Adopt A Wildlife Acre

by National Wildlife Federation
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Photo by Stahler
Photo by Stahler

Two Decades and 1.6 million acres: National Wildlife Federation continues to drive impact across the West with innovative, market-based program

The National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt a Wildlife Acre Program is 20 years old this year and to date, has removed cattle and domestic sheep from 1.6 million acres of public land that had been beset by conflicts between livestock and wildlife. The program has evolved and expanded over the last two decades, but the work not only continues, is even more needed. The program was initially launched in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with a focus on a market-based approach that negotiates payments to ranchers to waive their grazing privileges to graze public land allotments where there are acute conflicts with one or more species.  Much of our work has addressed conflicts between livestock, grizzlies and wolves, but also conflicts that impact bighorn sheep, bison, native trout and salmon, and even rare plants. These agreements are completely voluntary and are not about getting rid of public land grazing, but about giving ranchers the resources to shift their grazing away from high conflict wildlife areas. After 15 years of success in the Northern Rockies, the program was expanded to the Southern Rockies and the Great Basin leading to the successful retirement of grazing allotments in across Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico where we see significant future opportunities. “As impressive as 1.6 million acres is, the Adopt a Wildlife Acre Program is just getting started, and we are poised to double that amount of acreage in the next five years,” said Bob McCready, Wildlife Conflict Resolution Senior Program Manager.  

Across the years, the Adopt a Wildlife Acre program has engaged in research and strategy development to address wide array of issues, from tribal grazing lease conflicts to the planned reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. For example, grazing public lands in the West has a complicated past and is only becoming more challenging as drought and wildfire create more pressure on wildlife and people who depend on public lands for their livelihoods. The removal of public land grazing, even at the low levels produced by the Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program, has been at the heart of numerous debates. One of the most often heard is speculation about the potential for these allotment retirements to accelerate the development of private ranch land such as the further subdivision of land for real estate development. Yet a recent report released from the University of Wyoming, which included the involvement of NWF staff, confirmed that grazing retirements has not led to landscape fragmentation. “The future of ranching is changing and we are confident that the success of these agreements will continue to serve as a new model for addressing conflicts on public lands across the West, while allowing the continuation of vibrant, sustainable and profitable ranching operations.” McCready concluded. “Yet conflicts persist between cattle and wildlife, and our strategies to successfully coexist with wildlife must continue to evolve,” he added. 

Recent work has expanded to northern Montana with the Blackfeet Tribe, culminating in an agreement that would curtail grazing and further protect one of the most intact native grasslands and diverse ecosystems in North America.  The six tribal grazing leases bordering Glacier National Park's eastern boundary are collectively named the Chief Mountain Unit (Ninnaastakoo) and span some 24,000 acres. This wildlife rich region is home to elk, mule deer, grizzlies, wolves and abundant bird life. 

Bighorn sheep also benefit from the retirement of voluntary grazing allotments. The iconic herds that dotted the western landscape have been close to disappearing due to various threats, the most serious of which is disease carried by their domestic counterparts: Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae. This fatal respiratory pathogen can quickly lead to the demise of 90% of an entire herd in a few short months. In Colorado’s San Juans Mountains, in the Weminuche Wilderness, Federation negotiations are yielding significant successes for bighorn sheep. McCready explained:  “The Federation spent years negotiating with a sheep rancher to retire a permit to graze domestic sheep in an area that posed a serious threat to one of Colorado’s three most important bighorn sheep herds.” Bighorns in the San Juan Range have long battled disease issues and by reducing the disease vector, the stage was set for a recovery plan. The Federation has retired the first of these high conflict grazing permits and the same team continues to work to retire domestic sheep permits on as many as 20 additional domestic sheep grazing allotments in the San Juan range that threaten other critically threatened bighorn sheep herds.

“The outcomes over the last 20 years have been as unexpected as they are exciting,” said Kit Fischer, the Federation’s Director of Wildlife Programs for the Rocky Mountains, Prairies and Pacific Region. “For example, wolves have found their way naturally to Colorado from Wyoming and at least eight wolves, including 6 new pups, were located near North Park, Colorado in 2021 – the first successful litter of pups born in Colorado in over 80 years. When you have expertise and steadfast commitment, you can forge a clear path toward successfully ensuring these animals recover and thrive.” 

Photo McCready
Photo McCready
Photo by Rollins
Photo by Rollins
Photo by Fobes
Photo by Fobes
Photo by McCready
Photo by McCready

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West Fork of the Madison
West Fork of the Madison

We are excited to report National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has recently completed an agreement with a cattle ranching operation west of Yellowstone National Park protecting grizzly bears on nearly 40,000 acres! We have a fundraising goal of $200,000 to complete this project.

The project area is near the Idaho/ Montana border along the West Fork of the Madison River (known as the West Fork grazing allotment). The West Fork has an extremely high density of grizzly bears and is an essential corridor for expanding grizzly populations to the west of the Park.  Unfortunately, over the past decade, this cattle allotment has experienced some of the highest rates of conflict in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, resulting in the removal of bears that have predated on livestock.  

