Cat Urbigkit: Western Watersheds Project Grew From A Grudge & More Trending News


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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist
Part 3 of 4-part collection

Although Western Watersheds Project claims its mission is to “protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and legal advocacy,” its main aim is to finish public lands livestock grazing.

Whether by means of their incessant press releases haranguing ranching as probably the most damaging drive on the western vary, or suing federal companies for his or her failure to abide by statutory timelines whereas creating backlogs of labor in response to lawsuits, WWP is probably the most single-minded of the anti-grazing teams.

Here’s WWP’s “to-do list” from its web site:

In 2018, WWP celebrated its 25-year birthday.

Notice that its highlighted accomplishments deal with its adverse affect to public lands ranching. That’s the way it measures success.

Marvelous Beginnings

Delaware native Jon Marvel is a retired architect who moved to Stanley, Idaho within the late Nineteen Sixties and shortly discovered cattle that grazed on nationwide forest land had pushed by means of a fence to graze on his adjoining personal property.

His adverse encounter with the bovines and their proprietor led Marvel to develop a grudge in opposition to cattle and ranchers utilizing public lands to the extent that he urged the U.S. Forest Service to chop the quantity of livestock grazing on the allotment subsequent to his place.

Influenced by a youngsters’s journal depiction of livestock as a damaging drive on public lands, Marvel wrote 1000’s of letters to company officers to complain about livestock and calling for elimination of livestock grazing on public lands all through Central Idaho.

Marvel’s advocacy included theatrics resembling his toting round a pink pacifier, popping open a briefcase of money to dramatize his grazing allow bids, and carrying an “End Welfare Ranching” button, along with bestowing its “Golden Cowpie” award to company workplaces that it deemed to allow continued livestock grazing.

His first tactic was to attempt to outbid ranchers for grazing leases in Idaho with the intention of retaining the leases freed from livestock grazing – which he ultimately succeeded. His efforts resulted within the 1993 founding of a non-profit group, the Idaho Watersheds Project, with the aim of destabilizing the livestock business so ranchers would exit of enterprise.

That group morphed into Western Watersheds Project in 2000 as Marvel expanded the trouble to rid public lands of livestock grazing all through the West. Marvel’s bombastic habits included shouting throughout public conferences, hurling insults, sticking his tongue out at an company official when he didn’t get his approach, and usually being disagreeable to those that don’t share his viewpoint.


Shortly after increasing WWP’s mission for a West with out livestock, in July 2001, WWP obtained possession of a 432-acre property on the East Fork of the Salmon River in Custer County, Idaho.

By transferring the ranch possession to “That-A-Way Ranch” by means of Valley Sun, LLC, WWP’s donor supplied this $1.3 million asset to WWP. WWP declared the property its new headquarters and determined the newly named Greenfire Preserve could be restored “to a self-sustaining native habitat,” that would offer on-site schooling for highschool and faculty college students about “degradation of public lands by domestic livestock.”

The “Greenfire” title is homage to conservationist Aldo Leopold, who wrote of killing a wolf and seeing “a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain.”

WWP started spending a lot of cash on its Greenfire Preserve program – however was spending extra money than it was bringing in, even with a $47,000 mortgage from Marvel, and maxing out a $98,000 line of credit score at a Wells Fargo financial institution for working capital (and utilizing the protect property as collateral).

According to information filed with the Internal Revenue Service, WWP targeted its work in three predominant program areas:

  • Monitoring – figuring out broken watersheds and documenting abusive land administration practices;
  • Litigation – defending imperiled wildlife, public lands, and western watersheds “through vigorous litigation;” and
  • Restoration & Education – restoring the 432-acre Greenfire Preserve “as a self-sustaining native habitat, and bringing WWP’s conservation campaign to the attention of the national press and policymakers.”

After solely six years of possession of the 432-acre property, WWP had spent a minimum of $740,000 on its restoration and schooling program and located itself in the identical state of affairs many ranchers face: being land wealthy and money poor. The protect’s instructional occasions and luxurious lodge leases had introduced in solely minimal quantities of income, but WWP had sunk tons of of 1000’s of {dollars} into its showcase property and program. WWP abruptly switched course, transferred possession of the LLC and its property to Seattle philanthropist Gordon Younger, at a reported lack of $20K.

