The paw of a grizzly caught after killing stock. (provided by Josh Longwell)

The Wyoming Supreme Court has rejected Thermopolis area rancher Josh Longwell’s claim that the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission owes him $288,527 for calves killed by grizzly bears.

The court on April 28 upheld a district court decision that also rejected Longwell’s claim and that found an arbitration panel ruled “on a matter not submitted to them” in awarding the rancher more than Game and Fish regulations and Wyoming law allowed.

Longwell sought $349,730 for calf losses during the 2018 grazing season, challenging the Game and Fish formula that only pays ranchers up to 3.5 times the value of calves confirmed killed by trophy game. The 3.5 multiplier recognizes that some cattle lost to bears are never found and Game and Fish used that formula to award him $61,202.

The arbitration panel used no multiplier and said Game and Fish should pay Longwell $266,685 for all his calf losses. That included 20 confirmed calf kills and 294 more that Longwell said were missing. That arbitration decision was far more than allowed by the 3.5 multiplier outlined in regulations.

Who said what

“We are sympathetic to Mr. Longwell’s plight,” the court’s decision reads. “However, … Mr. Longwell’s remedy lies with the [Game and Fish] Commission or the [L]egislature, not this Court.”

Those bodies could change statute or regulation to allow the Game and Fish Commission to pay more, the court suggested. 

In 2020 Longwell tried to argue before the arbitration panel that the three-person committee need not be bound by the existing regulations that allow payment only for confirmed kills plus a multiplier.

“We disagree,” justices Kate Fox, Keith Kautz, Lynne Boomgaarden, Kari Gray and John Fenn wrote.

The role of an arbitration panel “is to reach a decision within the confines of the law, and not to just reach any decision that seems attractive to them …” the Supreme Court decision reads.

Last month Longwell was in front of the Game and Fish Commission again, appealing for more compensation than department investigators proposed for losses in 2021.

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

“The system is broken,” Longwell told commissioners, in April before they sided with their staff and against his claim, including for kills by mountain lions. He has argued that trophy game damage includes weight loss in stock, and the expense of searching for missing animals, among other things, although laws and regulations limit compensation to “direct losses.”

“The laws and rules and regulations are set up where they don’t cover all the costs,” Longwell told commissioners last month.

Why it matters

Longwell has protested state and federal management of grizzly bears, which remain on the federal list of threatened species and are largely protected — especially from hunting. Wyoming wants to be able to hunt grizzlies and has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to change their threatened status.

Game and Fish in coordination with federal officials have trapped and moved, or removed, some grizzlies from the Owl Creek drainage in Hot Springs County where Longwell grazes stock.

Some Game and Fish commissioners agreed that the multiplier needs to be investigated and field personnel should be given more flexibility when verifying kills and losses.

History

Through 2004 Game and Fish first set a multiplier for confirmed grizzly losses in an open range at 1.67, based on research. More documentation from ranchers grazing public lands in the Upper Green River drainage led the agency to increase that to 3.5 under certain conditions.

Longwell has repeatedly filed damage claims and challenged Game and Fish awards since 2018. None of the challenges has seen significant success, although some awards have been slightly modified.

April’s decision was the first time any of Longwell’s challenges has reached Wyoming’s Supreme Court.

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. According to the Environmental Working Group, Harvey Frank Robbins Jr., from 1995-2020, collected $693,965 in Federal farm payments. Livestock payments amounted to $321,561. These payments are from taxes collected from hard-working Americans.

  2. This ranch and it’s owners have a long history of confrontation with public land administration, public land users, and native wildlife. It’s well known that they have no respect for government and regulations to protect the rangeland and/or wildlife. They are independently wealthy and probably don’t need the ranch to make a living, but they go out of their way to make trouble for federal land management agencies and the Wyoming Game and Fish. If they really want to make money in livestock production, they would sell out and buy a big productive ranch and feedlot in Kansas or Oklahoma. It’s going to be tough for a ranch to be a money-maker in the high desert of the Bighorn Basin, even without predators. If they don’t want to deal with bears, wolves, or lions move to a place without those critters. Don’t like the government or public land, move to a place without it. It’s pretty simple. Tell them to “pound sand”. No damage payments to this outfit.

