|Riding tall in the saddle and deep in the high country, rancher
Dan Ingalls is the picture of a contented man. Central Wyoming,
he says, is the finest place to winter cattle hes ever seena
regular banana belt compared to his native South Dakota. And his
Bacon Creek grazing allotment in the Bridger-Teton National Forest
is his idea of an ideal summer rangethat is, it was until the
grizzly bears moved in.
Ten years ago, we had no problems with bears, he says. We had
a black bear once in a while, and once in a while youd find a
critter that you knew had been killed by a bear. But it was something
rare. There were years when I never lost a cow to bears.
Such was not the case in the summer of 1999. Thats the year Ingalls
lost 114 calves and 37 cows to Ursus arctos horribilis. The aggrieved
rancher submitted a damage claim to the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission
in the amount of $908,845a figure the commissioners feel is way
too high. Normally, ranchers are only reimbursed for confirmed
kills, multiplied by a factor of l.67. Moreover, the commission
doesnt acknowledge lifetime losses; i.e., the $620,000 the Riverton
rancher figures hes not going to make, thanks to the loss of
so many registered calves and young cows.
Ingalls didnt get the money, but he has managed to draw some
attention to what he views as a serious and growing threat facing
ranchers in the vicinity of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national
parks, where the grizzly bear enjoys federal protection. But as
the bears continue to increase in number and spread outward into
adjoining national forest lands, he wonders whether they should
continue to be accorded preferential treatment. And how many bears
on public lands are too many bears?
Hes trying to make the government agencies accountable, declares
friend and fellow rancher Lois Herbst. No one has ever forced
the issue, I think, like Dan has. Hes had people who helped him
find maps showing whether or not were in a certain type of zoneyou
know, recovery zone. Hell write letters asking them for information,
and he expects an answer. But he usually doesnt get an answer
until after it would have been of help to him.
The problem with this whole thing, I think, is the guidelines,
adds Ingalls. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Guidelines.
Dan whips out one of several Forest Service documents hes managed
to obtain through dogged persistence: the so-called Greater Yellowstone
Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Situations map. Portions of the map surrounding
Yellowstone National Park are colored yellow, orange and redareas
where the grizzly is permitted to run free, reproduce and exercise
dominion over all creatures great and small. National forest lands
outside of the yellow, orange and red recovery zones are colored
green and designated Situation 5, wherein any grizzly involved
in a human-grizzly conflict will be controlled. The guidelines
glossary goes on to describe a human-grizzly conflict as a confrontation
between man and/or his property and the bears in which the safety
of the man and/or the bear is jeopardized and/or property loss
Given the fact his Bacon Creek grazing allotment is colored green,
and presuming cattle would fall under the definition of property,
Ingalls feels he has a pretty good case against the grizzly bear.
As for safety of the man, Dan recounts a frantic cell phone
message he received in August 1999 from his youngest sons Samuel
and Spencerwho at the time were manning the cow camp.
It was a little scratchy, but I heard em say, Dad, weve seen
five grizzly bears in camp this morning. While were talkin to
you, right now, we see five grizzly bears!
Dan did some digging and discovered that wildlife biologists working
for the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission had been conducting research
trapping in the vicinity of his cow camp. He produces another
map, one peppered with large black dots indicating where the traps
were set, and smaller black dots indicating where dead cattle
were found. Curiously, the big dots appear to attract the little
dots. Is there a connection? Dan Ingalls believes so.
The Game and Fish says theres no correlation between their research
baiting and my cattle losses, he says. The only thing theyre
showing [on the map] are confirmed kills, and look at that. Big
dots are the research traps, the little dots are the kills. Its
what pulled bears to the area to begin withand not just bears
but problem bears. The problem bears teach the other bears how
to kill. And how to eat beef.
Problem bears are routinely collared by government trappers and
taken for a ride back to Yellowstone. But according to Ingalls,
Yellowstone Park officials already have more grizzlies than they
know what to do with. So the bears go on shorter rides, and are
back in no timeespecially if there happens to be the odor of
dead meat hanging in the air.
See, when they go out here and they start setting up a lot of
stinky baits, theyre pulling bears out of the recovery area.
Why? If they get too many bears in the recovery area, theyve
gotta delist. But if they get em scattered around out here, they
can say, Well....
