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By Liz LeSatz, WLR Correspondent

Laramie – “Endangered species” is a term that can have a negative association with many Wyoming agriculturists. However, due to an agreement between the federal government and ranchers, Albany County landowners may be more open to welcoming an endangered species on their property.
    In order to further recovery efforts for the Wyoming toad, an endangered species, a Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) between the Laramie Rivers Conservation District (LRCD) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) was signed Fall 2004. The SHA allows private landowners to have endangered species on their property without repercussions from the government for unintentionally killing a toad, according to LRCD Manager Tony Hoch. He says the agreement was signed prior to the first reintroduction of toads in June 2005 and took around two years to complete.
    “[The Safe Harbor Agreement] is an important precedent,” Hoch says. “It is the first agreement in the region and is an example of how people can deal with endangered species.”
    As part of the SHA, LRCD holds the “incidental take permit” for Albany County and area landowners can enter into the agreement with the district, Hoch says. The agreement protects the landowner as long as no intentional harm comes to the Wyoming toad. The SHA also protects adjacent landowners against liability for unintentionally killing Wyoming toads on their property.
    With an SHA, recovery efforts for the Wyoming toad, accomplished largely through reintroductions, have expanded in the Laramie River Basin. The Buford Foundation is a ranch that reintroduced the species under the SHA in 2005. One other traditional rancher in Albany County is also involved in the agreement, according to Hoch.
    “The only real change made after the reintroduction of the toad was the timing of grazing, not the amount of grazing,” Art Anderson, volunteer manager for the Buford Foundation property, says.
    The Wyoming toad was thought to have gone extinct in the 1970s, according to Anderson, who is the former Wyoming toad coordinator for FWS. A fisherman rediscovered the species in 1987 at Mortenson Lake on rancher Charlie Swanson’s property.
    The Nature Conservancy later purchased the portion of Swanson’s property that contained Mortenson Lake and eventually the FWS bought the property and created the Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
    Upon selling the land, Swanson wanted to buy the grazing rights. However, he was initially denied access.
    “At the time I said ‘if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it,’” says Swanson. “This was the only place in the world the toad survived and it survived with my cows.”
    The FWS originally thought it would be best to reduce grazing around the lake, but the toad started to avoid heavily vegetated areas, according to Anderson. Ideal Wyoming toad habitat includes short grass and warm, shallow water, according to FWS.
    “Because I wasn’t grazing and irrigating out of the lake, the grass was growing too tall and the lake-shore was getting too cold,” Swanson says.
    The FWS then asked Swanson to return the area to his previous management practices.
    Since the discovery of the species, the FWS has learned a lot about the Wyoming toad and its habitat requirements, Anderson says. Reintroduction of the species does not seem to affect a landowner’s existing management practices. The only change to grazing management may be the timing of existing practices but Anderson says the modifications should not be detrimental.
    Haying and irrigating practices also see minimal affects, according to Anderson. The Wyoming toad is located in wet areas so producers would not normally hay those locations due to risk of getting equipment stuck. Irrigating is also beneficial to the toad because eggs and tadpoles develop in standing water from late-May to mid-July.
    “There are not many existing land-use practices in the Laramie Plains that would need to be modified to protect the toad,” he says. “Good grazing practices go hand-in-hand with the management...As long as wetlands are maintained and landowners don’t abuse areas, the toad creates no impact to the operation.”
    “The willingness of the staff in the FWS field office to work with the landowners is very important,” says Hoch. He sees potential for similar opportunities with Preble’s mice, should they ever be re-listed in Wyoming, and the sage grouse.

Green River – During an early September meeting, the Wyoming Section of the Society for Range Management (SRM) convened for a week of education and on-the-ground experience related to rangeland management.

In addition to sessions both in the classroom and in the field, SRM members gathered to recognize those range professionals who have served the state and industry.

Men on the Range

This year, Wyoming SRM recognized two men with the Outstanding Man on the Range Award.

