From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 24 - September 12, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Compensation formula up for debate

by Cat Urbigkit

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department will request an Attorney General's opinion on whether the agency has the authority to pay for more than confirmed losses caused by big or trophy game animals.

The action is the result of State Representative Dick Sadler's request from the audience at a WG&F Commission meeting in Casper Monday, according to WG&F assistant chief Terry Cleveland. The commission was embroiled in a discussion on whether the 1.67 formula used to compensate ranchers for losses due to grizzlies should be placed in the agency's regulations.

The commission also decided to have department personnel work with members of the Upper Green River Cattle Association and other interested parties in reviewing any new information that would shed light on whether the 1.67 formula is appropriate or if some other figure should be used.

Cleveland said the department will report back to its commission on the issue after the first of the year, either at the commission's January or February meeting.

WG&F compensates livestock producers for livestock killed by grizzly bears, and uses the 1.67 factor in effort to equitably compensate producers for missing calves or sheep believed to be lost due to bear depredations. Agency officials have long acknowledged that for every calf or lamb confirmed as grizzly kills, an unknown number of similar kills are never discovered.

The compensation factor has been a controversial issue since it was first used about 10 years ago. With normal death losses about 2 percent for a range cattle producer grazing cattle on the Bridger-Teton National Forest, permittees argue that the 1.67 factor doesn't go far enough to compensate producers experiencing losses to grizzlies when the number of cattle leaving the forest isn't near as many as the number that went on.

Now that WG&F is proposing to make the 1.67 factor a permanent fixture by including it in the regulations, the whole issue is once again up for debate.

Former WG&F Commissioner Les Henderson submitted comments on the idea of making the 1.67 a part of the regulation. In his letter to the commission, Henderson stated: "Given the problems in developing the numbers used to calculate the 1.67 factor and the interesting history of its evolution, I would hate being in the position of defending it in court against an informed opponent. I would hate even worse defending in court an informed attack on a regulation in which I had incorporated this factor and all of its problems."

Henderson, an accountant, ran some figures for the commission's information and concluded "the 1.67 factor results in underestimating total bear related mortalities by 50 percent. To bring the non-bear mortalities to the 2.5 percent that existed before there were bears, a compensation factor of 3.33 percent is required."

Henderson also reminded the commission that the 1.67 factor that came out of the Black Rock study was not designed nor intended to be applied ecosystem-wide.

Sheep producer Mary Thoman said she recalled when the figure was first used with cattle in the Upper Green, and then with sheep, it was her understanding that it was only a temporary expedient.

Thoman said her experiences in sheep losses "indicate something over 3 in good situations and a much higher number when there are more bears in the area. ... The 1.67 is grossly inadequate and should never have been accepted as the norm for paying damage claims."

The 1.67 factor has become an issue with rancher Albert Sommers, he said, because the state has approved a grizzly bear management plan that doesn't force WG&F to react to a nuisance bear, yet allows bears to greatly expand their range.

"The only recourse left is some compensation," Sommers said.

Charles Price, submitting comments on behalf of the Upper Green River Cattle Association, told WG&F Commissioners that the 1.67 factor was based on a flawed analysis and was only a temporary measure in the first place. His letter expressed strong opposition to placing this factor into regulation, and instead urged the commission to instruct the department to meet with the cattle association and other interested livestock operators to review the depredation data and attempt to arrive at a more realistic multiplication factor. In the end, that's the route the commission chose to go.

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