The agreement we developed with the rancher is three years in the making and is a novel approach in resolving livestock / grizzly bear conflicts.  NWF invested with the new rancher in purchasing the grazing permit from the former operator of the allotment.  This allowed NWF to develop a legal agreement with the new rancher in how they would graze livestock on the permit.  Simply put, the agreement provides the rancher much flexibility in terms of how they graze, but there is zero tolerance for bears being removed from the area as a consequence of their grazing.  If depredation occurs on the allotment, it is the livestock that are moved off, not the bears.  We believe an economic solution to natural resource conflicts is one of the most effective way to ensure landowners and ranchers are brought along as partners in conservation.  

Our hope is this agreement may serve as a model for other conflict grazing areas in the future.  While many of our previous agreements resulted in the permanent retirement of grazing on an allotment, we realize the same outcome of reducing large carnivore conflict may be achieved through other means.  We also believe that no landscape and no two conflicts are the same and we must be able to work closely with private landowners and ranchers if we want to see long term recovery of species like grizzlies and wolves on the landscape.  

Cattle Grazing on the West Fork Allotment
Cattle Grazing on the West Fork Allotment
Grizzly Conflicts on the West Fork
Grizzly Conflicts on the West Fork
Grizzly Bear GPS locations West Fork
Grizzly Bear GPS locations West Fork
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Photo by Dan Stahler
Photo by Dan Stahler

As we described in a report last summer, NWF expanded its Adopt a Wildlife Acre Programs to address the planned reintroduction of wolves into Colorado thanks to the passage of Proposition 114 in November of last year. The Proposition mandates that the State of Colorado transplant wolves into the West Slope of the state by the end of 2023. Amazingly, however, wolves have found their way naturally to Colorado from Wyoming and in an exciting development, at least eight wolves (including 6 new pups!) were located near North Park, Colorado in 2021 – the first successful litter of pups born in Colorado in over 80 years. Unfortunately, in December 2021 and January 2022, this newly established wolf pack was confirmed to have caused the death of three cattle and two dogs in North Park. While Colorado is in the process of developing a long-term plan to avoid and manage wolf-livestock conflicts, state wildlife managers have been caught by surprise by the recently confirmed depredations, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Unless there are immediate and well-designed approaches to deter existing wolves from preying on domestic animals in North Park, the wolf pack may become more habituated to livestock, and depredations may increase. Consequently, there will be increasing calls for the removal of the North Park wolves, and, perhaps most importantly, the future reintroduction of wolves into Colorado will begin under a growing shroud of opposition that will compromise long-term success.

In response, The National Wildlife Federation, in partnership with Working Circle and Defenders of Wildlife, have been building relationships with local North Park ranchers and developing a plan that is ready to implement in meeting three major objectives: (1) reduce or stop the depredation of livestock by North Park wolves, (2) build relationships and trust with the local ranching community, and (3) demonstrate successful practices and partnerships that show how to address rancher’s concerns while reducing opposition to the presence of wolves in rural Colorado. To date, our coalition has been successful in preventing additional livestock deaths, but the work will continue through the spring and summer when we will need to redouble our efforts.

If we are able to obtain adequate funding, our coalition will continue our intensive work with ranchers in North Park to put conflict reduction measures in place, collaborate with state and federal wildlife managers to inform best practices, demonstrate the power of public-private partnerships, and apply the work in North Park to inform the State of Colorado’s long-term wolf reintroduction and management plan. In addition to on-the-ground conflict reduction practices, a key component of this plan will be to develop and disseminate messaging that supports this conflict reduction work and, in addition, provides science-based information as a foil to the emerging narrative that wolves and ranchers cannot coexist.

NWF is seeking $150,000 to enact this plan immediately. This is a unique opportunity to support an immediate need that can directly support wolves on the ground, reduce rural-urban tensions that could upend wolf reintroduction, and set a foundation that supports the long-term success of wolves in Colorado. If you would lke more information, please contact Bob McCready at mccreadyb@nwf.org

Photo by Andrew Ketsdever
Photo by Andrew Ketsdever
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Chief Mountain  Blackfeet Reservation cr. McCollum
Chief Mountain Blackfeet Reservation cr. McCollum

We are pleased to report that after several years of researching and developing a strategy to address tribal grazing lease conflicts, NWF and our partners succesfully negotiated a grazing agreement on the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana.  The agreement, with the support of the Blackfeet Tribal Council, converts the allotments into "owner's use" status for the benefit of fish and wildlife habitat conservation. The six tribal grazing leases bordering Glacier National Park's eastern boundary are collectively named the Chief Mountain Unit (Ninnaastakoo) and span some 24,000 acres.  This wildlife rich region is home to elk, mule deer, grizzlies, wolves and abundant bird life.  The Blackfeet Reservation spans some 1.5 million acres and its biodiversity is unparalled.  

