Defending public-lands grazing

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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.

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Dolores Colorado  |  November, 28, 2012 at 09:30 AM

Grazing animals are the most powerful tool we have to restore health to our Public Lands. With proper management of the time, frequency, and timing of grazing and the creative use of stock density we can achieve great outcomes with animals. As it is the continual destocking of our vast grazinglands will only cause further decline in land health and ecological dysfunction.With state of the art management techniques,ranchers are able to sequester carbon and build soils which will help resolve climate change. This is scientifically proven yet the public, some ranchers and many resource managers are stuck with old idea that animals are somehow bad for the land. Its all about how the animals (both domestic and wild) are managed! Rancher hands are often tied by crazy beauracracy. With good education, support and a chance to really manage for land health, ranchers are an asset we cannot afford to loose.

Wyo  |  November, 28, 2012 at 08:40 PM

Great comments, Cindy I have often said that public ranchers should be payed for the great service they do for the public via grazing cattle on public lands..............rather than having to pay for grazing and being subject to uninformed verbal/written abuses.

Wyo  |  November, 28, 2012 at 08:40 PM

That is "public LAND ranchers"........sorry

Nebraska  |  November, 29, 2012 at 09:02 AM

Good article, but he should have shot the "global warming" bull down immediately. The entire global warming issue has been PROVEN to be a hoax, in which scientists have been making up numbers to fit their models. We must stop giving merit to this insane argument. They will use it to control public lands, push ranchers and farmers out of business and implement agenda 21 from the UN. Think this is a conspiracy theory ? Maybe you better read it, and look at what has been happening right next door in Scott county Iowa.

VA  |  November, 30, 2012 at 09:31 AM

Grazing permits should be put out to bid in order for ranchers to pay what they are actually worth. Otherwise they have an unfair advantage over others without access to public land. Keep leases at ten years. And, by the way, how much evidence will it take to convince global warming deniers that they are being misled? Flooding of all coastal cities around the world?

SD  |  November, 30, 2012 at 11:26 AM

You couldn't be more wrong! Wake up. Ice Sheet Loss at Both Poles Increasing, Major Study Finds WASHINGTON -- An international team of experts supported by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) has combined data from multiple satellites and aircraft to produce the most comprehensive and accurate assessment to date of ice sheet losses in Greenland and Antarctica and their contributions to sea level rise. In a landmark study published Thursday in the journal Science, 47 researchers from 26 laboratories report the combined rate of melting for the ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica has increased during the last 20 years. Together, these ice sheets are losing more than three times as much ice each year (equivalent to sea level rise of 0.04 inches or 0.95 millimeters) as they were in the 1990s (equivalent to 0.01 inches or 0.27 millimeters). About two-thirds of the loss is coming from Greenland, with the rest from Antarctica. This rate of ice sheet losses falls within the range reported in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The spread of estimates in the 2007 IPCC report was so broad, however, it was not clear whether Antarctica was growing or shrinking. The new estimates, which are more than twice as accurate because of the inclusion of more satellite data, confirm both Antarctica and Greenland are losing ice. Combined, melting of these ice sheets contributed 0.44 inches (11.1 millimeters) to global sea levels since 1992. This accounts for one-fifth of all sea level rise over the 20-year survey period. The remainder is caused by the thermal expansion of the warming ocean, melting of mountain glaciers and small Arctic ice caps, and groundwater mining.

Washington State  |  November, 30, 2012 at 12:43 PM

I see one large glitch in the "Grazing Improvement Act" in that it would allow for up to a 20-year permit - if this permit is not checked on/researched as to how the land and wild animals are doing that live there - then 20 years could show a decimated area or decimated animal count. Specifically allowing sheep and cattle to graze in and about (unfettered and unchecked) Bighorn Sheep breeding, grazing and travel corridor areas without care about the possible disease transmission and feed availability, could create horrific consequences for the Bighorn Sheep. I am a packgoat enthusiast and although our goats are with us constantly on the trail, we still do not venture into Bighorn Sheep habitats and, indeed, are not allowed in some areas, yet we have seen herds of hundreds/thousands of sheep in those areas - unchecked and unfettered as to where they go and how much they eat. If there could be a specific statement that says that rancher must conform to guidelines and must provide yearly statements as to where the herds are grazed that would make it much easier to swallow. Thanks.

