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Editor’s Note: This article was written by Heath Hornecker, who was a high school student in 1995. It was originally printed in Volume 13, Issue 3 of CaTracks, the Douglas High School newspaper, on Feb. 16, 1995.

The long, low, eerie sound of a wolf howling was heard for the last time over 60 years ago in Yellowstone National Park. The wolf, which has roamed the continent for thousands of years, was brought to the brink of extinction by the mid-1930s. The wolf was ordered to be killed after the animal had proved to be a nuisance.

Now, officials are trying to make history, correcting what some people say to be the largest environmental and ecological mistake in Yellowstone this century. A combined effort of environmental groups and the government are trying to create new wolf populations in Yellowstone and central Idaho.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 orders all federal agencies to seek the conservation of all endangered and threatened species. Under pressure from environmentalists, the government is starting to take action.

Working with Canadian officials, the U.S. government is transplanting wolves from Canada into recovery areas in central Idaho and Yellowstone. A total of 30 wolves will be transplanted, 15 in Idaho and 15 in Yellowstone. For the next five years, 15 wolves will be transplanted a year into each area. Over this period of time, officials hope to reach their goal of establishing 10 individual packs of seven or eight wolves within each region.

At the present time, the wolves to be reintroduced in Yellowstone are waiting to be released in three temporary holding pens within Yellowstone. The wolves will be released into the wild in mid-February. Wolves in Idaho, however, have been released into the wild already because of the remote areas.

The conservationist group The Defenders of Wildlife has been one of the forerunners in supporting the reintroduction of the wolf.

President of the conservationist group Rodger Schlickeisen said, “The return of the wolf to its historic habitat is a homecoming for all American.”

The wolf is the only mammal not presently living in Yellowstone that was there when the park was established in 1872.

The new recovery plan is receiving much opposition, especially from people in the agricultural community. Their main concerns bring up the fact that wolves will not stay inside Yellowstone’s boundaries and will threaten livestock in the surrounding areas.

“I feel that there is a pretty good chance that wolves could set up packs outside of the park this year,” commented Wildlife Biologist Tom Ryder of the Wyoming Game and Fish.

Under the proposed plan, all of Wyoming, parts of Montana and parts of Idaho are listed as experimental recovery areas for the wolf.

“The wolf won’t stay inside Yellowstone. That’s why these areas are listed as recovery areas,” says Ryder. “This designation allows the government more flexibility in controlling the population of the wolf outside the park.”

Wolves have been known to travel up to 550 miles from their home territory. Viable wolf habitat stretches for hundreds of miles surrounding the park, which includes many ranching areas.

Rick Allen, a rancher near Lander, relies on leases on National Forest ground to summer his cattle. These leases are in the Wind River Mountains and are located only 160 miles from the center of Yellowstone.

“We already have enough problems with mountain lions and coyotes without adding to the problem,” says Allen, referring to livestock losses due to predators.

The proposed reintroduction plans do recognize the possibility of wolves preying upon livestock. An added provision under the proposal allows ranchers to kill wolves that are witnessed killing livestock on private lands within the designated recovery areas. The rancher would have to report the incident within 48 hours and provide visible proof that the wolf was killing livestock.

“I feel the plan will be hard to administer and hard to provide evidence. I don’t have someone watching the cows all the time and might not be able to prove it was a wolf that killed it,” commented Allen.

The Defenders of Wildlife also recognize the possible threat upon ranchers. The group has started a $100,000 compensation fund for ranchers with verified livestock losses due to wolves. The group’s goal is to shift the economic responsibility for wolf recovery away from the rancher. The plan would reimburse ranchers the market value of the animal based upon local auction prices.

In an effort to half the reintroduction, the American Farm Bureau filed a lawsuit against Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We filed suit on the grounds that we believe that there are wolves already there. If they’re there, they can’t reintroduce an experimental population. It violates the Endangered Species Act,” stated Rick Krause, attorney for the American Farm Bureau.

Federal Judge William Downes of the District Court in Cheyenne, however, denied a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the reintroduction. The Farm Bureau will try to appeal the judge’s decision and will go to court on Feb. 28.