“This award is given to individuals who are actively engaged in ranching or range management and are recognized leaders in the profession,” said Wyoming SRM President Mae Smith. “Candidates must be interested in the promotion and advancement of the art and science of range management.”

Ray Gullion was selected as a result of his service in Worland’s field office of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). With over 30 years in NRCS, Gullion has been active across multiple counties.

“Ray’s work in the field of range management, his willingness to work long hours and his volunteer work show his dedication to the profession,” Smith said. “He has trained and encouraged students, volunteers and agency professionals in rangeland monitoring, inventory techniques and range management practices.”

Another NRCS employee, Bryan Christensen, was also recognized with the Outstanding Man on the Range Award.

“Bryan’s work on environmental site description development, training and education, and his awareness of producer and landowner needs makes him a worthy recipient of the Outstanding Man on the Range Award,” Smith said.

Christensen works for NRCS in Pinedale and is SRM’s president-elect.

Trail Boss Award

“The Trail Boss Award is one of the highest recognitions within the Wyoming Section of SRM,” Smith continued. “Recipients are members of SRM and have made noteworthy or outstanding contributions in the past five years in the art and science of range management.”

This year, Wyoming SRM recognized John Likins with the Trail Boss Award.

“John has contributed time and supplies to data collection and review of historical data to assist with ESD development, climate station installation and soil sensor installation to support monitoring project,” Smith said.

Smith recognized Likin’s dedication, knowledge, enthusiasm and support of range management as being vital in improving the ability for professionals to manage Wyoming’s vast rangelands.

Learn more about the Wyoming Section for the Society for Range Management and this year’s annual meeting by visiting rangelands.org/Wyoming.

Cody – “Grizzly bears die for several different reasons,” says Wyoming Game & Fish Department (G&F) Bear Management Program Supervisor, Mark Bruscino, in the Cody Regional G&F Office.
    “They die from being hit by a vehicle, agency management removal of problem animals, or animals that are sick or injured, removals by the public in self-defense situations and illegal killing,” says Bruscino. “We have several animals in each category each year, including six to eight agency removals a year.”
    When the animal’s body parts are salvageable, the G&F donates them to public entities for education or science.
    “Usually it’s just the hide and/or skull, but occasionally they request the entire skeleton. We donate parts to public institutions in and outside of Wyoming, not to private individuals. Recently, we sent one to a children’s science center in Ohio, and we have sent them to Indian tribes that request them for ceremonial purposes,” comments Bruscino.
    “When bears were listed as endangered, under the Endangered Species Act, federal regulations required (their salvageable parts) be donated to science or education causes. Since bears were delisted a year ago last April, the G&F has continued to use that standard, as we feel that’s the best use of those parts,” says Bruscino.
    The receiving public entity must pay the taxidermy fee and get an interstate game tag, which is then attached to carcass part for tracking purposes.
    A prime example of an animal donated for educational purposes is bear #212, nicknamed “Little Wahb,” taken near Meeteetse in 2000. The bear was lethally removed, and the hide and skull donated to the local Meeteetse Museum.
    “That was the first bear captured in years in the Meeteetse area, and we decided to give it to the local museum. Local people contributed to pay for mounting that bear, so it could be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike,” says Bruscino.
    The name Little Wahb came from the children’s book, Biography of a Grizzly by Earnest Thompson Seaton. Published around 1900, the book’s setting was along the Greybull River and about a grizzly who avenged the death of his mother and siblings who died at the hand of Colonel Pickett. Then local Game Warden, Jerry Longobardi, gave the bear this nickname, which the locals adopted.
    “I weighed him wrong,” says Bruscino. “I take full responsibility for that. He was huge, and bottomed out a 500-pound scale, so we used two scales and added the weights. He came out at 800 pounds. Later, I found out that’s not the correct way to do it, so we don’t have an exact accurate weight on him, but he probably weighed between 600 – 800 pounds.” He adds, “The bear never caused any problem around people. But, he had figured out that livestock was a good source of food.”
    Salvageable wildlife parts are sometimes donated to state veterinary labs and university research centers around the country for research. “Recently we provided brains to a neurophysiologist who is mapping a bear’s brain. He told me he’s never seen an animal with such a sophisticated sense of smell.”
    Bruscino adds, “We don’t have specific protocol for poached specimens. There was a case where two Big Horn Sheep were poached on the North Fork of the Shoshone River on Christmas Eve. The Buffalo Bill Historical Center requested those mounts, and we donated them.”
    Mike Jimenez, Wyoming Wolf Project Leader for the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), says wolves that continually prey on livestock are lethally removed, usually by shooting or trapping. There is also a waiting list of organizations that want these skulls, hides and other parts.
    “If it’s fall or wintertime, and the hides are good, they are salvaged. During the summertime, wolves have thin coats, and that along with the heat usually makes the hides not worth salvaging,” says Jimenez. “Most hides and skulls go to museums, universities, and public schools. Some go to other agencies.”
    The ESA dictates how the carcasses of listed animals can be handled. “We don’t give these donations to individuals, they have to go to public institutions,” comments Jimenez.
    “A public school in Green River, Wyoming got one wolf hide, and they had it mounted and use it as their mascot,” comments Jimenez.
    He says wolf body parts are also sometimes used for scientific study. “There are a number of research projects, including a study of the intestinal tracks of wolves to see what poisons they may be picking up, and one to see if wolves are accumulating lead by scavenging gut piles of animals that have been shot.”
    To place your public institution on the G&F or FWS waiting list, please contact Mark Bruscino at 307-527-7125 or Mike Jimenez at 307-330-5631.

