Volume 2, Number 17 - July 25, 2002
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Stanko scolds FWS for critical comments
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "Gray Wolf Recovery Status Report" last month included some statements that irked a western Wyoming livestock grazing permittee, who fired off a letter to the responsible federal official, resulting in a letter of apology and clarification.
The status report is distributed via e-mail and fax to a wide range of recipients, and was wtitten by FWS gray wolf recovery coordinator Ed Bangs.
"A new permittee just turned out his cattle on a Forest Service allotment in the Gros Ventre Valley near Jackson," Bangs wrote. "The previous permittee had a number of grizzly bear depredations and some wolf-caused losses. Ongoing predator-caused losses, predator removal, and compensation on the allotment have been a very contentious issue for the past several years. The new permittee reportedly brought in about 1,400 cattle that had never been on open range from feedlots in the mid-west. Of the 500 calves turned out, nearly 300 are only a few weeks old and many weighed less than 100 pounds. Heavy losses are expected from a wide variety of causes, including predation. Our potential response to confirmed wolf-caused depredations may require additional research and extra precautions by the permittee. On the 20th, a calf was reportedly killed by wolves. Jimenez and WS investigated and determined it was a natural mortality.
"The Forest Service and producer were notified that, because of the extreme vulnerability of these types of livestock and the decision to place them in this type of situation, agency control after confirmed depredations would, at least initially, only consist of attempting to place a radio on the pack and see how many wolves are involved and if they are denning, and issuing the producer a 45-day permit to shoot a wolf seen in the act of biting, grasping, or killing livestock on the federal allotment."
A July 5 letter of response from Michael Stanko of the Fish Creek Cattle Company called for a retraction of Bangs' statements, which were "factually incorrect and grossly misinforms the public."
Stanko wrote: "First, I want to be a friendly neighbor, but don't you think we should communicate and make every effort to avoid becoming adversaries? I'm sure you want to get the facts correct and would not intentionally release false information about us. Don't you think your policy should be to talk to us before you talk about us?"
Stanko noted, "Obviously the information you received about our cattle was not from anyone even remotely familiar with livestock or ranching."
He noted that the first erroneous statement is that the 1,400 head of cattle had never been on the open range.
The cattle originated from areas suffering from severe drought in Wyoming and its neighboring states and lived on open range. Stanko wrote to Bangs, " I want to be there when you tell some of these old-time ranchers (that these cattle were purchased from) their ranch is a mid-west feedlot without open range. That would be very entertaining to everyone except probably you."
"There is no truth in your words and you need to correct them," Stanko wrote to Bangs. "It appears you want to give the public the impression that our cattle are domesticated milk cows waiting to be fed from the feed truck and milked. Why do you want to 'feed' the public this type of distorted information?"
As for many of the calves being only a few weeks old, Stanko wrote: "What do you mean by a few weeks? ... I think you should explain to the public that most of the calves are from cows calving before May 15th."
The next erroneous statement made by Bangs was that many of the calves weighed less than 100 pounds, but Stanko responded that probably less than 10 calves fit this description, and most would weigh over 200 pounds, with many over 300 pounds.
"You have slandered my company and myself to the public on the Fish and Wildlife Service Website, e-mails, in newspapers, and on other news websites by being so factually incorrect," Stanko wrote. "You have spread a false perception about my company and I to many, including environmental groups that have members coast-to-coast and even in other countries, and they in turn have spread it to others. What chance do we have to be viewed fairly by anyone after this unless you do all you can do to correct your false statements and the false perception you have given the public and other government agencies?"
Stanko continued: "Mr. Bangs, our cattle deserve just as much protection from your agency as anyone else's cattle. You made the decision not to control problem wolves killing our cattle based on lies you were told and now that you know the truth, we expect you to reverse your decision and give us the same consideration you give other ranchers. How can you single us out and tell everyone you are not going to control wolves that kill our cattle when you do so for others? We need to come to an understanding about this right away. "
Rather than becoming adversaries and beating each other up in the press, Stanko proposed that Bangs choose another alternative. He wrote: "I would prefer that we both work toward positive results for our cattle and your wolves, but be assured we are determined and prepared to stand our ground, hold our own, and protect our property, integrity, and good reputation in all areas and circumstances. It's your call."
