The Arizona Legislature embraced conflicts of interest when it created the Arizona Livestock Loss Board (ALLB) in 2015 to disperse federal funds to ranchers for expenses resulting from the 1998 introduction of endangered Mexican wolves in the national forests of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.
The legislation which established the 9-member Board was sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, and it put the proverbial foxes in charge of the henhouse. Three Board members, for example, were required to represent the livestock industry, while one member had to be a livestock auction market owner, and another had to be a state university faculty member with “expertise” in agricultural. These five members could control the Board, because only five were required to constitute a legal quorum.
The Board’s four other members were required to include the directors of the Arizona Department of Agriculture and the Arizona Game & Fish Department. The remaining two members were required to represent “wildlife conservation or wildlife management who have experience with livestock production or management.” These two members, along with the three members that represented the livestock industry, were to be appointed by the governor. (Republican Doug Ducey has been Arizona’s sole governor since the Board’s creation.)
The legislation also charged the Game & Fish Department with being the Board’s parent agency and providing administrative support for the ALLB. Kevin Kinsall is the Department employee that serves as the Board’s point of contact. Among other things, he’s a former a mining executive, was a lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, and was also the natural resources policy adviser to former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
Current Board Members
The embedded potential conflicts of interest created by the legally mandated composition of the Board have been exacerbated by the individuals that are its current members.
One of the livestock industry representatives on the Board, for instance, is Sarahmarge “Wink” Crigler, a public land rancher on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest who owns the X Diamond Ranch. She has been awarded $195,500 in Mexican wolf depredation prevention grants by the ALLB since 2019. The Board’s minutes show that she abstained from the votes to approve those grants, but her vote wasn’t required to achieve a quorum.
Crigler has also received at least $9,058.75 in compensation from the ALLB since 2019 for cattle she claimed were killed by Mexican wolves. She abstained from voting on those payments too. (Livestock loss claims must be confirmed by the USDA’S Wildlife Services as having likely been caused by a wolf before the Board can approve compensation payments. Wildlife Services is the agency that kills hundreds of thousands of wild animals every year to benefit ranchers and farmers.)
Gov. Ducey’s reappointment of Crigler to the Board in 2021 created controversy. The Arizona Capitol Times reported that state Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, complained it “doesn’t look good” for someone on the Board to also receive money from it. Gov. Ducey dismissed the complaint, pointing out that Crigler had recused herself from the votes that benefited her. But Sandy Bahr, the director of the state’s chapter of the Sierra Club, pointed out that the situation wasn’t that simple.
Crigler’s sister, rancher Maryhelen “Sug” Peters, has also been awarded money by the ALLB. In 2019 the Board approved a payment of $1,508.85 for her claim that a wolf killed one of her calves, and in 2021 it paid her $1,418.21 for a similar claim. According to the Board’s minutes, Crigler did not abstain from voting to approve either of her sister’s claims, and seconded both motions to approve them.
Jim O’Haco is another one of the Board’s livestock industry representatives, and is also a public land rancher on the Apache-Sitgreaves. He owns the Chevelon Butte Ranch , which has benefited from substantial amounts of government assistance.
The Board’s current chairman, and its third livestock industry representative, is Ken Van De Graaff of Rabo AgriFinance, a company that provides loans to ranchers.
The Board’s university faculty member with agricultural expertise is George Ruyle, a professor at the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment. He has been a vocal apologist for public land ranching for many years. According to the business records for Crigler’s X Diamond Ranch LLC and Southfork Properties LLP, Ruyle is the statutory agent for both entities. The Board’s minutes show that Ruyle was present and did not abstain from the votes to approve the cattle loss claims and depredation prevention grants awarded to Crigler.
Other Board members include Mark Killian, who has been the director of the Department of Agriculture since he was appointed by Ducey in 2015. He is one of the owners of Killian Beef LLC, which also makes him a public land rancher because the company owns the Hackberry/111 Ranch in Graham County, which has Bureau of Land Management grazing permits. The ranch was previously owned by Sunny Mesa Inc., of which Killian is also co-owner, and that company received $78,181 in government assistance from 2018 to 2020 from the USDA’s Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP).