    1. Wow, Lucas, very well said! The Robbins Cabal up there on Cottonwood Creek need to realize that the public are tired of their crybabying and complaining, their abuse of the public lands and the taxpayer subsidies they pocket yearly. Can’t forget to mention this group posting public land and harassing recreationalists while profiting off of our wildlife herds. The public has grown tired of the constant shenanigans and the fight is coming to the Robbins bunch and ole’ Frank needs to realize that riding a mule in circles around the Worland BLM office for a straight month didn’t impress, nor intimidate anybody

  3. I’ve read where it cost the BLM about $8.00 per animal unit month to manage that range. So, with that figure and subtract the $1.35, Longwell and Crew are costing us $6.65 a month for every cow & calf they’re running on our public lands. I’ll tell you what, Josh and your sugar daddy John Robbins, you ought to just keep your heads down and quit whining over your public land grazing. Same land also where you conduct your expensive guided hunts that harvest the public’s wildlife. Do you reimburse us for that? Keep it up and hopefully we’ll get you welfare ranchers run off the public lands, maybe all the way back to ‘Bama. Meanwhile, you could always take your private land holdings, build some bear fence and graze your animals there.

    1. you nailed a real problem, “Keep it up and hopefully we’ll get you welfare ranchers run off the public lands, maybe all the way back to ‘Bama.”
      Danged climate change is making it livable for grit eaters in the Rockies. Bring on the next Ice Age!

    2. Totally agree.
      Ranchers have more welfare than anyone else and it is time that public land was used by the public.

      1. If your business can’t survive without government subsidies, you should find a new career. The money that is spent on welfare ranchers could be better used elsewhere.

  4. no sympathy here for the ranchers who live from the public trough. Keep ranchers off public land and this problem would disappear.

  5. To my mind, this is plain and simple welfare…. Lo well just feeding at the public trough!

  6. Mr. Longwell is trying to break the system of compensation for all wildlife in Wyoming. And some members of the Game and Fish Commission are anxious to help. Many of the County Natural Resource Plans created in the last years try to hold both public land managers and the public responsible for all wildlife incursions and consumption on the land. It is Wyoming Bundy drama taken to a higher level.,

  7. Grizzlies and Wolves forever. Not a bunch of methane burping cows and oilfield that keeps flaring gas instead of paying owed royalties on those hydro-carbons. BS

  8. let’s do some math. The BLM and USFS grazing lease is $1.35 a month per cow and calf (four and a half cents a day). Private grazing leases in the neighboring state of Nebraska average $55 cow/calf a month ($1.83 a day). I think the HD runs 600 pairs…5 months public grazing = $4,050 annual rent. Private ground grazing = $165,000. Longwell and ride’round in circles Robbins only pay 2.4% of what fair rent would be. And yet they’re still whining? Along with the almost free grazing, the HD also outfits on the public lands, always running to the public off and illegally posting it plus making 1,000’s of dollar off the taxpayers wildlife. When you do the math, there’s really no room to both have symphony or emphasize with these people.

  9. While I sympathize with Mr. Longwell’s losses, the fact remains that the state has limited options–due to the federal courts keeping Grizzly listed–to address livestock losses. It is not the fault of the Game and Fish, or the public who funds them, that livestock losses due to bears are an ongoing burden to ranchers. If these losses occurred on public lands, those that hold grazing leases to these lands, need to remember that losses to bears and lions are going to be part of the equation. They can’t expect the public to subsidize both the cost of grazing and livestock losses. Public land grazing fees are dirt cheap compared to private lands, but some risks are also involved. If Mr. Longwell grazes public lands, he may want to reevaluate his bottom line to decide if he can make money doing it. Regardless, it’s long past time for the feds to give the state total control over Grizzlies.

    1. Yes. Exactly. Continue to feed at the public trough, expect some inconvenience. Too bad for his losses, but what else can be expected? Not my job to pay for his losses when he can’t seem to figure out a way to diminsh them when those methods helpful in avoiding predation lossess are well known. He looks like some kind of gentleman rancher any way. Whine.

