In Search of the Hidden Public Costs of Wolves

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By James Beers:

This was written for the Wallowa County [Oregon] Chieftain newspaper and can be found on their Facebook page.

Recently an ad hoc group of wildlife professionals concerned with wolves in Europe, Canada and the US has been discussing a 7 April 2015 article in the Wallowa County (Oregon) Chieftain newspaper.  The article, by three researchers with Oregon State University,concerned the economic impact of wolves on rural communities in Northeast Oregon based upon a six-year, ongoing study.  This analysis focused on cattle depredation and harassment costs related to wolf densities and was originally published in “Oregon Beef Producer” magazine, published by the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.

Our discussion, composed of frequent comments and observations, revolved around the lack of any reliable estimates of the cost of wolves in the media, scientific journals, or government justifications regarding the costs associated with wolves, especially in the settled landscapes of Europe, Canada and the USA.  The discussion caused me to consider how I might contribute to this subject of wolf costs in a milieu of government and environmental obfuscation and deception about the costs of wolves.  My experience and background with state and federal program budgeting and analysis left me with a familiarity that enables me to speak about government costs that will hopefully shed light on the state portion of costs, both monetary and opportunity, of wildlife programs, especially controversial and political issues like wolves.

While I am not a domestic animal economist, I am a wildlife biologist with over 55 years of working in the field of government wildlife programs.  From several temporary stints with the Utah Fish and Game to 32 years with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 4 states and 25 years in Washington, DC and then as a speaker and writer about wildlife: I was, among other things during my USFWS tenure, a Program Analyst; a Budget Analyst; a Congressional Fellow; and the administrator of the federal Wildlife Excise Taxes (currently over $600M) Apportioned annually to state wildlife agencies.

During this latter assignment I uncovered the theft of $45M to $60M from those Excise Taxes by USFWS officials in Washington to fund the capture of Canadian wolves and their release in Yellowstone in the mid-1990’s.  The stolen funds were also used to clandestinely open a USFWS Office in California and to increase bonus amounts for select USFWS managers.  Both the introduction of wolves into the Upper Rockies and the office in California had previously been rejected for either funding or authorization by Congress.  As a “whistleblower” I assisted the General Accounting Office to construct an Audit that was the subject of two Congressional Hearings before the House Resources Committee.  I spent 10 months at home on full pay and benefits before being given a large cash settlement contingent on my complete silence for three years regarding anything having to do with my separation and retirement from federal employment.

All the foregoing is necessary for you to understand that I know both federal and state wildlife agency budgets and many of the ways that bureaucrats hide and dissemble what they do not want the public or any overseer to know.  Think, at this point, about the FBI/DOJ scandal before Congress; Fast and Furious; Lois Lerner and Koskinnen at the IRS; Benghazi excuses; recent BLM actions in Nevada and the shooting in the snow near Malheur Refuge of a protesting rancher.  Federal bureaucrats are not unique in their exemption from prosecution that would send civilians away to prison for decades.  They share this “perk” with powerful politicians and the very rich.  When bureaucrats of any stripe see other bureaucrats go unprosecuted for escalating crimes; like any kid on the street that sees his friends get away with crimes; the bureaucrat is emboldened and grows more and more contemptuous of the law that he believes doesn’t apply to him or her.  For instance, State wildlife agencies have been caught using wildlife funds to buy vehicles for the state vehicle pool; giving wildlife lands purchased with Excise Taxes to land developers (Whitewater in Arkansas); paying state park employee’s salaries when the state parks money runs out; giving wildlife land to state prison administrators to build a prison; and selling timber on wildlife lands and placing the receipts in the General Fund (instead of the wildlife budget as required by the Excise Tax law).  These things were all done clandestinely and were it not for a whistleblower or a fair audit (a rarity) by an uninvolved Audit Firm, they would likely have gone unreported.  State bureaucrats want to “please” their political overlords (Governors, select Legislators, Political Party bosses) every bit as much as FBI Agent Strzok, Lois Lerner, Koskinnen, BLM thugs, USFWS appointees, etc. want to “please” those that care for them financially and politically.

It is about State costs when Government Issue (GI) wolves are imposed by federal fiat that I wish to speak here.