The Board’s other agency head, Ty Gray, is the director of the Arizona Game & Fish Department. He was appointed in 2017 by the Arizona Game & Fish Commission, and its members are appointed by the governor. One of the Department’s primary goals is to maximize big game populations for hunters, and elk are the primary prey of Mexican wolves.
The remaining two Board members are the wildlife conservationists with livestock management experience. They are Stephen Clark and Charles Kelly. Clark is the Executive Director of the Arizona Elk Society, a hunter group that promotes habitat projects to increase the state’s elk population. Kelly is the treasurer of the Arizona Big Game Super Raffle, Inc. This organization uses some of the big game hunt permit tags the Game & Fish Department donates to hunter groups every year to help raise money to fund the agency’s HPC grants.
Lack Of Transparency
The Board’s potential conflicts of interest are especially troubling because of their lack of transparency. The only way to find the Board’s website, for example, is to find the single link to it on the Game & Fish Department’s website. In fact, the coding used on the Board’s website is set to prevent it from being indexed in Internet search engines.
The Board’s meeting minutes are posted on the Board’s website, but they don’t show the recipients of the approved livestock loss claims or depredation prevention grants – just the agency ID numbers and dollar amounts. Subsequently, public record requests must be submitted to the Game & Fish Department to learn the names of the recipients. Then, the ID numbers assigned to the claims and grants in the minutes can be matched with the ID numbers on the lists showing the recipients. The Board’s May 31, 2017, meeting minutes show that this obfuscation was intentional, as there was a unanimous vote to keep each claimant’s information “private to the maximum extent allowable by law.” The motion was seconded by the Department’s director at the time, Larry Voyles.
- Mexican Wolf Depredation Compensation Awards, 2017-2021
- Mexican Wolf Depredation Prevention Grants, 2019-2021
The Board’s annual reports also provide few details, just the total amounts of livestock loss claims and depredation prevention grants approved each year. They can be confusing too. Their 2019 Annual Report, for example, said they approved $96,203.52 in livestock loss claims that year, but a review of their 2019 meeting minutes indicates they actually paid a total of $99,781.65 – about $3,500 more.
Also, it appears that the Board doesn’t fully comply with Arizona’s open meeting laws. The Board’s meeting agendas and minutes are posted to its website, but the minutes aren’t posted within three working days after each meeting, as required by ARS § 38-431.01.D. Instead, at each of the Board’s meetings they vote to approve the previous meeting’s minutes, so a meeting’s minutes don’t get posted until weeks or months afterward.
Moreover, during the Board’s second meeting on December 17, 2015, it voted to establish five subcommittees from its members. And during its August 3, 2016, meeting the Board created another subcommittee. But none of the Board’s subsequent meeting minutes mention these subcommittees again. If any of them ever met, and it’s almost certain that they did, they would have been subject to the same open meeting law requirements as the Board, as per ARS § 38-431.1.
Board Has Never Conducted Any Rulemaking
Furthermore, the seven-year-old Livestock Loss Board has not published any rules for approving livestock loss claims, calculating depredation payment amounts, or awarding wolf depredation prevention grants. According to state law, all agencies, “must shall make rules of practice setting forth the nature and requirements of all formal procedures available to the public.” And the bill that created the Board, SB 1466, specifically stated that the Board was required to adopt rules.
But one of the first things Gov. Ducey did when he took office in January 2015 was to issue an executive order to impose a moratorium on all state agency rulemaking, and he has renewed that order every year since then. Under the moratorium, no state agency can proceed with any rulemaking without Ducey’s approval. Subsequently, during the Board’s November 3, 2016, meeting they voted to ask Ducey if they could take advantage of his moratorium to avoid rulemaking, and he said yes. One has to suspect the biggest reason the Board doesn’t want to conduct rulemaking is that they would be required to provide a 30-day public comment period on any proposed rules, as per ARS § 41-1023.B.
So, instead of publishing rules in the Arizona Administrative Code (A.A.C.), the Board has voted to approve policies. At their May 2017 meeting they adopted an interim policy for processing wolf depredation claims. According to the minutes, it was supposed to be used for 6 months to “see how it works out.” However, an interim policy is still posted to their website, and says it will be used until the Board “adopts rules.” The file name of the interim policy currently posted to their site implies it was issued in 2019, so it might differ from the original one. But there was certainly a more recent revision, because the minutes from the Board’s December 8, 2021, meeting show the interim policy was revised to include compensation for sheep killed by wolves.