    2. Robert: ” It is not the fault of the Game and Fish, or the public that funds them…..”.a completely erroneous statement! ! The District Court in Washakie County has held that the State of Wyoming as owner of the predators and/or ungulates, is responsible for damages caused by the State’s animals. THIS IS NOT IN DISPUTE. The State of Wyoming and even the federal government can be sued for wrongful deaths caused by grizzly bears. Please do a Google search for ” grizzly bear wrongful death lawsuit” its very enlightening .
      I am directly responsible for my dog running free and killing the neighbors chickens or lambs and must pay damages. With the State’s ownership of wildlife such as predators the exact same situation is created – THE COURTS HAVE RULED THE STATE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR DAMAGES WHICH THE STATE’S WILDLIFE CAUSES TO PRIVATE PROPERTY including forage and livestock. That is the law in Wyoming. It can be changed by the Legislature, but until the Supreme Court overturns the Washakie County ruling, or the Legislature acts, the Washakie County decision stands.
      This ruling applies to all of Wyoming including northwest Wyoming where many of the ranches are adjacent to grizzly bear and wolf designated habitat. I agree that purchasing a ranch lying adjacent to grizzly and wolf habitat comes with its own problems, including mixed land ownership, but that doesn’t change the liability of the State for damages. Previously, I had commented on how wise its been for Ted Turner to purchase ranches with minimal Federal acreage where he can manage his private property as he sees fit, and its worked remarkably well. USFWS and Game and Fish need to recognize the northwest Wyoming ranches as partners in wildlife management and work with them very closely on predator issues. This is the case on the High Island Ranch where Game and Fish employees frequent the ranch and work extremely close with Josh Longwell trying to minimize livestock losses. On site management of grizzly bears reduces Game and Fishes expenses for predation losses and also the ranches losses. However, the ranch expects to be reimbursed for their full expenses not just a portion of their expenses. And, Mr. Longwell has documentation ( research ) which indicates the losses are much higher than the amount set by Game and Fish.

      1. It’s safe to say that those of us who work and live in this state, pay taxes, and own the public lands that they are landlocking, are getting fed up with land barons like Mr. Longwell and Mr. Eschelman. Let alone the tax money going to them every time they whine and cry about some “injustice” that’s happened against them. I certainly hope that the tide is changing against them and their efforts. We live in a democratic country, not a feudal system. If they (and others like them) do not like it, please, please for the love of god leave! Enough with these people, they do not contribute to this states economy, that’s a myth that needs to be dispelled. I certainly hope that our legislators are paying attention to this-keep them out of your pockets and represent the majority of us who live and work here!

  10. T&E UNFUNDED MANDATES:
    The State of Wyoming and the High Island Ranch are both victims of a congressional unfunded mandate caused by the threatened and endangered species legislation which requires private land owners and the states to assume the burden of funding recovery of T&E species – the exception being USFWS funds which are woefully inadequate. As a result, Wyoming has incurred over $62 million in expenses related to recovery of grizzly bears and a similar large sum for wolf recovery. Not only does the state ( Wyoming Game and Fish ) pay the direct expenses of managing these species but Game and Fish also pays damage claims for both predators and ungulates – publicly owned animals – from sales of hunting and fishing tags.
    For those ranchers in the interface zone where ranching activities abut designated habitat for recovering species – the impact from predator depredation is extremely high. Keep in mind that the High Island and other interface ranches must deal with six predators ( black bears, grizzly bears, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes and wolves ). The losses sustained by the interface ranches are realistic and they are only compensated for direct loss of livestock. Other expenses are not reimbursed and worse of all, some ranches incur almost 30% of their cows being open due to inability to breed caused by extreme stress. On the High Island, Josh Longwell works almost full time on predator issues, primarily grizzly bears, and coordinates almost daily with Game & Fish, USFWS, and animal damage control personnel. He is not compensated for his time and expenses.
    Wyoming’s grizzly bear population greatly exceeds the goals set in the Federal and Sate grizzly bear management plans but control of the excessive population by hunting is currently not allowed awaiting Wyoming’s application for a distinct population segment for the Greater Yellowstone management area which includes portions of the GYE in Idaho, Montana and the Wind River Indian Reservation. The grizzly bear population is so high that Game & Fish had to put down about 30 bears which were live trapped last year because there is virtually no available designated habitat which is unoccupied. The excess of over populated grizzlies are out migrating onto private land outside of their designated habitat. As a result, the High Island Ranch has been overly impacted by the migrating grizzlies.
    The High Island Ranch losses are for real and they are not complainers. Rather, they are victims of T&E legislation, along with the State of Wyoming, which is categorized as an ” unfunded mandate”.
    Please note that the public’s funds are not used to fund grizzly bear recovery even though many of the American people support wolf and grizzly bear recovery in the GYE. Its time for the American public taxpayers to pay these expenses including all of the losses of the High Island Ranch including time lost, direct expenses for vehicles, open cows, etc.
    Bottom line is that its grossly unfair for the High Island Ranch, the Crandall Creek Ranch and dozens of others to absorb the costs of T&E recovery – the American public should share those costs – and Wyoming Game and Fish has really carried the financial burden for wolf and grizzly recovery.