“If we win our appeal, the reintroduction will stop, and if we win our case, we expect the government to take out the wolves that have already been transplanted,” said Krause.

Heated discussion has brought the consideration that wolves may already be in Yellowstone and surrounding areas. Surveys done of the Jackson, Dubois and Cody areas by government officials have shown no wolf populations exist. An occasional stray from northern Montana may prove occasional wolf and track sightings true.

Wolf experts also are aware of the possibility of wolves reinstating themselves. These wolves will either come from wolves that are presently in Yellowstone or from wolves that could migrate down the Rocky Mountains from Montana or Canada.

“The possibility is there but could take up to 60 years for the wolf to recover on its own,” said Hayes [one such expert]. “The Endangered Species Act calls for recovery of the wolf sooner than that.”

Another concern for the public is the money being spent on the reintroduction.

“There are many more important areas we could put our money into,” said Allen.

The recovery plan will cost an estimated $7 million of taxpayers’ money.

It is now just a matter of waiting before the wolves will be released into the wild. People from across the nation are waiting to hear the sound of a wolf howling again.

Schlickeisen stated that, even for those who may never get to the park, “that the howl of the wolf is synonymous with the call of the wild. Putting wolves back into Yellowstone is like putting the ‘wild’ back into the wilderness.”

For others near the park, putting the wolf back in Yellowstone will be like putting a killer back on the streets.

This spring, I was honored to be selected as one of two students nationally to attend the Spring Legislative Conference in Washington D.C. with industry leaders from around the country with the Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). The experience gained, coupled with the learning growth involving the legislative process and agency work, was an invaluable opportunity.

Sitting in on three of the Public Lands Council committee meetings revolutionized many of my current opinions.  Previously, I only had a state or regional perspective on the issues facing many public lands ranchers. 

Committee work

The Wild Horse and Burro Committee meeting furthered my stance on how detrimental this issue is in many states. The health of the range, horses, land and the ranch families who rely on this land to make a living are all at stake.  The vulnerability that poor management, or lack thereof, on behalf of the agencies responsible has put the above mentioned aspects in jeopardy. 

Currently there are several lawsuits in progress dealing with horse populations that exceed Appropriate Management Levels (AML), which shows management is not even remotely within the appropriate use according to the agencies that hold the responsibility over the management.

Relocating or removing these animals does not solve the problem if there is no population control in place. Numbers are almost three times the appropriate level in many areas and are a serious concern that needs action now.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has removed some horses, but after removal, the horses are kept in holding facilities costing the government and taxpayers almost $50 million annually. 

Neil Kornze, current director of the BLM, spoke on behalf of this issue. He empathized with the frustration and struggles being faced by the ranchers. However, his answers did not give me any resolution or confidence in the issues being addressed in the near future by the agency, especially without any urging.

The Grazing Rights Committee touched on many of the issues facing today’s public lands ranching families and how to begin to address these issues. The biggest problem facing this committee is that range rights can vary permit-to-permit and state-to-state, making this difficult to address. Committee members are working towards finding common ground and ways to operate with the agencies to protect the ranchers’ current rights and ensure the future of the range for future generations. 

The Sage Grouse Committee hits very close to home for me personally.  Although we do not have any on our allotment, many neighboring ranches and families across Colorado, Wyoming and the West have been heavily impacted by the decline of the population.  The recent listing decision was in favor of the Greater sage grouse, since populations are now considered stable. Mitigation and improvements have benefited the grouse and determined that protection was no longer warranted under the Endangered Species Act. 

The BLM Planning 2.0 was recently released, and the comment period extended by a mere 30 days.  This could potentially lead to grazing restrictions that are not necessary.  I encourage everyone to participate in the comment period, which is closing May 25. The comment period will be crucial, and BLM’s Planning 2.0 needs to be carefully watched and heavily commented on.   

Witnessing these passionate and exceptional individuals from across the country congregate on behalf of their livelihood and in defense of other rancher’s rights was a humbling experience. The time, effort and work that goes into defending our rights, especially as ranchers who rely heavily on the use of public lands as seen on a national level, was solidified during my stay in D.C.


