A Rangeland and Livestock Conference sponsored by the Utah Farm Bureau Federation and Utah State University Extension presented "New Challenges on Utah Rangelands" on Jan. 21 and 22 in St. George.
Leland Hogan, Utah Farm Bureau Federation president welcomed everyone to the conference and gave an overview of the presentations to come in the two day conference. "We are here to look for solutions and we can accomplish a lot together when we meet as a group," said Hogan.
The first item to bring a greater understanding to those present was the showing of the Understanding Public Lands Video narrated by Senator Bob Bennett. This video described how public lands are managed and which agency has jurisdiction over what land. Utah is more than three fourths public land. The forest service manages eight million acres, national parks, two million acres, Natural resources and state parks, two million and the Bureau of Land Management is responsible for 42 million acres. SITLA also holds responsibility of managing their lands for the school children of Utah.
Each entity told a little about their public land and its uses. The director of the forest service described the forest as multiple use with timber, watershed, recreation and grazing among its uses. The national parks director said the parks are for enjoyment and they are managed to remain unimpaired. The Department of Natural Resources stated its mission as to conserve, protect and develop, with regards to water and wildlife. The BLM manages lands for use and enjoyment.
Bennett described all the public lands as belonging to the public. He stressed the fact that there is nowhere else to go. We need to protect the land we have and not abuse it. He then went on to describe some of the laws that have been enacted for land management the National Environmental Policy Act and FETMA, as well as others. These laws give the people a voice. The notice of intent is filed in the Federal Register, scoping meetings involving the public are held, the appeal process and the judicial review process all invite public opinion.
Anyone wishing to mine or drill for oil on public lands has to follow strict regulations with a stringent reclamation process at the end of the disturbance. The director of the national parks mentioned that no drilling, etc. takes place in national parks and that their job is to protect resources. The forest service director mentioned that forest service land is also available for recreation, many of the ski areas on the Wasatch Front are on forest service land, camping and hiking are also popular uses.
Bennett said the term multiple uses is often misunderstood. There are competing uses for public lands and all uses must be considered. Bennett said, "We must preserve land for the future and use it wisely during our time."
Hogan said, "Every other year we have a conference on rangeland and in the off year we have a hay growers conference.
Director of the BLM Kathleen Clarke spoke to conference goers in her first official appearance since her confirmation as National Director of the BLM. Clarke stressed the need for ranchers to get involved in the NEPA process early on and involve yourself in the scoping process by attending the meetings. She said she would listen, get information, make a decision and stick with it until proven wrong.
State BLM Director Sally Wisely also spoke and then she and Kathleen Clarke fielded questions from the ranchers.
Grazing appeals and the legal process was presented by Glenn Davies who is legal council for many BLM permittees. Other issues discussed were wolf reintroduction and expansion, proactive management of sage grouse in Utah, assessing change through historical photographs and a practical approach to monitoring rangelands with photographs.
Jack Payne the vice president of the Extension and Continuing Education for the Utah State University closed the conference with a summation of each of the speakers. He said, "The Utah State range specialists are there to help as well as the county agents. They make a great team. If there is any message that came out of this conference, it was to get involved early and document the condition of your allotment. We can't win the battle without forming partnerships with the environmental community. We need to manage the lands with the best available science.
"We were assured that grazing will always be part of the BLMs mangement plan. We need to use the BLM as our allies to see to it that our allotments are in good shape and we are in a good position to defend our allotment. The challenge is to make change work for us instead of against us. We were presented with excellent information by Glenn Davies to make our way through the legal web.
"We need to tell our story better. Utah is an urban state. There are many people who are uniformed and have misconceptions about livestock and grazing. Producers know their land and know what needs to be done to protect that land. We need to tell the story. Permittees pay fees to graze on public lands. These fees are used to maintain the land and also for schools and roads. It's true the land was overgrazed in the early 1900s, but the farmers and ranchers have learned much since then. There have been significant improvements made on the ground because of proper management. The land is in better condition than at any time this century. It is stable and improving. Most operations are run by families who want to pass on their operations in good repair. When you drive around our state, you will see towns surrounded by public lands. We have no choice but to interact with public lands. There are specialists available to help you make wise decisions to help form partnerships. We've heard some important messages and we need to heed them," concluded Payne.