According to their minutes, the Board didn’t approve a depredation prevention grant policy until their November 15, 2018, meeting. Subsequent meeting minutes, however, indicate this policy was revised. The policy currently posted to their website indicates it was updated in February 2021. This recent change was likely the result of the passage of SB 1083 in 2020, which removed the legal requirement that depredation avoidance grants had to include a research component. The revised wolf depredation prevention policy states that it also “establishes interim measures.”
There are important questions that could be answered if the Board’s brief policy statements were replaced with detailed regulations. For example, how does the Board estimate the market value of the livestock claimed killed by wolves? The Board’s “interim” depredation claims policy states that the maxim livestock loss payment a claimant can receive is $2,500. But the Board’s list of approved livestock loss claims and their 2019 minutes show that compensation payments have exceeded that amount at least 11 times, including the examples listed below:
- Claim #19.066, $4,617 for a bull
- Claim #20.099, $4,450 for a calf
- Claim #21.139, $4,867 for a calf
- Claim #21.140, $4,867 for a calf
- Claim #21.143, $3,500 for a bull
- Claim #21.177, $4,50o for a cow
Keep in mind these amounts represented only half of the Board’s estimated market values for those animals. That’s because the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) program that provides the money to pay the claims requires a 50% cost share match from a non-federal source.
The USFWS program also requires a 50%, or dollar for dollar, match for the wolf depredation prevention grants awarded by the Board. Since all of the program’s match amounts can be met by third party contributions, it raises the question of whether or not the Game & Fish Department is contributing some of its Heritage Fund money, or other funds from its multi-million dollar Landowner Relations Program, to pay the matching amounts for the Board’s approved loss claims and prevention grants. The Department is required to provide verification to the USFWS of the non-federal source of the matching funds for each compensation payment or prevention grant, so the Board requires each recipient to submit a signed match affidavit, but these public records aren’t disclosed.
Arizona law, as per ARS § 41-1033.A.2, provides an opportunity for state residents to petition any agency to initiate rulemaking for a practice or substantive policy statement they believe constitutes a rule. But submitting a petition to the Board would likely be a futile request as long as Ducey is governor. (Ducey’s final term expires in January 2023.)
Mexican Wolf/Livestock Coexistence Council Fractured
Before the creation of the Arizona Livestock Loss Board, the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Coexistence Council was responsible for making recommendations for the dispensation of USFWS funds to Arizona ranchers for wolf related expenses. The formation of the Council was a result of the agency’s Wolf Livestock Loss Demonstration Project created in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. This legislation appropriated $1 million a year for the purpose of assisting ranchers nationwide in adopting proactive, non-lethal methods for reducing wolf predation on livestock, and compensating them for livestock lost to wolves. The USFWS set up a trust fund with the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to hold the portion of the project’s money that was allocated to the Mexican wolf recovery effort, along with associated contributions from non-federal sources to be used for the cost share matches. Congress has continued to appropriate $1 million a year to this nationwide USFWS program, and it’s the source of the money the Board now dispenses.
Only states or tribes are allowed to receive and distribute this USFWS money. But the Mexican wolf reintroduction area is bisected by the Arizona/New Mexico state line, so it made sense to have a single organization to coordinate the local payments. Subsequently, the USFWS established the 11-member volunteer Coexistence Council to provide recommendations to the Arizona Game & Fish Department and the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish for dispersing the money. The Council included people from both states, representing ranchers, conservationists, tribes, and local counties in order to try and promote partnerships. In 2014 they released their strategic plan.
The Council’s membership included a person from the Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group that for many years has provided funds to local ranchers for Mexican wolf loss claims and depredation prevention grants. It has also distributed “pay for presence” payments to ranchers affected by the wolves.
The Council’s chair was Sisto Hernandez, a range management specialist for the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The tribe’s 1.7 million-acre reservation is adjacent to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. It wasn’t included in the original Mexican wolf recovery area, but in 2000 the tribe agreed to allow the wolves on their reservation.