The federal government is imposing or has imposed every current wolf in the Lower 48 States.  Wolves present when the ESA authorized federal seizure of all wolf authority in The Lower 48 States and all those imported, released and protected have been and are (despite the few states “enjoying” wolf management “returned” by benevolent bureaucrats and politicians) under federal directives and the threat of being retaken by federal bureaucrats given a favorable political climate.  At last count, wolves are present in 25 or more states.  Wolves are not “native” to Hawaii and wolves are ubiquitous in Alaska preventing federal claims of being “Endangered”, though that does not stop Lower 48 radicals and federal bureaucrats from trying to dictate wolf policies like aerial shooting, trapping and hunting to depress wolf densities to protect large game like moose and human/wolf interfaces where human safety and human property like dogs are in danger.

Let us use one state as a hypothetical example of what happens within a state wildlife agency when wolves arrive.  What I mention here goes for any state with wolves, be they under federal (Endangered Species) jurisdiction or under state management authority within federal guidelines as the result of federal bureaucrats’ benevolence to “return management to the state”.  This “return” is a false gesture since the Endangered Species Law remains untouched to authorize future federal bureaucrats to reassert federal authority and jurisdiction over not only wolves as a species, but also about wolves’ subspecies, wolf races, wolf populations, wolf distinct population segments, as well as distinct population segments (wolves on either side of a “government boundary” such as a County line).  One significant factor in the disappearance of federal wolf claims in the current atmosphere is the reluctance of the Congress to openly cough up many millions to USFWS to protect and spread wolves at this time if they reasserted federal authority and some States suddenly realized that negotiating with federal bureaucrats over wolf presence, distribution and control is akin to negotiating with Iran or North Korea about their behavior.  Better to let the State wildlife agencies scrimp and go broke so that when the time comes next to reassert ESA provisions, they (the States) will be even more dependent on federal funds and federal bureaucrats.

I was in our hypothetical state last year when I attended an all-day meeting “about” wolves.  Attendees included angry cattlemen, hunters, dog owners and the usual scattering of urban representative of radical groups opposed to anything that would affect wolves.  A State Biologist in charge of the Wolf Program from the Wildlife Agency Headquarters was in attendance.  Two wardens came and went during the day.  There were frequent breaks and lots of chitchat.  The State fellows were pleasant and honest; the cattlemen/hunters/dog owners were anxious to tell their stories; and the radicals were neither easy to talk to nor interested in sharing anything.  The cattlemen/hunters/dog owners innocently hoped that bureaucrats and environmentalists would listen and negotiate relief for their problems with wolves.  The radicals, knew their power was to be protected but not here in the open but in the backrooms of State politicians, the lunches for staffs of federal politicians, and the evening get-togethers with state and federal bureaucrats that support them like FBI Agents behind-the-scenes in federal elections and afterwards.

While speaking to the administrator about common acquaintances and politics, I asked how much money the State agency was spending on wolves and he answered honestly, “eight-hundred thousand”.  Now this state has large losses of cattle, hundreds of dead dogs (from hunting beagles and bird dogs to bear dogs), elk losses where they are trying to establish and build up an elk herd, and numerous human threats to rural people (including one killing that was mysteriously buried by the government and the media) and platoons of urban “volunteers” that count wolves and otherwise “help” state employees.  So, when he casually answered so quickly with such a round (and small) number, my interest was piqued.

I asked if that included the time spent by that warden over there and the administrator said, “oh no, that is different”.  When I then asked what the total might be he was honestly flummoxed (this did not surprise me) as most agency workers outside the budget office are woefully ignorant of what I was asking.  By the way, the warden told me that in the last 12 months he had spent well “over half his time” on reports of wolf poaching, investigating livestock and dog losses, advising rural residents encountering wolves near homes or businesses, running wolf errands for other State agency offices, helping with capturing and collaring wolves, and organizing wolf counts to speaking to schools and civic groups about how lucky they all were to have wolves in their midst.

