Letter to the Editor: Counties Support Ranchers in Public Lands Grazing Flight
The recent Salt Lake Tribune article "Plan to Cut Grazing in Monument Hits Snag" reported that only ranchers were protesting grazing elimination on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and that local government had "no sympathy for the ranchers opposition to the BLM Plan". It is important for Utahans to know that the Kane and Garfield County Commissioners supported ranchers by jointly filing formal protests regarding BLM grazing elimination efforts. The ranchers' and the counties' protests are currently under consideration by the BLM. The Tribune ignored this information in spite of the fact that it was provided in the original Canyon Country Ranchers Association press release and discussed in my interview with the reporter. The Tribune also ignored a subsequent letter tot he editor. The following excerpts from that letter provide a balanced perspective of the grazing elimination issue.
Rather than a "free market deal with a reasonable expectation that the BLM would agree to reduce or eliminate cows," as the Tribune article quoted the Grand Canyon Trust's Bill Hedden, I would argue Hedden made a risky investment prior to public and local government participation in planning as required by federal law. Those federal planning requirements may not allow the results expected by Hedden.
Federal law requires that federal planning consider local planning and impacts to local culture and economics. Agriculture, grazing and a rural life-style are part of culture, tradition and heritage of rural Americans. Hedden cannot simply ignore local culture and replace it with a biocentric philosophy of "Deep Ecology" that disdains man's imprint in natural environments. Hedden was quoted as saying that economic harm was "a questionable assertion, given agriculture's decreasing importance to the economy." In fact, a professional economic analysis submitted as part of the counties' protest indicates that these grazing eliminations, if approved, could result in an annual multimillion dollar economic loss, a decrease to the local tax base and a loss of local jobs. The Utah Department of Agriculture submitted a letter to the BLM indicating an agricultural economic benefit to Utah of three to four billion dollars and employment for 100,000 people and that Kane and Garfield counties have much at stake regarding these grazing elimination efforts.
The article referred to "new scientific studies" espoused by preservation organizations in support of livestock grazing elimination. However, the counties provided the BLM with numerous mainstream, peer reviewed scientific studies indicating that livestock grazing may in fact be necessary to the health of our ecosystems, wildlife and rangelands. We have much to learn about managing our federal lands as evidenced by the recent catastrophic fires. Livestock grazing offers tools in the form of hooves, mouths and fertilizer. An example of using grazing as a tool is the reduction of grasses and shrubs that contribute to wildfires during the dry fire season.
Rather than resolve the issue of public lands grazing based on conflicting scientific papers and philosophical differences the counties proposed a solution to the BLM. Instead of grazing elimination buy out programs, we should work together and develop innovative adaptive grazing management with comprehensive goals, independent scientific input, monitoring, analysis and the involvement of ranchers, the environmental community and local government. If livestock grazing were determined to be inappropriate on public lands after objective study the answer would be definitive. If, however, livestock grazing were determined to be beneficial we would all benefit. Good science and collaborative study could even help us bridge our philosophical differences.