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Bold Visions Conservation NewsBlog


Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation Recent months have seen a continuation of some real insanity on the part of those who lease federal lands but continue to think that gives them ownership, even when combined with private holdings. The rancher in question sued because hunters crossed the corner of his private property to gain access to public lands. A federal judge in May ruled that hunters or hikers who travel from one corner of public land to another did not trespass on adjacent private lands. The ruling was concrete to the BLM and Director Tracy-Stone Manning. Her response was to make clear to state directors that such crossing is legal. This issue had been in limbo for some time at the agency. This ruling was important because ranch owner Fredric Eshelman’s lawsuit sought more than $7 million in damages from four hunters who climbed over fences at a corner of his property in Wyoming in 2021 to hunt on public lands. Hunting is not our world; in fact, hunters that kill predators remain our mortal enemy, but the reality is this is part of what ranchers have been doing to keep people off our public lands. By saying the crossing was illegal, he claimed exclusive access to some 6,000 acres of land for his private hunting grounds, which is disgraceful. This attitude is part of a pattern of livestock interests on the federal dole while trying to keep the people from recreating on these public lands that belong to all Americans. It also allows them to kill predators at will with little for the public to see or report. From my years of experience, this is why so many ranchers oppose wilderness or other federal land protections. First, in the case of National Monuments, it requires one extra page of paperwork. But mostly, they are driven to keep people away and control these lands as though they are private. The passing of SB-295, the bill to delist grizzly bears, would allow cattlemen to kill grizzlies on remote portions of Forest Service lands, lands that many could be utilized for recreation, but gives livestock priority protection, the cover for grizzly slaughter. Again and again, we see the results of grazing on public lands, much like oil drilling on these same public lands. The oil industry leases these lands, contaminates groundwater, and then sells off assets to avoid spending the money for cleanup, which will one day allow the federal government to clean up their mess at great expense to taxpayers. The federal government is subsidizing those who graze on public lands and often degrade the public lands that are grazed, leading to erosion, senseless wildlife killing, and the trashing of rivers and other waterways. The time has come to make part of any lease agreement that the lessee cannot kill wildlife to protect its herd. They can use non-lethal methods, but like any business, accept the fact that losses are part of the risk of this business. Similarly, many people are beginning to understand this with homeowners’ insurance as climate change wreaks havoc across the country, and their coverage evaporates. But the cattlemen and their protectors in Congress—spelled Republican Party—must realize that they lease these lands, accept responsibility for their actions, and should be fined if the lands is degraded or the public is prohibited. They should also face the prospect of losing their lease if they kill valuable wildlife such as wolves or grizzly bears. At Bold Visions Conservation, we are working to protect our federal public lands and wildlife. Being Bold means demanding change from the status quo that has allowed our lands to be controlled, not by citizens but by the livestock industry, and the time has come to enact fundamental changes to land management plans devoid of special interests. We need to remove livestock owners from our Game and Fish commissions and clarify the price for leasing lands demands co-existence with all wildlife; it should also include insurance that will pay for the degrading of our natural resources by grazers. We cannot continue down this road of ignorance; the time has come for real change. We will clarify that wildlife on our public lands is worth far more than the price of beef and cattle across our arid western lands. If we are to create lands for wildlife to thrive, such change must begin now.

Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation

"We stood by and allowed what happened to the Great Plains a century ago, the destruction of one of the ecological wonders of the world. In modern America, we need to see this with clear eyes, and soberly, so that we understand well that the flyover country of our own time derives much of its forgettability from being a slate wiped almost clean of its original figures."

― Dan Flores, American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains

There is a brick wall of stupidity that lands at the offices of the governors of Idaho and Montana. They and those that control their respected Republican-controlled legislatures seem to hate any animal that is beautiful, smart, and vital to the health of the lands and waters of these two states. That is unless they are deer or elk.

In Idaho, Governor Brad Little is suing the government to get grizzlies delisted so they can be killed. In Montana, the gutting of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the direction of the Governor continues, with key personnel running from the agency as they see their life's work undermined by a fool.

Without even consulting with the average sportsman or conservationist, they now have their sights on killing grizzlies and mountain lions following their slaughter of wolves. Bison are being shot at the entrance to Yellowstone, and we again see a river of blood that cascades across the mountains and valleys of the West that less than 200 years ago destroyed native species and people.

Ignorance is hard to stop. Within the ranching community, it is time that maturity and coexistence become the mantra of those that seek to control our public lands rather than share them.

There is a clear path; we must make clear that ranching, like any other business, understands the risk, and part of getting a lease makes clear they can kill no predators-period. These are federal lands, not cow pastures, and less than ½ of 1 percent of cattle die from predation.

Second, we must make Game and Fish agencies enter the 21st century. The Governor should not pick who is on the commission, and no one should ever be allowed to profit from such an appointment. It should be an independent agency that has its members picked based on science, their education, and understanding of wildlife. It should not be to please trophy hunting interests, trappers, or ranching interests. Its focus must be on the long-term sustainability of wildlife.

