Beartooth sheep kills won't be paid: Defenders of Wildlife stops paying ranchers
(Note: When the intent is to remove all resource providing from most of America, this is simply one puzzle piece. All the heartbreak of seventy-plus years of ranching means nothing to those implementing The Wildlands Project.)
May 17, 2004
The Associated Press
Billings, Montana
To submit a Letter to the Editor:
Livingston, Montana - The environmental group that pays ranchers for livestock losses to grizzly bears and wolves says it will no longer pay for sheep kills in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness.

"It's a slap in the face," said Elaine Allestad who, along with her husband Lawrence, uses the last grazing allotment in the wilderness. "They're putting on pressure to make us just give up."

Defenders of Wildlife, which announced its decision in a letter this week, has been praised for "putting its money where its mouth is," but some ranchers said the program was burdensome and didn't pay all the costs associated with grizzly bear predation.

The northern Rockies representative of Defenders, Minette Johnson, said the group doesn't want to encourage people to bring sheep into prime grizzly bear habitat.

"It's pretty apparent that sheep and grizzly bears don't mix," she said, pointing to positions taken by federal bear managers that call for phasing out sheep allotments in key grizzly bear habitat when allotment holders are willing.

"We want to promote that approach," she said.

Allestad said the Big Timber family has grazed sheep in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, just north of Yellowstone National Park, since the 1930s and annually herds about 1,200 ewes and their lambs into the high country.

A former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission member, she also has represented ranching interests on state and federal committees working on grizzly recovery issues.

In 2002, federal specialists confirmed that grizzlies killed 60 of the Allestads' sheep, she said, but Defenders paid for only 19 animals.

Johnson said her group has paid the Allestad family $5,300 for losses since 1999.

Environmental groups have talked to her about buying the allotment, Allestad said, but the money they offered isn't enough to pay for adequate summer pasture for the flock.

Kevin Frey, bear management specialist for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said he understands the position Defenders has taken.

In wilderness areas, wildlife needs take precedence over livestock needs, he said.

When bears kill livestock there, no action is taken against them. When bears wander onto private land and kill livestock, they sometimes are killed.

Grizzlies are protected under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species, though their numbers and territory have grown in the past 30 years.

Johnson said her group has not singled out Allestad "but she's simply the last one holding out in that country."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.