Now this state has established and dense wolf numbers in at least 2/3 of their Counties.  The other 1/3 have transient and occasional resident wolves.  The state had wolf “management” “returned” for a few years ago and then had the federal jurisdiction returned to USFWS as the result of a lawsuit by a radical group so the USFWS did little more than “protect” wolves that increased (take note all you fans of “returning wolf management to the States”).  Even with USFWS back in the driver’s seat, State responsibilities included law enforcement, counting, compensation, public relations and associated tasks thanks to a State Legislature beholden to radical groups and interested in rural votes and a cool rural temper during elections.  Politicians that appear to not respond to voter’s ire are the politicians whose names you can never remember. So, following state and federal politicians as they “promise this and that”, and “introduce” this and that is a little like wandering through the House of Mirrors at the Carnival on a summer evening: you come out right where you went in.

Let us make a few ballpark estimates with round numbers about costs  The ball park numbers are necessary because actual numbers are all but impossible to obtain, as I found out, from state agencies hidden behind laws meant to provide transparency but that have been adapted as veils for state agencies that make you jump through more hoops than a Hula Hoop contest.  Like their federal counterparts; between the charges, delays, forms and information dissembling; public knowledge is kept to a bare minimum.  The round numbers are necessary to keep your attention and not lose you “in the weeds”.

Let us say there are 60 Counties (2/3 or 40 have lots of wolves) in the State and a Warden in each one. Based on the Warden at the meeting and hypothesizing about the other 39 Wardens in the wolf Counties, let us assume each warden spends 40% of their time on wolf-related work.  Let us further assume the 1/3 of the Counties with either transient or occasional resident wolves spend 30% of their time on wolf-related work.  Such work would include:

  • Investigating wolf depredations on livestock and dogs.
  • Arranging compensation for verified wolf depredations.
  • Investigating reports of being wolves shot or hunted.
  • Investigating reports of traps, snares or poisons set out for wolves.
  • Advising residents, dog owners and livestock producers about deterring wolves.
  • Overseeing and assisting in wolf censuses.
  • Responding to requests for assistance with wolves in campgrounds, garbage, outbuildings and on bike/hiking trails.
  • Training on state and federal wolf policies and regulations.
  • Training on equipment and handling sedated, live and dead wolves.
  • Investigating reports of wolf hides and/or skulls.
  • Meetings with schools, the media and organizations concerning wolves.
  • Training on wolf-related information management.
  • Investigating wolf and wolf hybrids in private homes.
  • Making Investigative Reports and preparing charges for prosecutors.
  • Keeping up with all the non-lethal control recommendations and non-lethal control claims so as not to be quoted in a way that could jeopardize your job.
  • Learning how to answer questions about wolf impacts and things like wolves as vectors of many diseases so as not to get in trouble with the latest state policies.

Now you might think this (40% of the Warden’s time in dense-wolf Counties and 30% of the Warden’s time in the mostly transient-wolf Counties) is all paid for out of the $800,000 in State funds but you would be wrong.  The $800,000 is first skimmed by headquarters and regional administrators for let’s say 10% for “administration”.

The remaining funding ($720,000) is mainly going to compensate livestock producers and dog owners (in this state but not in the majority of wolf states) for verified losses of livestock and dogs to wolf depredations.  But what about “research”?  The University “needs” funding for graduate students and professors all willing to work on what the wildlife agency and the radicals and those being harmed by wolves want as current justifications.  To wit, some “silver bullet” that won’t kill anything and justification for more funding to buy out livestock producers and to justify banning dogs from wherever dogs might hybridize with or conflict with wolves. So, let’s give them (rural folks and University justifiers) $420,000.

The amount available after this “compensation” is $300,000.  Well, there is also the Wolf Administrator’s salary and overhead in Headquarters along with a secretary and one or two regional wolf persons and poof, there goes the $800,000.  So, who or what pays for all that Warden time?

Before we answer that question, let us recognize where most of the license revenue and Excise Tax dollars that support state wildlife agencies goes.  It goes to salaries, equipment, land purchase and operations.  If our hypothetical Wardens make an average of $50,000 per year and 40% of that goes to wolves that means each warden is spending $20,000 of that salary on wolves.  But, then there are the hidden costs of Overhead; each warden also costs annually:

  • Health Insurance $8,000
  • Early Law Enforcement Retirement State Fund $10,000
  • IRA Contributions $ 3,000
  • Vehicle (annual amortization) $15,000
  • Boat/Trailer (annual amortization) $12,000
  • Storage for Equipment $4,000
  • Gun/Arms training/Uniforms $3,000
  • Computer/Administrative Support (@Regional Office) $4,000
  • Total: $55,000

Each of these costs must also be added to the $50,000 salary and then 40% deducted to see what the real cost of 2/3 of the Warden’s cost to babysit wolves amounts to.

