Put your money where your mouth is

It’s time for environmentalists to fund predators in the same way that hunters and anglers do.


George Edwards is a pragmatic, easy-going man with a difficult task: compensating ranchers who have lost livestock to a growing population of wolves. He runs the Montana Livestock Reduction and Mitigation Board, a new agency that deals with wolf predation. The agency tries to reduce wolf/livestock conflicts and may someday help ranchers find ways to better live with the wolves that depend upon private lands for their survival. So far, though, most of its missions are on hold, because all of its scant funding is being used to pay for wolf-killed livestock.

Edwards -- like many livestock producers and a growing number of other rural Western interests -- is frustrated. Not only does he not have enough money to mitigate all the effects of wolves roaming private land, but he also believes that the brunt of the costs are being borne by the very same folks who are being impacted the most – ranchers and hunters. Ranchers pay with their livestock; hunters, through licenses and taxes on firearms, pay for the wildlife habitat and the game herds that feed the wolves, whether they want to or not. With the exception of Defenders of Wildlife, which has paid out $1.2 million over 22 years to compensate ranchers for livestock lost to predators, so-called non-consumptive wildlife groups – the birdwatchers, hikers and environmental groups -- have not directly offered any money for wolf-mitigation efforts or to purchase or restore habitat. Except through filing increasingly unpopular lawsuits, these groups end up with little voice in the policy making process.

“These people (environmentalists) have money to spend on lawsuits to prevent anybody from managing these wolves,” a Montana Department of Livestock employee recently told me, “but they never offer a dollar to pay for the damage they cause.” 

The losers in all of this are the predators themselves.

It was the money from the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act taxes on firearms and ammunition that paid for the restoration of big game herds after their near-extirpation in the late 19th century. That game, in turn, has sustained the current wolf reintroduction program. Hunting licenses pay for the state wildlife biologists, and for the habitat and winter range purchases that support the herds. Waterfowl stamp sale revenues bought 5.2 million acres of the federal wildlife refuge system, lands that provide habitat for an estimated one in three of every endangered or threatened species in this country. Taken together, the Pittman-Robertson taxes, the sale of state and federal waterfowl stamps, and the revenue from hunting and fishing license sales contribute an estimated $4.7 million dollars every day to conservation.

Those contributions are simply not matched by wildlife and animal-rights advocates from other groups, whose collective membership numbers in the tens of millions. Yes, they pay federal taxes, which also go into the wildlife pot. But the money is spread so far out that each wildlife lover ends up paying a fraction of a penny for each dollar that a hunter or angler contributes to the cause. Meanwhile, year after year, anti-hunting and allegedly pro-wildlife groups bemoan hunters’ influence over wildlife management, and celebrate the decline in hunter numbers. Yet they offer no methods to replace the lost wildlife and habitat revenues that result from those declines.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.

pittman robertson money figures from the National Shooting Sports Foundation
hal herring
hal herring
May 06, 2009 02:43 PM
Here is an update on conservation money generated by the recent boom in guns and ammunition sales. From NSSF, by way of the website The Shooting Wire:

Began quote:
Manufacturers of firearms and ammunition pay a federal excise tax -- a major source of wildlife conservation funding --on all firearms and ammunition manufactured (11% on long guns and ammunition and 10% on handguns).

The report, which covers the time period of October 1, 2008, through December 31, 2008, shows that $27.6 million was collected for pistols and revolvers, $35.0 million for long guns and $35.5 million for ammunition. Compared to the same quarter in 2007, collections were up 70.1% for handguns, 11.4% for long guns and 31.1% for ammunition.

These figures close out the 2008 calendar year. In 2008, a total of $345.2 million was collected in excise taxes, up 13.9% from the $303.2 million collected in calendar year 2007.

End quote

The Pittman- Robertson Tax must be one of the world's most visionary taxes. What other country would have something like this?
pittman robertson money figures from the National Shooting Sports Foundation
hal herring
hal herring
May 06, 2009 02:47 PM
I guess what I wonder is- are we still the country that we were in 1934, when the PR taxes were put in place? A nation that felt conected to wildlife and responsible for restoring and protecting it, or have we changed? Is there just too much indifference now?

Many Enviros Are Paying
May 12, 2009 12:03 AM
I hunt in Montana to put food on my table. I fish so that I can eat at night. I also support litigation to keep wolves on the landscape. The broad brush strokes used to create the article don't capture these types of nuances. When the article said that "[t]hese contributions [from hunters] are simply not matched by wildlife and animal-rights advocates," an assumption was made that enviros can't be hunters and thus aren't paying. We're paying, but the name on the check is different than what you expect.