At the NCBA welcoming session, the staff and president went into great detail over the legislative issues facing the entire beef industry and supplied us with talking points for meeting with our elected officials.  One of the key issues currently is getting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) passed. TPP offers many benefits across multiple industries and is key in keeping exports viable. 

TPP allows exports, such as tongue and short plates, that are not desirable to the American consumer to add value to the producers when exported to key markets such as Asia.  Our tariff is currently at 38.5 percent on beef in Japan, a country that is one of our key export receivers for beef. On passage of TPP, that tariff would be lowered over the course of 16 years, keeping us competitive with our primary competitor Australia, which is currently only at a 28 percent tariff with Japan. 

This current advantage that Australia holds with Japan cost nearly $300 million in lost sales in 2015 alone. If TPP does not pass, it would allow China to dictate the terms of trade with our major export markets and would prove to be devastating. 

Congressional delegation

When visiting with the congressmen from Wyoming, as well as other states, I was amazed at how much respect was shown towards the cattlemen.  It seemed as if a vast majority of the elected officials from the western states revere the opinions from the “boots on the Hill.” 

Previously, I contemplated if we truly carried a voice in D.C., but after witnessing it in person, I feel confident that our words are in fact impactful in the legislative process.  Too often our industry and agriculture as a whole feels as if it is fighting an uphill battle, especially with the current administration.

This provided me an invaluable experience that will influence my career in the future. I will be back to Washington, D.C. with PLC and NCBA members in the near future. I want to sincerely thank PLC, as well as the Wyoming Public Lands Coalition, for supporting me in this endeavor and supplying me with such a valuable opportunity.

The Wyoming Beef Ambassador program means more to me than just another program to help fill my résumé. The purpose of this program is to educate and inform consumers about the beef community. This includes, but is not limited to, how we raise beef, why beef is healthy and safe handling of beef. 

Promoting the beef community in a positive light is critical, especially since agriculture is facing adversity from anti-agricultural groups like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States. I work hard to promote the beef community because we have an excellent story to tell. I know that we all are up bright and early to ensure our animals have the food and water they need, and I want consumers to know how hard we work to bring beef to their tables. This is the life that I love, and by sharing my passion for the beef community, hopefully I can change their minds about beef too.

Since April, I have kept very busy promoting the beef community. The first event the Wyoming Beef Ambassadors attended was the Earth Day Barbecue at the University of Wyoming, hosted by Alpha Gamma Rho and the Wyoming Collegiate Cattle Association. This was a great consumer event. We served over 1,100 hamburgers.and were able to interact with students and faculty about the beef community. 

The main concern people had was about the nutrition in beef. Beef is often perceived as an unhealthy indulgence, which could not be further from the truth. We were able to share that beef is packed with nutrients your body needs, such as zinc, iron and protein. Overall, the event went very well. 

I have also completed several classroom presentations. I presented to second and third grade classrooms in my community this month. I had several activities for the students. 

One of their favorite parts of my lesson was when I talked about why we eat beef. I taught the students actions for some of the nutrients we get from beef. One example I used was protein. Beef helps our body build muscle, repair wounds and provides us with energy. After discussing why we need protein in our diets, I taught them one simple action to remember it by. For protein, I had the students show off their biceps, because protein helps build muscle. The students knew all of the actions by the time we were done. Some of the students even wanted to go through the nutrients just one more time before I left the classroom. 

Another part of my presentation that they all really enjoyed was about how beef impacts our communities. I had each of the students wear hats that represented various jobs impacted by the beef community, like a chef hat or a felt hat for a rancher. The students seemed surprised at how big the impact of one cow was on the whole economy of the town. It wasn’t just the rancher selling his cattle. He had to buy feed from a farmer and use a truck driver to transport his cattle. 

In April, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to Greg Peterson of the Peterson Farm Brothers speak in Torrington. We learned some great lessons on how to advocate for agriculture. Their story was awesome to hear. They have reached so many people, all by creating parodies of popular songs with an agricultural twist to them.