It is also time our elected officials and wildlife agencies stop and take seriously the fact that they laugh off and try to deny; that wildlife has feelings; they can and do feel pain and suffer the loss of a mate and packmate.

My good friend Norm Bishop, a wolf extraordinaire, who spent many years in Yellowstone, shared this with me. It sums this up with observation, science, and heart.

Dr. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, interviewed wolf biologist John Vucetich about his book for Psychology Today and comments: John's wide-ranging book goes beyond the lives of the wolves, and he is right on the mark in his unyielding claim that wolves are excellent for forcing us to think about how "compassion-soaked reasoning…may be essential, for favoring fair coexistence with biodiversity."

Vucetich's response included this: "The most important lesson that I've ever learned is difficult to tell in the August pages of scientific journals. But I am free to tell it here in his book Restoring the Balance. It's a lesson that I've known for some time now. Very simply: these animals-the wolves of Isle Royale-they have lives, individual lives like you and I. They know what happened yesterday, they have plans for what comes next, and they have interests. To see that unfold in all its particulars really changes a person's view of nature, all nature. Because if wolves have lives, then it is only a small step to realize that squirrels and robins have lives. All living things creatures we share the planet with—they all have lives. They are not the resources for us to conserve, so much as they are the brothers and sisters with whom to share."

We can move forward, but we must defeat ignorance, greed, and ego. We must do so with compassion but without hesitation, for wildlife needs us now like never before. We must fight the powers that be who see wildlife as a trophy or as a crop in need of harvesting. They should look in the mirror and ask what gave me the power to be God over other species? If religion truly guides them, hopefully they can evolve to show love, respect, and compassion. But that will require an intervention, one we must force. We need not be enemies but work together while understanding the mistakes of the past, to do what is suitable for the species that remain, while ensuring generations to come are as awed as we have been by the presence of wolves, grizzlies, beaver, and fox, all the species, that make life on earth so extraordinary.

Updated: Apr 26

Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation

As we move into summer, the wolves and their young are exploring and traveling across the public lands that allow them to thrive. It is a time of joy and even play. Yet outside the boundaries of Yellowstone, the steps they take are far from protected.

Many people ask, what does it take to stop this madness? The answers remain complex but obvious. We need people in positions of authority, like Interior Secretary Haaland, to stop playing politics with wolves. She has had more than enough time to come to the only logical decision she could make-Wolves in the Northern Rockies must be re-listed.

Martha Williams, Director of US Fish and Wildlife, should recuse herself from any discussion on wolves or grizzly bears based on her past support for killing both species while running Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The agency has an obligation to not allow grizzly hunting, and they should be questioning the science used to count wolves-the IPom, which has been shown to not be effective in counting wolves, which I will explain in detail in future articles.

What continues to be lacking when we deal with wildlife agencies is the constant push to allow sportsmen to kill; what is missing is the feelings of these intelligent and vibrant species. What I mean by that is can anyone look into the face of an animal and come away with the notion that they do not display several distinct feelings or emotions such as interest, joy, surprise, anger, grief, or even shyness, for example? They make statements like "Wolves can put up with a 40 percent harvest because they reproduce quickly-Really? What does a pack feel when they lose a member? And it is definitely time to review the science of what actually does happen to the pack when they lose a member, especially an alpha male. What happens when they see a mate suffering in a trap? Is it fair or sporty to use calling devices or place bait at the edge of Yellowstone? Why are so-called sportsmen not being called out for their sick actions?

The reasoning is simple: agencies cover for unethical hunters and trappers tracks and allow the slaughter to continue. At the federal level, it is a disgrace that Democrats allow such brutality to wildlife. Why emulate that which Republican lawmakers have perfected?

Having just spent more than two months lobbying at the state legislature, it is obvious that lawmakers see wildlife much like a corn crop; thus, terms like harvesting are used when in reality, these are living, breathing animals that feel pain and have emotion. Something lawmakers have ridiculed me for even voicing.

We also must push people used to an old-school mentality and understand that wildlife has feelings. Trappers tell me that wildlife cannot feel pain. For many, that is accepted. When I asked one of them if he ever stepped on his dog's foot, he said yes. I asked whether they yelped, but he had no response other than to say, "Dogs are not wildlife."

We must force wildlife agencies and those that hunt and profit from wildlife to accept that some species should never be hunted; wolves and grizzlies come to mind. They are self-regulating and do not need the interference that man forces in their lives. Only then can we stop the destruction elected officials and agencies allow while ignoring the reality that we are now in the 21st century: a time where we must fight for and protect, not execute them, our most valuable and beautiful species.

To win, we must think outside the box; I know we will continue to think with a view of how we change this in our lifetime. Doing all of the above could take generations. But we must continue to make our voices heard and fight like hell.

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