Ingalls concedes he might just be the victim of a series of tactical
blunders. More likely, he insists, government agents have been
plotting behind closed doors to enlarge the recovery zone in order
to accommodate the burgeoning bear populationand also to appease
grizzly bear proponents, who in the Jackson Hole area outnumber
ranchers 10-to-1. Indeed, many stock growers maintain the Endangered
Species Act of 1973 is part of a plot to drive ranchers off public
lands and turn them into willing sellers.
Its called the Wildlands Project, Wildlands Recovery, or Wild
Again, says Lois Herbst. They give it different names. It speaks
about using the grizzly bears, the wolves and the lynxthe Canadian
lynxto end multiple use on the public lands. They want to make
these lands wild again, and the states that have so much public
land are the ones being hit the hardest, because they know they
can get rid of us.
What is ironic about the ongoing feud between ranchers and nature
lovers is that no one spends more time communing with mother nature
than Dan Ingalls and his sons. Since virtually all of their 100-square-mile
grazing allotment is accessible only by horseback, they manage
for days on end without electric lights, indoor plumbing, television,
or radio. Were it not for their walkie-talkies, cell phone, and
global positioning transponder, they might just as well be living
in the middle of the 19th century. They are in fact close kin
to the pioneersdescendants of the same Ingalls clan whose adventures
are chronicled in the book Little House on the Prairie. (Dans
great-great-grandfather was first cousin to Charles Ingalls, father
of writer Laura Ingalls Wilder.)
Growing up on a cattle ranch in rural South Dakota, Dan learned early the virtues of hard work. He has instilled these virtues in his six sons, all of whom are active partners in Dan Ingalls & Sons of Riverton, which specializes in Angus cattle specifically bred to prosper in high altitude areas. Also, good-natured but fearless Catahoula herding dogs dutifully accompany the boys whenever they ride out of camp. Dan doesnt miss the brutal Black Hills winters of his boyhood; however, he does miss the amiable relationship he and his family enjoyed with the game and fish folks there. I mean, we didnt agree with everything they stood for and said and didbut, we worked with them. We werent anti-wildlife; we were pro-wildlife. I can remember the first fox I saw. I can remember the first prairie deer I saw. Lots of animals through the years.
In South Dakota, he says, the Ingalls family worked hand-in-hand
with the wildlife people to establish and maintain habitat for
deer and fish. We didnt charge for hunters. Typically, on our
place we took two or three days off and guided huntershauled
them around, picked them up, charged em nothing. The point Im
trying to make is, I was amazed when I came here, to this state,
and found the anti-agriculture people in the Game & Fish. I cant
Ingalls doesnt see any good reason why he as a cattleman should
have to be at odds with the wildlife peopleor with the environmentalists,
for that matter. Indeed, he looks forward to the occasional close
encounter with a backpacker in the backwoods.
Weve invited them to stay with us, he says, and struck up
some friendships. We try to be friendly with everyone. You know,
you can see guys coming down the trail and theyre from some out-of-state
place. Theyve waited all year and saved all year to do this,
and theyre excited. Theyll talk about how beautiful it is up
here, and theyll ask, What do you do? Well, we run cattle,
and were riding on it.
But almost all of em, when you talk about the beauty of the
country, how nice it is and how untouched it is, they all ask
you a form of the same question. Different words, same question:
How do you think it was before man came along and ruined it all?
I say, Well, how was it? Who would know? Lewis and Clark would
knowread their journals. They ate their mules, because there
was no game. They found pockets of game when they did their survey,
and they saw tracks of predators. The bears were a big problem
to themand wolves. But in their mind, they have a picture of
Utopia. In schoolbooks, in the news, on the Discovery Channel,
they have a picture in their minds that is not reality. That is,
that somehow there was all this game and all these predators that
all lived happily ever after until man came along and ruined it
all. Thats whats in their minds, but its a false picture.
The true picture, as Ingalls paints it, is that Bambi, Thumper,
Rocky, Bullwinkle and their friends wont fare so well in the
presence of major predators. The top of the food chain gets heavy
really fast, he says. And what well see, if the wolf and grizzly
bear population is unchecked, their population explodes and everything
else declines. So when I talk to these people I say, Youve got
to choose. When you come up here and hike, do you want to see
elk in that meadow? Deer drinking from the creek? Or do you want
to see a few tracks of a few predators? Youve gotta make a choice.
You cannot have it both ways.
Richard Menzies is a frequent contributor to RANGE magazine and
also an occasional wide-eyed, out-of-state visitor to Wyoming.Body