This week on NCBA’s Beltway Beef audio report, host Chase Adams interviews Colorado rancher Brice Lee, the recently elected president of the Public Lands Council (PLC). Lee says the PLC formed in 1968 to help address public-lands issues, and now represents about 22,000 ranchers who graze livestock on National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.

Lee says PLC’s current priorities include:

  • Prevent the addition of the sage grouse to the Endangered Species List. Lee says that with good management, sage grouse numbers are improving in many areas and several states offer hunting seasons.
  • Reform the Equal Access to Justice Act. This act makes a provision which allows the courts and its agencies to award costs and fees to parties who succeed in litigation against the federal government. Many believe it encourages environmental groups and other activists to file suits over land-use issues.
  • Pass the Grazing Improvement Act, which would double from 10 to 20 years the period of a term for grazing permits and leases for domestic livestock grazing on public lands or lands within national forests in 16 western states.
  • Reform the Endangered Species Act and federal estate taxes. 

Lee also addressed a recent report from Oregon State University, recommending removal of livestock, feral horses and even numbers of deer and elk from public lands to help mitigate global climate change. Lee points out that public lands ranchers, and their livestock, provide much of the fire protection on public lands through brush control and water management. Large wildfires, he adds, contribute significantly to greenhouse-gas emissions.

He also notes that most public-lands ranchers own their base ranches in the mountain valleys of the West, and graze their livestock seasonally on surrounding public lands.

The area of privately held land on these ranches often is relatively small, and not adequate to support enough animals year-around to keep the ranch economically sustainable. They rely on public-lands grazing permits to keep the ranches viable.  What he didn’t say, and what many environmental activists fail to consider in their zeal to drive ranchers out of business, is those ranches control much of the most desirable land in the Mountain West. Their river-valley properties provide critical habitat for trout, deer, elk, sage grouse and other wildlife, either seasonally or year-around. Those same features also make that land highly desirable to developers, who gladly will subdivide all those out-of-business ranches into five-acre lots, complete with roads, fences, sewer systems and people. Lots of people.