Arizona Livestock Loss Board member Sarahmarge “Wink” Crigler was also a member of the Coexistence Council, but she was very critical of it. In a blog post in the fall of 2015 on the website of the Public Lands Council, a group that promotes public land ranching, she made it clear she didn’t support the Mexican wolf reintroduction program and was quoted as saying, “I don’t call it the Coexistence Council.” She also complained that the livestock loss compensation payments approved by the Council were inadequate, and that its claims process was too cumbersome.
This was after the legislature had created the Arizona Livestock Loss Board that spring to transfer the administration of Arizona’s portion of the USFWS Mexican wolf funds from the Council to the Board. The name the legislature gave the Board made it clear that its focus was intended to be different from the Council’s.
The Board began meeting in November 2015, but they didn’t approve any livestock loss claim payments to ranchers until their May 31, 2017, meeting. (The Board didn’t approve its first depredation prevention grants until 2019.) At their April 18, 2016 meeting, before any loss claim payments had been authorized, Carey Dobson, an owner of Timberline Ranch, complained about the frustrations he had encountered with the loss claim process used by the Coexistence Council. The first 11 loss claim payments authorized by the Board in 2017 went to Dobson, and he’s received at least $93,096 in loss compensation payments so far, which is about 30% of all loss claim payments approved by the Board. The total amount of claim payments the Board has approved since 2017 is shown in the table below.
|Year||Claims Paid||Total Amount||Average Amount|
(includes 9 sheep)
* Total dollar amount obtained from ALLB 2019 meeting minutes.
The total amount shown on the Board’s 2019 Annual Report was about $3,500 less.
The legislated takeover of Arizona’s portion of the USFWS Mexican wolf funds by the Arizona Livestock Loss Board fractured the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Coexistence Council, and discounted the broad-based partnerships it tried to create. In FY 2017 the USFWS agreed to start diverting some of Arizona’s portion of the wolf money directly to the White Mountain Apache Tribe for dispersal because the tribe didn’t want to have to deal with the Board. The Coexistence Council still exists, but it’s a shadow of its former self, and now mostly provides recommendations to the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish.
Broad Public Support For Mexican Wolf Reintroduction
The Mexican wolf reintroduction effort is a product of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was proposed by Republican President Richard Nixon, and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1973 by a vote of 390-12. By that time, Mexican wolves had been extirpated from the Southwest.
Opinion polls have consistently shown that the American public strongly supports the recovery of wolf populations across the U.S. In the Southwest, a 2013 poll found the vast majority of residents in Arizona and New Mexico supported the USFWS Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan. In fact, many are calling for expanding the designated Mexican wolf recovery area to include more of its historical habitat.
The members of the Arizona Livestock Loss Board, however, have made it clear by the way they operate that they have hostile attitudes towards wolves, and don’t care much about the opinions of the general public. For example, during their November 3, 2016, meeting the Board voted to send a letter to Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asking for a formal legal opinion about whether or not Mexican wolf reintroduction was a “taking” of private property under the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The letter was signed by the director of Arizona Game & Fish Department at the time, Larry Voyles, who was also the Board’s chairman. Brnovich never formally responded to them, so at their August 2017 meeting, the Board voted to withdraw the letter, probably because they realized it was a dumb idea.
Many Americans don’t think the ranchers in the Mexican wolf recovery area should receive any compensation for livestock lost to wolves. That’s because it’s public land, part of the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila national forests, so they pay a below-market federal grazing fee of just $1.35 per head per month to use it. And like many public land ranchers in the West, some of them have also benefited from large amounts of government assistance. The tables below show some of the ranches which use the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest that have received wolf loss claim payments from the Board and also benefited from other government assistance.
Government Assistance Program Key
The EQIP program absorbed the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) after 2014.
Note: Open Space Reserve Grants became LCCGP Grants after 2002.
Note: These grants were previously called Section 319 nonpoint source (NPS) water pollution prevention grants.
|2002||WQIG #04-022||$45,750||Maylay Pasture Livestock Water|
|2005||LCCGP #05-33||$125,000||Fencing, Grassland Restoration, Livestock Water|
|2006||WQIG #8-007*||$360,930||Upper Eagle Creek Watershed Restoration Phase 2|
|2007||LCCGP #07-25||$125,000||Erosion Control, Livestock Water, and Fencing|
|2009||LCCGP #09-36||$100,000||Watershed Improvement for SE Arizona Ranch Sustainability|
|2011||LCCGP #11-15||$125,000||Watershed Project for SE Arizona Ranch Sustainability|
|2011||AWPF #11-177||$136,714||Eagle Creek Riparian Protection Project|
|$1,300,969||TOTAL 2002 - 2021|
The ranch’s owners have received at least $11,733 in compensation from the Livestock Loss Board since 2019 for cattle reportedly killed by Mexican wolves.