Thermopolis – Trophy game animals across the state of Wyoming, and in particular large carnivores, severely impact the bottom line of ranchers, and when provision to collect damages from those animals are limited, Thermopolis Rancher Josh Longwell says he isn’t sure how long they can continue operating.

“We sent our first damage claims in to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) in 2012 for $6,000. The next year, that jumped to $23,000, then $88,000 and then $110,000,” Longwell comments. “Our sheep and cattle losses are off the charts as bear and wolf populations grow.”

Longwell operates Hay Creek Land and Cattle Company west of Thermopolis with his family, running both sheep and cattle.

Wolf impacts

For Longwell, one of the most challenging game animal is the wolf, which causes damage to their ranch outside the designated trophy game management area.

“Wolf depredation outside the trophy game area isn't compensated. We are in the predator zone,” he comments. “Livestock that are killed by wolves in the trophy game zone are paid at seven-to-one.”

When wolves were controlled by the state of Wyoming, Longwell noted that they were able to kill wolves on sight under any circumstances.

“The wolves were overpopulated, and when they came outside of the trophy game boundary, we could take care of them,” Longwell explains. “Now, since they are listed again, we can’t shoot them. We have to call Wildlife Services, and they have to de-populate wolves.”

He also adds, however, that Wildlife Services must get further permissions, and wolves are removed on an as-necessary basis.

“It’s really challenging to deal with,” Longwell laments.

State funding

In the 2016 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature, the state did provide some funds to provide for wolf depredation, but the funding was very limited.

“They started with $200,000, but by the time they got done, it was only $60,000,” Longwell explained. “That is distributed between all of the producers outside of the trophy game area. We have to share that $15,000 this year, and we’re probably not going to be compensated even close to the value of our cattle.”

Longwell estimates that compensation will amount to less than a one-to-one value for livestock lost. So far, for 2016, Longwell has 12 calves that are confirmed wolf kills and 13 sheep.

“We want to be conservative on our numbers,” he continues, “but when we take into account the multiplier, that’s 90 calves and 97 lambs if we were in the trophy zone.”

Because the wolf kills are outside the trophy zone, the ranch won’t receive compensation for those losses.

The multiplier numbers are utilized to document losses that are never found, eaten by predators or not verified.

Grizzly damages

While wolves are a big problem, grizzly bears also prove problematic for Longwell.

“Grizzly kills are paid 3.5-to-one,” he says. “WGFD does pay these damages across the state.”

For 2016, they’ve seen 17 confirmed grizzly kills.

