month looking for their cattle?

    This is the situation last year with Peterson who not only wants compensation for his cows, but would like the state to pay for the cost of doing business and hiring help.

    The Game and Fish did the right thing and I applaud them. But the public needs to keep a watchful eye on unethical ranchers like Peterson and Longwell who are pushing a slippery slope, using fancy legal arguments which disguise their sloppy ranching, to change legislators minds.

  17. Mr. Longwell is incorrect. I am a hunter and an angler, and this is precisely what the mantra “Hunting Is Conservation” means. I like having grizzlies in this part of the state, and it’s my tax dollars that fund WY Game and Fish, the US Forest Service, and the National Park Service. It’s also my tax dollars that fund compensation for livestock losses to predators. I disagree with it, but such is the nature of taxation.

    I don’t understand why Mr. Longwell believes he is entitled to welfare from WY Game & Fish. My hunch–which could be completely mistaken–is that he is against “government handouts” in general, but does not see the irony as applied to his particular situation.

    Cattle ranching in bear country is bad business, same as operating a Blockbuster Video store or typewriter repair shop would be. Yet, the government has not attempted to keep the latter two afloat through subsidies. Why not?

    You can’t build a house next to an airport and complain about noise from the planes. You can’t live in the wilderness and complain about the animals. If Mr. Longwell argues that ranching is the only thing he knows so he cannot adapt, I know of a place with no wolves, no grizzlies, no elk, no bison, and plenty of rainfall. It’s called Iowa. Please consider moving your ranching operation there, given the burden the wildlife in this state seem to be causing you.

    1. Thank you, all the times ive hiked and camped in the back country ive never seen a Bear ir mountain or wolf. Andnif im correct most animals that are killed are sick 90 % of the time from being left to graze in winter

  18. The stock owners knew the risks when they started their businesses. Their losses are THEIRS, not mine. Their “tradition” means nothing to me.