Volume 3, Number 44 - January 29, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Profiling Western Watersheds Project
It was a big ta-doo last July when Western Watersheds Project announced that it was opening an office in Pinedale, generating headlines and concern that the anti-livestock grazing folks had set up shop in the heart of cattle country.
It appears to have been much ado about nothing since the only office the group appears to have opened happens to be in a small box in the Pinedale Post Office. Although it has no physical office in the area, Jonathan Ratner is serving as the group's Wyoming director and works from his home office in the Boulder area, he confirmed in a recent interview.
Ratner, 41, said he has lived in Wyoming off and on for the last 27 years. He said he's not ignorant of ranching issues and his brother is a rancher, now operating in California. Ratner said his family, the Bradfords, have a long history in this area, since even before statehood.
Jonathan Bradford Ratner was a natural law party candidate to represent Idaho in the 1998 U.S. House of Representatives election race. He garnered not quite 3 percent of the votes in that November election.
With Bradford being his middle name, Ratner has on several occasions submitted comments on official federal agency action as the "Bradford Environmental Research Institute" which he said "is my research operation."
He said the operation serves his own various research projects on threatened and endangered species and the ecosystems on which they depend.
Ratner has also submitted comments to agencies under the auspices of the Sublette Riders Association. He recently said that this informal group is not really functioning any longer. He described the Sublette Riders Association as a "group of individuals ... wide-ranging ... who are concerned about issues taking place in the Sublette County area."
Ratner's more visible work at the moment is putting Bill Taliaferro's Wyoming Range domestic sheep allotments under the gun. Ratner said the allotments are suffering from mass erosion, numerous large wildlife conflicts and generally "horrendous conditions."
Ratner said WWP's plans for the near future are to work with agencies "to improve what up until this point has had very little oversight: grazing."
He said while there is a great deal of oil and gas development occurring, that is not really his organization's area of expertise and it is receiving attention from other organizations.
Grazing, he said, has "generally gone under the radar."
Ratner said that his organization's goals are to improve watersheds, protect functioning ecosystems and the animals that depend on them, etc., but when asked if its ultimate goal is to get livestock off public lands, he didn't directly answer the question.
Instead, Ratner said that there may be some areas "that could probably function" with livestock grazing, "but in the arid West, they are pretty far and few between." He then launched into a speech about how most people don't realize the impacts caused by livestock grazing over the last 200 years, and instead people simply accept the way things are now.
When asked if that's what WWP wants, to get things back to the way it looked 200 years ago, Ratner answered, "Personally, moving in that direction, yes."
He said with two million cattle in the state, and one million sheep (actually only half that), "a huge percentage of total forage production" goes to domestic livestock instead of wildlife.
"If that amount were available for wildlife ... it would be a completely different situation," Ratner said.
Ratner was careful to stipulate that his organization focuses on grazing issues on public lands, not private land.
"There does need to be a balance between private profit and public long-term good," Rather said of livestock grazing on public range. Although permittees may feel they own their grazing allotments, he said, "in reality those are public lands. They are public trust responsibilities by the land management agencies."
Agencies are to manage the land "for the highest good for the country as a whole," he said. While livestock grazing may have been viewed as "the highest and best use" 50 years ago, Ratner said, "times change and they are changing."
Grazing is the organization's primary interest, but "We deal with any environmental issue," Ratner said.
WWP hasn't dived into wolf management in Wyoming yet, but has been very involved with the issue in Idaho. WWP also plans to work with agency personnel to inform them of the opportunity to serve as whistleblowers for environmental wrongdoing.
Ratner said that he has found a lot of "agency personnel who are on the lower level that are trying to do their job ... to manage our public lands according to laws and regulations," and WWP is "finding a whole lot of support from this level."
But higher-level employees "are forcing these individuals to do illegal things."
Ratner said some of WWP's focus in the next year will be "informing agency personnel in whistleblowing options ... in order to get these issues out in the general public, the illegal actions on public lands."
Ratner said, "Personally, I've been astounded by the level of support" he's received from agency personnel in terms of what WWP wants to accomplish.
The initiation of a Wyoming operation last year followed the opening of a Utah office two years ago. Ratner said WWP opened a Montana office three months ago and is now preparing to open an office in California as well.
He said as the group expands, state boards may be created to operate under the organization's main board, which is Idaho-based.
The Examiner had a chance to look at WWP's recent income tax returns. In 2001, the organization reported $1.7 million in direct public support, plus $39,068 in membership dues, for a total revenue of $1,846,012. The group reported $430,240 in expenses, leaving an excess of $1,482,328 for the year.
Interestingly for the anti-livestock group, most of the direct public support came in the form of a donation of $1,340,000 from the That-A-Way Ranch on the East Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.
WWP is profiting from taking over a 432-acre ranch, thanks to a generous donor. Grazing allotments associated with the ranch have been closed to livestock grazing. The ranch is now called the "Greenfire Preserve," named after the historic Aldo Leopold story of shooting a wolf and watching "the fierce green fire dying in her eyes."
The 2001 tax figures showed a much better financial picture than the organization's 2000 return. In 2000, WWP had total revenues of $252,067 and expenses of $274,926, leaving a deficit of $22,859. The organization's largest donation that year was $108,692 of non-cash Oracle Corporate stock.
WWP also received $75,000 in 2000 from a private foundation called the Good Works Institute. This foundation, based in Sun Valley, Idaho, gave WWP the same amount of money in 2001, according to its tax return.
Another private foundation, the Foundation for Deep Ecology, provided financial assistance to WWP in 2001. The foundation gave WWP $25,000 to help educate the public and protect public lands from livestock grazing. It also donated similar amounts to the Center for Biological Diversity, Committee for Idaho's High Desert and Forest Guardians to "promote the curtailing and limit of grazing on public land" and to educate the public on "livestock grazing and welfare ranching on public lands." The foundation provided even more money, another $308,490, to pay for production of a book to "educate the public on the ecological and economic costs of livestock grazing on public lands."
The Foundation for Deep Ecology appears to be playing a pivotal role in the effort to rid public lands of livestock. The recently created National Public Lands Grazing Campaign began as the result of a generous grant from this private foundation. The Wilburforce Foundation and the Lazar Foundation provided support to the campaign as well, WWP reports.
For more information on WWP, check out its website at www.westernwatersheds.org.
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