$50,000 (Salary) + $55,000 (Overhead) = $105,000 (Warden Compensation) X 40% (% of time on wolves) = $42,000 the annual real cost of ONE Warden on wolves in the (2/3) Counties with dense wolf populations.  But we have 40 such Wardens, so – $42,000 (the cost of One Warden’s wolf time) X 40 (the number of Wardens in dense wolf country) = $1,680,000 (the state real cost of Warden services re: wolves in the dense wolf counties).  That is without adding in gas, overtime, vacation, and maintenance/repair of vehicles and equipment!

At this point we add in the cost of wolves in Warden’s time in the other 1/3 of the Counties’; i.e. those Wardens that only spend 30% of their time on wolves.  $105,000 (total annual cost of a Warden) X 30% (% of time on wolves) = $34,500 the annual cost of one Warden on wolves in the 1/3 of Counties with transient and scattered wolves.  Again, we have 20 such Wardens, so $34,500 (Annual wolf cost in 1/3 of Counties) X 20 = $690,000 (the state real cost of Warden services re: wolves in transient wolf counties.

If we add the estimated real cost of warden services for wolves we get:

$1,680,000 + $690,000 = $2,370,000 Total cost of warden servicing of wolves not including gas, overtime, vacation, and maintenance/repair of vehicles and equipment!  But wait; there is more.

What about the agency Director and all the staff in Headquarters and Regional Offices for the entire Department?  The Public Relations staff, the computer staff, the receptionists, environmental “educators”, biologists, solicitors, appointees, et al?  Like all those Assistants and Deputies; they have salaries, overhead, meetings to attend, travel, vehicles to travel in, and training to compose and to go to ad infinitum.  If the field personnel spend 30 – 40% of their time and effort on wolves, do you really believe these others spend all their time protecting and managing your fish and wildlife?  So, we must take the same slice +/- 37% of their salaries and support (the average of all Wardens work on wolves) and treat it as Wolf Costs.  That is a large number that I am sure varies greatly by state (imagine that cost in Washington or California and then think of comparable costs in New Mexico or North Dakota).  It is a big number and 25 states from one extreme to another are involved in it as you read this. When you figure this all out, don’t forget to add in the original claim of $800,000’s counterpart that I expect by now you no longer think of as, “not too bad” anymore.  Pause and think of how much is really being spent and how no one ever gets anything but sneers and guffaws when they say, “we’re spending a lot more than $800,000”.

In fact, Warden’s spending over $2,000,000 on wolves are not managing and regulating fish and wildlife to that tune as the public still assumes.  Fish and Wildlife populations and distributions compatible with settled landscapes and local interests, is the reason the agency was created and those employees are simply using up the available funding and the respect with which the public once held their predecessors to serve federal bureaucracies, politician’s egos, and radical Non-Government Organizations and their pernicious agendas that prioritize imaginary nature worship over those actually being harmed.

Do the math on one agency, then figure 24 more states now and another dozen in five years.  Think about how this cost is going into eliminating hunting and the Excise Taxes that support these agencies.  Hunting is threatened by lack of game from wolf depredations; human and dog safety concerns where wolves are present, disease problems for people and dogs where wolves are present, sporting dog breeders disappearing as dogs are no longer in demand (one of many animal right’s goals), and diminishing License Revenue (a self-fulfilling prophecy).  Excise Taxes are threatened by gun control, vilification of shooting and shooting sports in schools, the media and political platforms.  Who will pay for State wildlife programs in the future when these things are gone?  What will be done other than growing government control and ownership of more rural land and more elimination of any animal use or management as hunting and animal husbandry disappear and rural communities wither?