At the same time, end of summer grizzly bear populations on Frank’s Peak, Dome Mountain and Whashakie Needle, which sit at the top of Hay Creek Land and Cattle, hit around 50 bears.

“The area can’t sustain that many bears,” comments Longwell.

Longwell also notes that the ranch lies outside the recent defined Designated Management Area (DMA) for grizzly bears, as defined by the recent grizzly bear management plan passed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission.

Lambing, calving challenges

Hay Creek Land and Cattle Company lambs and calves on a large, open pasture near their headquarters.

“When we were lambing last year, we had grizzly bears, wolves, mountain lions and black bears all come in during the same night killing sheep,” Longwell comments. “Every morning, we go ‘Easter egg hunting’ looking for dead.”

Longwell explains, damages went beyond just depredated livestock to include lambs that were trampled after sheep flocks stampeded to avoid predators and lambs that were abandoned immediately after birth by ewes attempting to avoid predators. They also experience a high percentage of bummed lambs.

“We aren’t paid at all for those lambs that don’t have a mark on them,” he says, noting that the multiplier helps to compensate for those animals.

Previous damage claims

With damages incurred every year, Longwell also notes there has been conflict with WGFD regarding payment of claims.

“In 2014, WGFD was not going to pay the multiplier,” Longwell says. “They said that we experienced our losses on ‘home range’ instead of ‘open range,’ so we weren’t eligible for the multiplier,” he says.

“The state of Wyoming owns the wildlife of the state, and WGFD is the managing party,” he continues. “They made a deal with the devil when they reintroduced the wolves and the bears. I can’t afford, as a rancher, to pay the consequences of that decision.”

WGFD Large Carnivore Conflict Coordinator Brian DeBolt explains that the multiplier is in place to take areas of difficult terrain where it might be challenging to locate livestock that have been killed by trophy game animals.

“On many summer ranges, the topography and terrain can be very difficult, making it hard to find animals that are killed and hard to get them verified,” he says. “However, if there are killed on an irrigated pasture or in the lowlands next to the farm or ranch, it’s much more likely that we’re going to find the kills, so the multiplier doesn’t apply.”

Longwell, however, opted to take the WGFD to arbitration, arguing that their lambing area where they experienced losses was open range.

The arbitration process involves three arbitrators – one picked by WGFD, one picked by the claimant and one chosen by the other two arbitrators.

“We presented our case, and the arbitrators ruled in our favor, agreeing that we were due the multiplier,” Longwell explains. “When we filed for 2015 claims, they denied us the multiplier again. We’ll be going back into arbitration for these claims, as well, on the same sheep, the same land and probably the same predators to try to get compensation for our damages.”

“There’s a direct correlation. The more damage we see, the more open cows we see and the lighter the steers get.”

“One of the biggest economic impacts that we see is the devaluation of the ranch and our private property,” he continues. “These predators are stripping the value of our ranch because it’s so difficult to raise livestock. The wildlife are disappearing right behind the livestock. There is no value in our ranch if we can’t raise livestock and don’t have any wildlife. If we can’t make a living here, that’s a huge impact on us and our community.”

Working together

“Every time we have a loss, a WGFD employee has to come from Cody, about two hours up the mountain to verify it,” he explains. “It’s a lot of time for them, but most of them are great to work with.”

DeBolt also notes that the ability of WGFD to provide relief is limited.

“We have very limited authority,” he explains. “We do have the authority to verify and pay for trophy game damage, and we do as much of that as possible.”

Since wolves and grizzly bears are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DeBolt adds that WGFD is very limited in the management actions they can take to alleviate problems.

He says. “In the area where they are classified as trophy game, we’ll continue to pay damages. Outside of that area where they are classified as predators, we don’t pay damages because we do not regulate predators. That is under the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.”

For damages by wolves outside of the trophy game area, DeBolt adds, “We have no legal authority or responsibility – through either federal or state statute – that allows us to pay for wolf damages. It is completely out of our authority.”