Bangs issued Stanko a letter of apology, which read, in part: "To begin, I'd like to thank you for writing and correcting some of what were clearly misunderstandings on my part. I checked with other resource managers and some livestock producers about what I'd heard and they set me straight on several things where I was clearly wrong. I will publish a correction on those inaccuracies in our next weekly report. ... I offer my sincere apology for speaking on some details that I assumed where accurate when they were not. I also agree that we should be good neighbors and work toward avoiding conflicts when possible and correcting them if they happen. I will do what I can to make a better start. The service will fulfill its responsibilities to restore that gray wolf in a manner that minimizes conflicts with livestock.
"I was wrong about where your cattle were bought. While your cattle hadn't been in the Gros Ventre area, they had been on range and they had not come from feedlots in the mid-west. ... I was concerned because cattle that are not as familiar with an area may tend to wander around a little more and be more nervous about things they haven't experienced before. Consequently, cows in novel situations may not be as able to be protective of their calves as more experienced cows. After hearing from you, I am not as concerned as I first was because your cattle had been on range before and you are closely herding your livestock.
"I also inquired further about what I'd initially heard about the size and age of your calves. I certainly could have stated my initial concerns differently and made them clearer," Bangs said, noting that his concern is related to a recent central Idaho study.
"This study suggested that younger, smaller calves in areas of high wolf activity are the most vulnerable.
"The two most effective things a grazing permittee might do to reduce wolf-caused losses on remote forested grazing allotments used by wolves is to turn out heavier/older calves and use riders to reduce the encounter rate of wolves and cattle," according to Bangs.
Bangs wrote to Stanko that his "concern about the relatively young age of these calves compared to other range calves still remains.
"I was told that during a meeting about grazing allotments that was attended by various agency representatives a couple of weeks ago in Jackson, (that) the relatively young age of many of your calves was a concern to many of the attendees. Those resource managers were especially concerned because your calves were being turned out in a large remote grazing allotment with an extensive history of previous livestock depredations, predator control, and conflict over compensation payments by the state of Wyoming. I was told by several people that they believed your calves were younger and smaller on average than most range cattle calves. If this is incorrect, I apologize but several people had this impression.
"If calf size has any relationship to survival, as it does in wild ungulates, you can expect higher overall mortality from all causes to younger and smaller range calves. While this type of business decision is entirely yours, I am concerned about the implications to wildlife management since predators sometimes get blamed for missing livestock.
"It will be interesting to see if you have a much higher level of missing livestock this fall than that allotment has had in the past. I sincerely hope not because wolves and bears may be involved to some extent but it may be almost impossible to figure out how much at that point. Because wolves have such large home ranges (250 to 350 square miles), wolves that learn to prey on cattle do not just affect your cattle. They can also impact your neighbors' livestock.
"I understand that the Service Project Leader for wolf recovery in Wyoming, Mike Jimenez, talked with you before the newspaper articles came out. He explained the Service's concerns and what our likely response to wolf depredations would be and why. I obviously made some comments in the paper that were incorrect and I will retract those errors on my part. However, I still remain concerned. I am relieved to hear that you are using more riders than normal, including some who have worked on the allotment previously. Having riders that know the terrain, what depredations look like, and who are aware of how to preserve evidence of a grizzly bear or wolf depredations can help to detect any problems quickly, will assist wildlife managers to resolve the problem, and may help should you seek compensation from the state of Wyoming or private groups for any confirmed or suspected livestock losses.
"In conclusion, I hope that you have no problems between large predators and your livestock on your Forest Service grazing allotment ... If there are suspected problems with wolf depredations, you can depend on the Service or Wildlife Services to investigate as quickly as we can and take the appropriate management action to resolve the problem.
Bangs closed his letter to Stanko with the statement, "I look forward to an uneventful summer."
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