National Wildlife Federation's Adopt-A-Wildlife Acre campaign has many real-life examples of just how important this program work is and its impact on retiring livestock grazing land for wildlife's use. A recent example occured in the beautiful state of Montana. For 28 years, Rick Jarrett ran cattle on 8,000 acres in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest, just outside Yellowstone National Park. “It is beautiful land,” says the burly fifth-generation rancher—a rugged paradise of rich grass, sagebrush and forest, cut by the sparkling Taylor Fork of the Gallatin River. Cattle did well there. Jarrett didn’t actually own the land, instead holding a grazing permit from the U.S. Forest Service. But he took good care of it, earning a government commendation for his stewardship.
Unfortunately for Jarrett, cows weren’t the only animals thriving in the Taylor Fork region. Bison wandered in from Yellowstone and grizzly bears roamed the area, sometimes killing his livestock. And then a few years back, a dozen wolves moved in, and Jarret’s problems became more severe.
Jarrett recently decided that the increasing conflicts with wildlife—plus higher diesel fuel prices that raised the cost of trucking cattle—were too much to deal with. But he also didn’t want to lose the value of his grazing rights. That’s when he heard of an innovative National Wildlife Federation (NWF) program aimed at benefiting both ranchers and wildlife. The idea: Pay ranchers to give up grazing allotments, then get the Forest Service to permanently retire the permits. After working with NWF Special Projects Coordinator Hank Fischer, who directs the program, Jarrett took home a check for $50,000. The bison, grizzlies and wolves got the land. “I was looking for solutions, not playing politics, and so was NWF and Hank,” says Jarrett. “I guess that’s why it worked so well.”
NWF’s Adopt-A-Wildlife-Acre program has now relieved wildlife/livestock conflicts on more than 650,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. That’s an area about twice as large as Grand Teton National Park. The program is a prime example of how NWF’s habitat protection efforts have evolved with the times. It’s also a rare success story in a region where grazing rights traditionally have been viewed as an almost-sacred entitlement by ranchers, and where conservation groups and the livestock industry are usually at loggerheads. The NWF program “shows that environmental organizations can do something instead of just complaining and arguing,” says Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). “It’s a win-win for the ranchers and for the grizzlies and other wildlife.”