Persistent problem

DeBolt comments, “We’re seeing more livestock depredation caused by grizzly bears and wolves as they expand their range and numbers.”

Longwell agrees that the problem remains.

“We have two apex predators that are running amok. They have been mismanaged,” Longwell says. “It’s devastating.”

“We have to watch these predators kill our livestock, and we can’t do anything about it,” he continues. “I’m passionate about ranching and the livestock we raise. It’s overwhelming to think that we put so much passion and energy into raising these livestock, and they are killed.”

“For 2016, we have the affidavits on losses, with the multiplier added, that amount to roughly a 150 calf lost, and 2016 is far from over,” Longwell comments. “It’s crazy to me that we’re going to let two predators take over our state and put ranchers – our heritage – out of business.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Jackson – A journalist, citizen and “proud child of the American West,” former NBC News anchor and new host of Meet the Press, Tom Brokaw set the pace at a late-June meeting of the Western Governor’s Association in Jackson.
    “I come as someone with an appreciation for the Western region, its people and the way we get things done out here,” said Brokaw, who owns a Montana ranch. “We get along because we have to get along.”
    That last statement was a sentiment echoed throughout the meeting in discussions between the 11 governors and panelists, who addressed wildlife corridors, water management and transmission expansion.
    “You come to the West on its terms, not yours,” noted Brokaw, reminiscing of his Montana ranch’s purchase in 1989. “The West will have to think regionally and in a bipartisan fashion while still keeping pride in our states. To survive and thrive, to protect and advance what’s unique and precious, will mean more cooperation and a greater shared vision.”
    Brokaw concluded his remarks with a recitation of the creation account in Genesis 1. “…And God saw that it was good. All of God’s creatures are counting on us to make sure it stays ‘good,’” he stated.
    Continuing with the discussion of “creatures” and wildlife, CEO Jack Dangermond of the Environmental Systems Research Institute, a mapping software developer, said growth and change is driven by human activity.
    “Often what occurs with development is that wildlife is considered either last or incrementally. It’s not done at the right time or with the right process to ensure a sustainable future,” he said.
    “What we need is a system that allows us to recognize resources and integrate them openly into public and private processes,” explained Dangermond, using the term “co-evolution” to describe a changing nature and the way humans live within it.
    He encouraged the states to cooperate and coordinate because environmental systems don’t end at state and property boundaries. “These systems are continuous, and sustained by the continuous moving of species back and forth,” he said.
    Using high-tech mapping software, Dangermond illustrated his point with a series of maps showing both current and projected urbanization, as well as energy development both present and projected within Wyoming.
    “Geographic information can get us to understand what the future might be like,” he explained further. “Information systems could give direction toward development.”
    Dangermond said the information could help avoid, minimize or mitigate when development is inevitable.
    “The hardest question is the first question – should there be development at all?” said BP America Vice President Steve Elbert. “When you try to answer that question, facts and data and maps of environmental impacts and strategies don’t mean much. Even when people agree on the facts they disagree on what they mean.”
    Elbert’s point was there are people passionate about developing energy resources in Wyoming, and there are people just as passionate about protecting the sage grouse.
    “This debate is driven by values that people hold in their hearts, and the debates are hard to resolve because both sides are driven by values and compromise is viewed as a compromise of their values,” he said.
    However, Elbert said once both sides move past the first question, “We’re good and getting better at dealing with the next step, which is operating fields in ways that are compatible with healthy wildlife populations.”
    “We have lots of choices and we need to make sure we make wise decisions,” commented Brokaw following the presentation. “I think technology is certainly a good tool to solve the problem.”
    Governor Freudenthal, along with other governors, agreed that data should be gathered and quantified in a way that’s considered scientific, and that all states need to be using the same data strategies and the same vocabulary to mesh it all together.
    The governors drew their discussion to a close with much talk of cooperation and coordination when it comes to managing wildlife across the West and deciding what will be done about wildlife migration corridors.
    “There has to be not just information, but information coupled with a relationship between the state, the operators and the stakeholders,” said Freudenthal.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..