The Public Lands Council sent a letter to the House Committee on Natural Resources recently opposing H.R. 980, also known as the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.

NREPA would set aside 19 million acres as wilderness areas in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington and create a new category of land-use designations, called “Biological Connecting Corridors,” which would be off-limits for livestock grazing. Nearly 8 million acres would be set aside as these corridors which connect the wilderness areas. It also designates approximately 2,000 miles of river corridors for inclusion in the Wild and ScenicRiver system. 

“This bill would make an area nearly the size of South Carolina essentially off-limits for public use,” said Skye Krebs, president of PLC and rancher from Ione, Ore. “It is a complete departure from the multiple-use tradition of our country’s shared federal lands.” 

Joel Bousman, a member of the Public Lands Council and county commissioner of Sublette County, Wyo., was invited to testify before the House Committee on Natural Resources. In his testimony, he explained why multiple use of public lands is so important.   

“In a western county consisting of 80 percent federal land, we thrive on multiple use of our natural resources, with the end result being a sustainable and diverse economy,” Bousman said. “Forcing more people into a smaller area available for multiple use will result in overcrowding and more resource management problems, as well as damages to the natural community.”

“Many western ranchers depend on public lands for livestock grazing,” Krebs said. “This bill would make it difficult for them to continue their operations.” 

Bouseman elaborated on that point.   

“Most, if not all, of the lands located in Wyoming and proposed for wilderness under this bill are already used for permitted livestock grazing,” he said. “Invariably, when conflicts arise, agency decisions are weighted in favor of wilderness values and against grazing, harming local families and communities.”

The text of the letter PLC sent to the House Committee on Natural Resources follows:

Dear Chairman Grijalva and Ranking Member Bishop,

The Public Lands Council has represented public land ranchers for over 40 years. Public land ranchers own nearly 120 million acres of the most productive private land in the West and manage vast areas of public land, accounting for critical wildlife habitat and natural resources. PLC works to conserve a stable business environment in which livestock producers conserve the unique heritage of the West and feed the nation and world. 

H.R. 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, would lock up more than 19 million additional acres in wilderness areas in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. It creates a new category of land-use designations, "Biological Connecting Corridors," and designates nearly 8 million acres for inclusion in the corridors which connect the wilderness areas. Title III of NREPA designates approximately 2,000 miles of river corridors for inclusion in the Wild and ScenicRiver system. 

Additionally, PLC is concerned over the language contained in Title I, Sec. 110 of NREPA which states "water sufficient to fulfill the purposes for which the lands are designated as wilderness." Specifically, water rights of states or property owners cannot be infringed upon for wilderness designations. 

The vast amount of land that would be designated under H.R. 980 would severely restrict grazing and other multiple uses of our public lands; for this reason PLC is adamantly opposed to the legislation. 

We thank you for your consideration of western ranchers and of a balanced multiple use management approach to our nation’s public lands.