My grandmother used to say, “figures don’t lie but liars figure” and she was right.  Basing these wildlife scenarios on biology and nature myths is foolish. For instance, after about 50 years on the Endangered “Species” LIST, “experts” still cannot agree if there are one, three or more “species” of wolves in The Lower 48 States.  Someone shooting a 65 lb. “coyote” must wait weeks to have a bureaucrat tell him if he shot an “Endangered Wolf” (thereby incurring severe federal prosecution); or a coyote (thereby set free under state laws); or a dog (either under Local jurisdiction or owned by someone that may sue you for shooting his dog).  Since dogs, coyotes and wolves mate freely given the opportunity and their puppies are just as viable to reproduce and explicable as a pup out of a basset hound bred by a poodle; what then is this wolf?  One of many species, simply a Canid form like coyotes and dogs, or a unique species?  Look to the math of this scam and when you understand the costs and what you are losing: do something!

Were we able to (we aren’t because state wildlife agencies like the FBI, IRS, USFWS et al do not want the public ever getting a hold of such real numbers) get actual audit information, what I am trying to display here would be infinitely more understandable. While states vary as to audits, federal agencies never get audited unless Congress requests it and anyway the federal General Accounting Office no longer does “audits”, they do “Accountability Reports” because they are no longer an agency of accountants, they mutated years ago into an agency of social studies and political science majors as a diversity thing.  “Accountability” only exists anymore in the eye of the beholder.

All those State salaries, all those overhead costs, all that rental office property, all that equipment, all that support and all those laws and regulations were set in place to manage fish and wildlife for people.  Hunting/Fishing License Revenue and Excise Taxes both supported a wide assortment of businesses like sporting goods, clothing, dog breeding, etc., plus it controlled or eliminated certain wildlife deemed harmful and encouraged other wildlife highly desired for game, food and traditional recreation.  Excise Taxes on arms and ammunition, archery equipment, gas used for sporting and recreation boats, and fishing tackle supplemented the license revenues as the backbone of state fish and wildlife agencies funding.

The unseen and unmentioned millions being spent on wolves by state agencies is simply money diverted from the original public mandates and objectives to manage deer and elk and moose and ducks and grouse and walleyes and ice houses and invasive species, etc.  The same thing happened at the USFWS level when several hundred waterfowl and songbird support positions were “re-imagined” overnight by Secretary Babbitt into a “new” environmental science research agency in the US Geologic Survey that Congress had refused to fund.  The old public and organizations of hunters, fishermen, ranchers and others have stood by while those opposed to their presence from the National Wildlife Federation to PETA “re-imagined” the state fish and wildlife agencies into babysitting agencies feeding imaginary nature to urban constituencies largely dissatisfied with everything American from naming streets and schools after Presidents to hunting and fishing with your children like your Dad and Grandpa did with you.

The state wildlife agencies, once one of the most beloved of all government services have been co-opted (willingly and for their own job and retirement concerns) into this scam which you might call a “two-fer”.  Not only are the wolves spreading in the settled landscapes of the Lower 48 and wreaking havoc (where they do not belong for many very valid reasons from hybridization to spreading disease and danger to rural children and old ladies): the state agencies that once managed fish and wildlife for people have joined in this clandestine endeavor and managed to eliminate a steady amount of fish and wildlife management and convert it into wolves that make rural life, rural pursuits and rural economies more difficult and problematic.  They are giving License Revenue and Excise Taxes, the primary example of the tried and true “User Pays” principle, to the enemies of the “Users” to, as Lenin once observed, “Buy (actually take) the rope from the Capitalists (actually the Users) with which we will hang them”.

James Beers

9 August 2018

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Jim Beers is a retired US Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist, Special Agent, Refuge Manager, Wetlands Biologist, and Congressional Fellow. He was stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York City, and Washington DC.  He also served as a US Navy Line Officer in the western Pacific and on Adak, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands.  He has worked for the Utah Fish & Game, Minneapolis Police Department, and as a Security Supervisor in Washington, DC.  He testified three times before Congress; twice regarding the theft by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of $45 to 60 Million from State fish and wildlife funds and once in opposition to expanding Federal Invasive Species authority.  He resides in Eagan, Minnesota with his wife of many decades.

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