|2017||AWPF #17-188||$303,975||Apache-Navajo County Watershed Improvement (Cut Down Juniper Trees.)|
|$1,533,580||TOTAL 2009 - 2021|
|2015||WQIG #15-005*||$322,822||Erosion Reduction Measures|
|$1,201,747||TOTAL 2011 - 2021|
The ranch’s owner has received at least $3,888 in compensation from the Livestock Loss Board since 2019 for cattle reportedly killed by Mexican wolves.
|2013||LCCGP #13-01||$40,000||Watershed Improvements|
|2014||Heritage Fund||$5,000||Livestock Water & Fencing|
|$107,786||TOTAL 2011 - 2018|
|2009||LCCGP #09-33||$100,000||Adaptive Livestock Management|
|2011||LCCGP #11-14||$112,350||Implementing Conservation|
|2014||HPC #13-103||$45,000||Remove Juniper Trees|
|2015||Heritage Fund||$3,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2016||Heritage Fund||$3,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2017||Heritage Fund||$5,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2019||Heritage Fund||$5,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|$1,205,213||TOTAL 2009 - 2019|
|2005||LCCGP #05-65||$87,339||Livestock Water & Grassland Restoration|
|2007||LCCGP #07-62||$100,000||Livestock Water & Grassland Restoration|
|2009||LCCGP #09-72||$100,000||Riparian, Livestock Water & Management|
|2011||LCCGP #11-45||$125,000||Livestock Water & Riparian Protection|
|2014||Heritage Fund||$6,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2016||Heritage Fund||$6,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2017||Heritage Fund||$6,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2018||Heritage Fund||$6,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2019||ALLB||$32,000||Mexican Wolf Depredation Prevention Grant|
|2021||HPC #20-108||$20,000||Dirt Tank Cleanouts|
|2022||HPC #21-105||$39,000||Tank Cleaning|
|$641,973||TOTAL 2002 - 2022|
The WY Bar Ranch has received at least $28,585 in compensation from the Livestock Loss Board since 2017 for cattle reportedly killed by Mexican wolves.
|2006||AWPF #05-126||$352,119||X Diamond Ranch Little Colorado River Riparian Enhancement Project|
|2014||Heritage Fund||$5,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2015||Heritage Fund||$5,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2017||Heritage Fund||$5,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2018||Heritage Fund||$5,000||Mexican Wolf/Livestock Conflict Reduction|
|2019||ALLB||$66,000||Mexican Wolf Depredation Prevention Grants|
|2020||ALLB||$66,000||Mexican Wolf Depredation Prevention Grants|
|2021||ALLB||$63,500||Mexican Wolf Depredation Prevention Grants|
|$567,619||TOTAL 2006 - 2021|
Note: There may have been more, these are the amounts of assistance that have been verified.
Consequently, many folks think the ranchers should have to put up with the wolves as a cost of doing business on public land. There’s also some criticism of the program’s wolf depredation prevention grants. They are typically used to pay for a “range rider” to help keep wolves away from cattle. But people wonder why the ranchers don’t already have cowboys watching their herds, especially since ranchers so often like to claim that they are the ultimate conservationists.
Of course, there are also lots of American that have sympathy for these ranchers, and are willing to support a government program that compensates them for wolf-related losses and depredation prevention costs. But it’s unlikely that the Arizona Livestock Loss Board is the kind of agency that most taxpayers would want in charge.
On May 24, 2022, The Intercept posted the results of an investigation that found the USDA’s Wildlife Services had regularly approved unverified Mexican wolf depredation claims, resulting in the unjustified deaths of wolves.
On May 27, 2022, Western Watersheds Project sent a letter, cosigned by more than a dozen conservation groups, asking for a federal investigation into corruption in the USDA’s processing of claims of livestock killed by Mexican wolves.
On June 3, 2022, I filed an official complaint with Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich regarding the Arizona Livestock Loss Board’s failure to comply with the state’s open meeting law.
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