    1. Well then, go ranch somewhere were the wild life is less wild. Around Rock Springs, when the sheep herds roll through there is always a few left behind and a few from auto hits. Can Magagna show the public that he never included these sheep in his claims for wild life predation? I would like to see how many he does claim and some extrapolation can be done. BS

      1. Bill: When Frank Robbins bought the High Island, there were very few predator problems and he could not foresee the effect of grizzly bears and wolf reintroduction on his ranching business. Subsequently, the highly successful wolf and grizzly bear reintroduction problems, spilled over from their designated habitat in Yellowstone, the adjacent wilderness areas and Shoshone National forest onto his private ranch. The American public wants these species recovered but ignores the effects on the adjacent private ranches.

        1. My first and last name doesn’t begin with either a B or a S. I just want to say,
          B S

      1. Yep, disease and bad ownership cause more losses than wildlife, they will want us to start paying for that next.

    2. My friend, your 30% number is a fiction, plain & simple! There is NO stockman, anywhere in this nation, that sustains losses that high due to predation if any kind. Nothing more than propaganda. Try peddling your lies somewhere else. Public land is PUBLIC land! It’s natural habitat, & if a rancher is foolish enough to graze his/her stock around large native carnivores, he/she deserves what they get: dead cattle/sheep/goats, etc. What’s more, they should receive no compensation for it. They knew the risks before they leased. The entire push behind de-listing wolves & grizzlies is to eliminate barriers to rancher hegemony on public lands. Someone noted above that this in not feudal Europe, & that’s the point. Public lands, & the wildlife that inhabit them, are a national legacy to be preserved for all of our heirs, not the select few who think they have some God-ordained right to lord it over the rest of us. There’s a storm coming against the welfare ranchers, & it’s coming soon, so they’d better be ready!

  11. Frank Robbins, the Alabama silver spooner. Didn’t he ride around the Worland BLM office something like 30 days in a row protesting something silly? Aren’t these the same people who wanted to graze domestic right in the middle of a herd of bighorns (that can catch fatal diseases from the domestic sheep)? Aren’t these the same people that not only were attempting to run people off of public land, but also posting this land? Folks, don’t cry a river for these types.

  12. They’re gonna need a bigger woodshed up there on the HD Ranch along Owl Creek…

  13. FYI, Longwell is Frank Robbins’ son in law. Google “Frank Robbins” and “High Island Ranch” for sheets and giggles. These folks have done it all, such as posting public land, harassing hunters and just plain being crybabies. I hope the Grizz kill all of their range maggot livestock

    1. Right on. The rangeland in Wyoming is in such bad shape from BLM support to these livestock interests. Send the whole bunch packing, maybe back to Oklahoma or Texas. Wyoming needs to rehabilitate the range, not continue as is now. BS