fred kelly grant    
boise, idaho  |  December, 06, 2012 at 11:11 PM

Donna, the fact that a permit would be allowed for a twenty year time period does not mean that the range is not assessed each and every year. The twenty year term is requested in order to give some financial stability to a rancher who will be investing most of his profit each year back into the land and grazing system. Every family rancher that I know, and I have worked with hundreds for the last twenty years, has an operating loan from a bank or financial institution; and the banks are leery of the shorter term permits. As long as the permit is in existence, the rancher only has a "preference" to the grazing, so if the "preference" is preserved for twenty years it means that the rancher has the ability to pursue long range financing, and development of better grazing facilties and systems. Under the BLM regulations, and FLPMA itself, the BLM is charged with making annual assessments of the grazing system and the nature of the range; under a permit, a management system is authorized each year upon payment of the grazing fees===if there is range damage, if there is shortage of forage because of drought or any of a thousand issues regarding the range and the grazing management by the rancher, the BLM can make annual adjustments in grazing and in grazing seasons. Each year the rancher is subjected to time lines for grazing, numbers that can be grazed, the seasons for grazing, and the pastures to be grazed. These requirements are set by regulations issued by the Secretary of Interior, and are implemented through terms and conditions on the annual working plan for the rancher.

fred kelly grant    
boise, idaho  |  December, 06, 2012 at 11:21 PM

The grazing fees that are assessed against ranchers are equitable when compared against the value of the permit. The fees are only a small part of what the rancher pays and does for the benefit of the "public lands". He builds the fences, and maintains them; he builds the water systems that are necessary, and maintains them. The water systems that he builds benefit not only the cattle herd, but all the wildlife that lives on the range. If it were not for the rancher and his willingness to risk his financial security on grazing and managing the federal lands, we would have millions of acres of arid lands that would be so overgrown that species could not proliferate, so overgrown that disastrous fires would burn the land with such heat that all wildlife would be gone for years. Several years ago when Judge B. Lynn Winmill of Idaho refused to allow the BLM to permit ranchers to increase their grazing in order to take down an abundance of grass that had emerged due a wet spring, Idahoans suffered one of the worst range fires in history----destroying livestock, grazing capacity, sage grouse, deer and all forms of wild life. The BLM requested permission from Congress to allow the excess grazing in order to combat the danger of fire during what they expected to be a dry extended summer. Congress passed a rider that specifically allowed the BLM to approve grazing of the excessive forage; The approval was fought by extremist anti-grazing people, and Winmill arrogantly decided that Congress did not mean what it said; he denied authority, and in the fall, the disastrous fire occurred. Whether or not there is global warming is not the issue; the issue is that without grazing, the arid rangelands will become vast wastelands.

SD  |  December, 08, 2012 at 01:42 PM

People ignorant of the needs of rangelands, or any land, for that matter, should try LEARNING the facts rather than believing people who want to end natural land use and especially production of food animals. Land needs proper periods of growth and harvest to maintain a good balance of plant life. Grazing has proven time and time again in unbiased, professional, monitored studes that well managed cattle grazing actually IMPROVES range condition. Same for forest areas, with the exception that the 'harvesting' is done by properly managed timber harvests. Sadly, some people are so jealous and guilty of 'wealth envy' of those they ASSUMe to be wealthy that they are willing to believe the worst of people who seem to benefit from making a living off the land. The sad fact is that farming and ranching (grazing practices involving cattle) make at best about a 3% return on the investment necessary to carry out that work. Just try figuring out the investment a family must have to make even a modest living raising food for sometimes abusively ungrateful people!

manhattan,ks  |  December, 11, 2012 at 05:37 PM

Why don't you explain climate change that happened to the Anasazi? Don't think they drove SUV's back then either.....

Utah  |  April, 08, 2014 at 10:39 AM

I would rather my right to go camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, and clean water be protected then allow ranchers to welfare ranch. The American people are against you ranchers. Back off, and get out!

John Maday    
Colorado  |  April, 08, 2014 at 10:59 AM

Billy: Would you prefer to see most of the private land in the West turned into subdivisions and “ranchettes?” Many ranchers in the West rely on summer grazing on public lands to make their operations economically viable. They do so responsibly and under the direction of government land-management specialists. Their private ranches mostly are in the valleys surrounding the public lands. That’s where they winter their herds and the ranches also serve as critical winter habitat for wildlife. If the ranchers can’t utilize public range, they go out of business and sell their land to developers, who subdivide it into small parcels, forever changing the landscape and removing winter range and migratory corridors for wildlife. Forward-thinking environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund recognize this and are working to keep ranchers on the land. Before being so critical, you should consider actually informing yourself on the issue.

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