Farm Bureau Doesn't Represent Family Farmer

Defenders and Ambassador Wolf Call on Farm Bureau to Drop Wolf Lawsuit Case

(01/11/1999) - Albuquerque, NM -- At a press conference today at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, Defenders of Wildlife and a group of farming, ranching, and conservation representatives decried the anti-environmental, anti-small-family-farm policies of the American Farm Bureau Federation of America (AFBF). Defenders also again called on the AFBF to drop out of the appeal on its lawsuit that could result in the removal and death of all gray wolves in and around Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.

During the press conference, held adjacent to the Albuquerque Convention Center where the AFBF is holding its annual convention through January 14, Defenders President Rodger Schlickeisen presented Rami, an ambassador wolf from Mission:Wolf, the Colorado-based wolf education center. "Rami represents the growing movement among environmentalists and stewardship-minded ranchers and farmers to protect and preserve all things wild," Schlickeisen said. "There is room enough for wildlife and human interests; the two are compatible."

In December 1997, a Wyoming federal judge ruled in favor of an AFBF lawsuit, using an obscure interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, and ordered the removal of all gray wolves in and around Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Removal likely would result in the wolves being killed, as there is no place for them to go. The judge stayed his own order, pending expected appeals by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and others, including Defenders of Wildlife. Defenders has appealed on behalf of the wolves and the public, and the appeals case could be heard within the next few months.

Citing a farm poll commissioned by Defenders of Wildlife, Defenders Species Conservation Director Bob Ferris pointed out that the AFBF may not be the voice of the family farmer that they claim to be. "It's interesting that more farmers call themselves environmentalists, 69 percent, than are members of the Farm Bureau, 48 percent," Ferris explained. "In fact, most family farmers feel they have no advocates, and only one in four names the Farm Bureau as their voice. Family farmers strongly oppose many of the Farm Bureau's initiatives, and we suspect that most of the bureau's own members would too, if they were aware of bureau policies."

Speaking with Defenders were several leaders of the farming and ranching community. Bill Christison, president of the National Family Farm Coalition, spoke on behalf of farmers and ranchers nationwide who believe that AFBF policies have advanced the interests of large agribusiness corporations over those of the family farmer and the environment.

"The Farm Bureau doesn't speak for the family farmer or rancher," Schlickeisen said. "They are simply an insurance and agribusiness giant, that doesn't represent the views even of its own members, and they have ridden rough shod over farmers and rural Americans for too long. Their constant attacks on clean air, clean water, and wildlife restoration projects serve to illustrate how far off base they are from most American farmers."

Schlickeisen suggested that a prime example of how environmentalists and ranchers can work together to preserve nature can be found in the Wolf Country Beef program, recently initiated in New Mexico and soon to be launched in Arizona. The Wolf Country Beef seal authenticates that the beef has been raised on ranches that agree to allow predator restoration to occur on lands under their care. Such Wolf Country ranchers will not resort to lethal controls on coyotes, wolves, or other predators. Jim Winder of Heritage Ranches is one of the first ranchers who signed up to initiate the program. "This program gives the public a way to vote for the kind of management they want on public land," Winder says. "I'm leasing your land. How dare I say `no' to wolf reintroduction. I have certain duties to my landlord." Wolf Country Beef is currently available at La Montanita Co-op in New Mexico.

"And it's a two-way street," Schlickeisen said. "Defenders has long been more than willing to work with family ranchers." He continued, "Wolf predation on livestock is a rare occurrence. But when it does happen, we don't ask the rancher to bear the cost. We've put our money where our mouth is with our Wolf Compensation Trust." Defenders maintains a $100,000 Wolf Compensation Trust to reimburse ranchers for any verified loss due to wolf predation. To date, Defenders has paid more than $70,000 to more than 65 separate ranchers.

Schlickeisen summarized, "Plain and simple, the Farm Bureau claims to represent family farming and ranching, but their primary interest is assisting large corporate farming, selling insurance, and using their membership dues and profits to push an extremist political agenda. Their opposition to wolf reintroduction is just one example. The vast majority of Americans, including most Farm Bureau members, overwhelmingly want the Yellowstone wolves to remain in the park. We want the Farm Bureau to withdraw immediately its legal objections to leaving the Yellowstone wolves in the park where they belong."

In addition to the Albuquerque press conference, Defenders is providing a forum for farmers to discuss these issues at press conferences in Seattle on Monday; Springfield, Illinois and Sacramento, California on Tuesday; and Santa Monica, California on Wednesday. More detailed information on these events can be obtained by calling Roni Lieberman at 202-682-9400 x266.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270