In saying it had bought its curiosity within the property to a “conservation buyer” in 2007, WWP famous the deal “improves WWP’s cash balance sheet dramatically, but also enables the continuation Western Watersheds Project as the Manager of the Greenfire Preserve through a multi-year agreement with the conservation buyer.”

The land deal gave WWP entry to greater than $1 million {dollars}, however it didn’t take lengthy for the group to burn by means of that pot of cash both. WWP spent $215-$420K greater than its annual revenues in every of the following three years, with the overwhelming majority of its bills going towards salaries and personnel prices. By the top of 2010, the group’s complete belongings had dropped to about $390,000.

But WWP received a giant enhance in 2011, elevating a file $1.6 million. Where this stage of funding originated is unknown – however we do know that 2011 could be a milestone in WWP’s future, as we’ll see subsequent.

Flush with money from 2011, WWP as soon as once more overspent its annual revenues by $250-$340K yearly for the following three years. WWP ended 2014 with 13 staff on the payroll, however with solely $265,000 in money and belongings. And for the primary time since he’s based the group, Marvel was now not both on the board or serving as its government director. He had moved on to a lot greener pastures.

Marveless: the reward that retains on giving

Back in 2011, Marvel had joined the board of the newly created Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund. Pledges on the contrary, having Marvel on a board whose membership was managed by WWP laid the inspiration for WWP to ultimately acquire from its actions. As reported earlier on this collection, the Fund had been created when Ruby Pipeline LLC had agreed to supply a $15 million conservation fund in order that WWP wouldn’t try and delay development of its multi-state pipeline.

Although WWP had pledged the Fund wouldn’t be used as a warfare chest for WWP, that dedication solely lasted for just a few years. In 2015, the Fund supplied WWP with its first of what got here to be annual contributions. The Fund’s $100,000 allowed WWP to finish the yr with $294K in belongings. Even with the Fund quadrupling its contribution to WWP the following yr, WWP as soon as once more spent greater than its annual income, ending the yr with solely $235K in complete belongings.

That was the final yr that WWP spent greater than its annual revenues, and coincidentally, was the yr that Erik Molvar took over as government director. Was it Molvar’s administration that stored spending inside revenues since then?

I’d guess it has extra to do with the annual contributions being made by the Fund, which complete $2,238,850 in six years (2015-2020). In 2020 (the newest submitting obtainable for public inspection) the Fund supplied $528,850 to WWP, permitting the group to shut out the yr with belongings of $578,844. In addition to the massive chunk of change from the Fund, WWP reported it additionally obtained authorized payment recoveries of $278,900 in 2020 – an enormous improve from previous years.

Although WWP had continued to spend cash on the Greenfire Preserve it now not owned for a full decade, Gordon Younger handed away in 2017.

His heirs shaped a brand new nonprofit, White Clouds Preserve, and took over administration of the newly renamed personal property in 2018, with a mission to “promote education, research, environmental restoration and economic transformation” within the area.

The lodge is as soon as once more obtainable for occasion leases, and the protect generated $120,000 in revenues by means of its choices in 2020. Apparently, it wasn’t such a cash pit in spite of everything.

Since it now not had the Greenfire Preserve, WWP modified the “restoration and education” portion of its informational filings with the Internal Revenue Service to now not reference it, however stored the spending class as certainly one of its main program areas, noting WWP “successfully brings the organization’s conservation campaign to the attention of national press and policymakers. In the last five years more than 450 news stories have appeared about the work of WWP.”

By 2021, WWP’s payroll and compensation bills have been greater than $900,000 of its complete income of $1.3 million, most of which got here from grants totaling $892,200, in keeping with WWP’s Spring 2022 e-newsletter. The group had budgeted to spend $1.5 million in 2022. It’s unknown how a lot of this cash is coming from the Fund.

This is a component three of a four-part collection. Next up is a have a look at who stands with WWP.

Cat Urbigkit is an creator and rancher who lives on the vary in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, seems weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Disclaimer: Urbigkit is an enthusiastic supporter of pastoralism across the globe, together with public lands livestock grazing within the American West. She’s gone on file as being anti-WWP.

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Cat Urbigkit: Western Watersheds Project Grew From A Grudge

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