We have also taken to social media. Be sure to like our Facebook page, “Wyoming Beef Ambassador Team.” We update this page every day with facts, recipes and photographs about the beef community. To try and reach more millennials, I have started my own Facebook page, “A Day In the Life of a Princess Farmer.” On this page, I post pictures and talk about the work I am doing on my family’s farming/ranching operation. With so much misinformation out there, I encourage everyone to advocate for agriculture and tell the public what is really happening on our farms and ranches. We have a very powerful tool with social media, and the ability to reach consumers is at the tip of our fingers. 

I have been really surprised at how easy it is to get started and reach consumers. I am excited to see where else this program will take me. All I know is the Wyoming Beef Ambassador Program is much, much more than a résumé filler.

Find the Wyoming Beef Ambassadors and Rachel on Facebook at and

I’m proud to be a member of Wyoming L.E.A.D. Class 13. The most recent highlight of this experience was our trip to Washington, D.C. for a week. It was the fifth seminar in a 14-month journey where the 15 members of our group will learn leadership skills and gain knowledge, so we can effectively advocate for the agriculture industry.  

While in Washington, D.C. we met with our Congressional delegation on Capitol Hill, heard the planting intentions report firsthand in the National Agriculture Statistics Service lockup and met with representatives of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Farm Bureau to discuss various ag issues. We also had free time to meet with an organization or individual that we wanted to learn more about. I attended a meeting with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, along with some other members of the group. The meeting motivated me to attend their stakeholder’s summit next week to learn what millennials think about the industry.

The highlight of the program so far is certainly our trip to Washington D.C., but we also meet regularly and learn about important ag topics. In December, we toured several agriculture operations in Park County and learned what made each of them successful. In February, we met for a week in Cheyenne during the legislative session to learn about state government. The seminars have certainly been educational, and the people we have met have been inspiring.

While each of us is certainly fortunate to be part of the Class 13, the seven months have taught me that each member of our class also carries a great weight to ensure we effectively lead the agriculture industry forward. 

There will be no shortage of challenges ahead that we will be asked to handle. First and foremost, it’s obvious we need to educate the public about the benefits of eating beef – while simultaneously correcting all the misinformation out there. Second, it’s not going to be easy to fight off environmental claims and explain that ranchers are, and have been, incredible stewards of the land. Third, an aging population is going to make it harder to ensure we keep farms and ranches in the family for generations to come. Finally, it certainly won’t be easy to rein in burdensome government regulations. 

These certainly are not all of the challenges that the industry faces. I’m sure every other member of our class could easily name five different issues. The Wyoming L.E.A.D. program has already taught us ways we can solve some of these challenges. For example, we each received media training from NCBA’s Joe Hansen. We also learned about the details of the Farm Bill, so we can talk intelligently about those issues. 

Being effective leaders for the agriculture industry will undoubtedly take countless hours of our time in the future. I’m confident that the L.E.A.D. program will prepare us for what’s ahead. 

The program also gives us a great network to turn to when a challenge presents itself. Personally, I have enjoyed the friendships I have made more than anything. I’m certainly the odd-man-out in the group. While I grew up on a farm and ranch in western Nebraska, I came to Wyoming for law school and to develop an agricultural law practice. Therefore, unlike most of the others in our group, that means I sit behind a desk most of the day, while they are out on the ranch. 

Each member of our class brings something a little different to the table. Getting to know each other has been fun, and it will help us in the future when we need to work together to solve an issue. There will be problems that none of us can solve individually. As a group, however, we can work together, and work with alumni of the program and others in the industry, to move forward and solve these challenges.

As I look back now, it’s surprising to think that we are half way through the program. I look forward to each of the upcoming seminars, and I know our group is excited to visit India in November to learn about agriculture in a different part of the world. We will graduate in January 2015 from the program, but I think that’s when our journey will truly begin. 

Justin Newell Hesser is a fellow in Wyoming L.E.A.D. Class 13. He is an associate at Dray, Dyekman, Reed and Healey, P.C. in Cheyenne focusing on agricultural law.