Also, the Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board compensates ranchers for losses that occur on public lands too - both state and federal. In essence, some of us are paying twice: once to subsidize the rancher's operation on public lands, and then when the cattle are killed. That doesn't even take into account the ecological costs we're shouldering by permitting livestock to destroy our public lands.

Source: http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/mca/2/15/2-15-3112.htm
Time for Environmental Groups to Pay Up
May 12, 2009 09:24 AM
While I applaud John for his candor and comitment to his lifestyle, with all due respect, he missed the point. There are 1000's of non-profits out there making a living off of one issue hysteria, driving them to the very extreme end of every discussion. The article is on the button. If the folks who want free ranging wolves to exist in our forests, to make their lives more fulfilled from their penthouses in NY, LA, Santa Fe, et al. they should direct their funding to ensure their most important issue is properly addressed with the folks who are impacted by them. Wolves belong in the Rockies. But reasonable management has always been the best wildlife model. North America is the shining example of this.

Great article. Keep them coming.
Time For Environmental Groups To Pay Up
Pat Veesart
Pat Veesart
May 12, 2009 10:24 AM
Years ago, the National Lampoon did a magazine cover with a picture of a cute dog with a pistol held to its head. the caption was: "Buy this magazine or we'll kill this dog." Now, the ranchers are holding a gun to the wolves' head: "Give us money or we'll kill these wolves." I believe this is called "extortion."

I hunt, and I also belong to, and am active in several "environmental" groups. Why should I pay the ranching industry not to destroy the natural environment? Don't I already subsidize this industry enough?

I would like to see some discussion about how ranchers can protect their herds without shooting or poisoning every predator that moves. Surely there are options that would allow for a healthy ecosystem with top predators and a viable ranching community. This might mean some 'ol boys might have to change their ways, but change is in the air.
It Goes Both Ways
May 12, 2009 11:42 AM
If the point of the article was that environmental groups aren't picking up their share of the tab for their impacts, I’d throw this back: the livestock groups aren’t exactly running to the BLM offering to pay for the damage done to our public lands by their cattle. How much less money would we be talking about compensating ranchers if their cattle weren't on public lands?

Pat, you are probably right about there being lots of special interest groups living off of narrow issues. I imagine there is some sort of special interest group in the state that focuses on keeping cows on public lands without having to pay for their damage.

If folks want cows to exist on our public lands, they should direct their funding to ensure their most important issue is properly addressed with the hunters, anglers, hikers, bird watchers, etc. who are impacted by them. In short, enviros aren't the only ones that should have to pay for their impacts.

Hal Herring
Hal Herring
May 12, 2009 01:52 PM
Perhaps that line you refer to shold have said "non-hunting wildlife advocates..."

Please understand that I consider the hunting community the foremost "environmentalists" in the US, if the measurement is by success in preserving wildlife, wetlands, and other habitat.

It's my hope that non-hunting groups will use these successes as a model.

While I get your point about public lands ranching, I think that is a discussion for another day - although wolf kills of livestock on public land leases and wolf kills on private land may one day be separated- the whole issue is in rapid evolution. But what I wrote about is a lack of funds now, in the world that we live in, with the givens that have on this day- we can fight about public lands grazing for the next five years, but that will not change the lack of funding for wolf impacts, and the cascade of negative effects that lack of funding is causing.

I'll ask the question that is asked in the essay: Does anybody think it is positive that there are only two groups providing the main funding for the wolf reintrodcution and recovery, hunters and landowners, when those groups are the two most likely to be hostile to wolf recovery?

I did not have room to go into this here, but one of my primary concerns is how all of this controversy over the wolves is feeding a populist hatred of the ESA, a hatred that is bread and butter for groups and individuals who have despised and targeted wildlife protection laws from the very beginning.

The same worry applies to the credibility of the NRDC and other enviro groups. When I see the Howl In! in my email inbox, with its misleading information, I worry, very much, because this is the same group that is bringing critical court cases to protect wetlands, challenge coal fired power plants, etc- in short, we have never needed the NRDC more than we do now, and its scary to see it undermining its credibility with the wolf issue. I know ranchers who strongly believe in environmental protection who no longer trust any of the groups who are named in the delisting lawsuits....that's a bad turn of events for all of us.

The Debate Shouldn't Wait
May 12, 2009 04:56 PM
Call me radical, but it seems fundamentally unfair to allow cows to destroy our public lands and not make ranchers pay for it, but then complain when enviros don't want to pay when wolves kill cows on public lands. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

In light of this inequity, I won't consider paying (or advocating for payment) until the losses on private lands are decoupled from losses on public lands. If there really is no money for compensating ranchers, the debate regarding the role of cows on public lands shouldn't be set aside for another day.