The Chief Mountain Area is of special cultural significance to the Blackfeet and preserving and protecting this region has been a priority of the tribe for years.  Sharing a border with Glacier National Park has also created unique challenges for both the Park Service and the tribe in maintaining livestock infrastructure and addressing livestock conflicts, including grizzly bears which frequent the area.  By transferring these permits to owner's use, the tribe has committed resting these pasture through at least 2029.  Our goal is to support  our partners and tribal allies to develop a plan that will help compensate the lost revenue to allotees and provide a rich wildlife area with climate resilience and high quality habitat. 

National Wildlife Federation is honored to have played a small role in this work and supporting the Blackfeet Tribe in restoring this landsacpe and benefitting a myriad of fish and wildlife species.  In particular, this grazing agreement may open up the door for further conversation around restoring bison to the Chief Mountain area, including Glacier National Park.  This work also serves as a model for other opportunities to resolve livestock / wildlife conflict on tribal lands. Stay tuned!

NWF welcomes your support of this exciting project. We are actively fundraising to meet our goal of $15,000 by December 31.

Map of Chief Mountain Range Units
Map of Chief Mountain Range Units
Elk are a focal species in this area cr: McCulloch
Elk are a focal species in this area cr: McCulloch
Grizzly near East Glacier cr: Hughes
Grizzly near East Glacier cr: Hughes

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Photo by William Wiley
Photo by William Wiley

Our GlobalGiving supporters are some of our most dedicated and for this reason, we would like to introduce to you the next phase of expanding NWF’s Adopt a Wildlife Acre Program. As you may know, NWF has spent decades addressing the conflicts between wolves and livestock in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Despite our success in supporting what has been a miraculous recovery of this iconic carnivore in the Northern Rockies, recent state legislation in Idaho and Montana have targeted the killing of up to 90% of the population in these states. We find these efforts appalling and are doubling down on our efforts to reduce wildlife / livestock conflicts in the West. The Adopt a Wildlife Acre team has spent the past several months developing a new wolf conservation initiative to push back on these efforts while continuing to negotiate the retirement of public land grazing allotments where there are conflicts between wolves and livestock. In short, we are marshalling all available resources, including our generous supporters, to protect the incredible gains the conservation community has made over the last three decades to recover wolves in the Northern Rockies.

A key component of this initiative is implementing a multi-pronged goal of successfully reintroducing wolves to Colorado. You may have heard that with the passage of Proposition 114 in November of 2020, the state of Colorado is required to transplant wolves to the West Slope of the state by the end of 2023. Colorado has millions of acres of suitable habitat for wolves and we are thrilled to be a part of the effort to reestablish these large carnivores to the largest remaining area of unoccupied suitable habitat left in North America.

NWF has decades of experience working on wolf management ranging from our leadership in the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the early 1990’s to our advocacy of the sound management of wolves in the Great Lakes, Northern Rockies, Pacific Northwest and Southwest. Based on these experiences, NWF has learned that a rational, science-based and pragmatic voice can resonate with broad audiences and is critical to creating the societal acceptance necessary for the long-term sustainability of wolf populations. Proposition 114 was decided by a small margin and as a result, there is a risk that the wolf reintroduction in Colorado will lead to deeper and more permanent divisions at a time when healing and collaboration is needed. Through our Adopt a Wildlife Acre program, NWF has a long history of building coalitions and consensus among disparate groups including ranchers, sporting organizations and wildlife advocates and is eager to use our decades of experience in building bridges that will lead to the long-term success and sustainability of a wolf population in Colorado.

To facilitate the successful reestablishment of a healthy wolf population in Colorado and to address the political pressure to reduce the wolf population in the Northern Rockies states, NWF will pursue a number of strategies including:

  • We will conduct an media and outreach campaign to provide scientifically sound information about wolves with the goal of building social tolerance, acceptance and consensus.
  • We will produce a report authored by Diane Boyd, one of the leading American wolf biologists, what will summarize the lessons learned from 30 years of wolf management in the U.S.
  • Lead an effort to engage and educate ranchers in how to utilize non-lethal strategies to minimize the conflict between livestock and wolves.
  • Pursue state and federal policy solutions that will provide the public funding necessary for wolf management programs across the west.

The Adopt A Wildlife Acre program will continue our efforts to negotiate the closure of public land grazing allotments to protect wolves, grizzly bears bighorn sheep and other priority species. We also look forward to bringing our decades of experience in managing wildlife-livestock conflicts to champion the restoration of wolves across the American West. Please feel free to reach out with any questions and as always, we are grateful for your support.

Photo by Teresa McGill
Photo by Teresa McGill
Map by Living with Wolves
Map by Living with Wolves
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Organization Information

National Wildlife Federation

Location: Reston, VA - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Kit Fischer
Reston, VA United States
$403,345 raised of $450,000 goal
 
2,108 donations
$46,655 to go
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