|Grazing on public land is a continuing battle, only today those battles are normally fought in the court room.|
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a four-part series which deals with issues facing rural communities.
A war is being waged on public lands, a war as real as in the past when disputes often resulted in gun fire. In years past a lot of contention was often between sheep and cattlemen. One report in the Portland Oregonian told of 8-10,000 sheep which had been shot. These conflicts could be considered the old range wars and the modern day range wars are between grazers and the environmental community and those who wish to remove grazing from public lands. Also wildlife versus livestock conflicts are abundant in modern range wars.
At the recent Rural Summit in Cedar City, these range issues were discussed. The panel for the discussion was introduced by Jim Bowns who is a range specialist for Southern Utah University and Utah State University. Panel members included: Jerry Meredith, district supervisor for the Cedar City Bureau of Land Management, Alan Clark, program chief for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Wes Quinton, vice president of the Utah Farm Bureau.
Bowns said, "The environmental issue of the 90s has been to try to remove grazing from public lands. John Marvel has deemed that they will end grazing on public lands via the endangered species act. The prairie dogs and sage grouse are the northern spotted owl of this ecosystem. The reintroduction of wolves, not being able to harvest timber, bark beetles and fires are all a part of modern day range wars. There is a war on the west, has the west been won or has the fight just begun?"
Quinton said, "The battle has moved from guns to lawyers. The Western Water Sheds project has appealed 149 permits covering 1.2 million acres of public land. Fourteen of these appeals are in the Millard and Juab area.
"The BLM has pulled back and is redoing five of the assessments on BLM land. They are moving ahead with the appealed projects. A letter from the Western Watersheds has been sent out to garner support for funding for the buyout of AUMs. They have targeted and attacked ranchers," said Quinton.
The BLM is using large amounts of money to fight these appeals in the courts, money that should be spent on land management. The BLM coordinates resource management plans that tell the story that public lands are benefitted by grazing. Many grazers are working to improve habitat and riparian areas. The DWR is also helping to fund conservation resource management plans that provide good habitat for wildlife.
On one forest service allotment, it was ruled that assessments had been inadequate and the grazing was a deteriment to the environment and to soil erosion. The NEPA process hadn't been done, it was scheduled for 1995 and with the work load in the forest service it hadn't been completed but the permit was renewed anyway. The enviros took it to court and the judge ruled no more grazing.
One suggestion was the forest service amend regulations so a renewal permit can be issued after an analysis on the allotment has been performed. The BLM amended the Interior Appropriations Act so they can renew a permit after performing the analysis. It would be helpful for the forest service to put in such a provision. It will be the year 2023 before they can get through all the enviromental analysis on their allotments. The enviros are tying up the forest service and the BLM with these funds going into litigation.
The DWR believes in cooperative grazing and wildlife and cattle can co-mingle on public lands. The Farm Bureau recommends a resolution for the BLM funding for range improvements to take a more coordinated approach to improve habitat. If the various organizations coordinate efforts instead of just throwing money at the problem more progress could be realized.
With the establishment of the cooperative management units there has been a real effort to compensate land owners for loss due to depredation of wildlife especially elk herds. The landowners work with the DWR to sell permits, bucks, bulls and anterless to the public.
This depredation is a large concern especially this year because of the drought. A landowner needs to give notice to the DWR and if they do not take action within 72 hours the landowner can legally shoot the animals. Quinton cautioned landowners not to get too excited. Ranchers are wondering why their AUMs have all been reduced but wildlife has not seen any cuts except in the Uintas and near Monticello.
Quinton stressed the point of what happens when you cut your grass? When you cut your lawn the lawn grows back and it improves plant vigor. The same is true of grazing, it is good for the grasses. The Indians used to burn the prairie every spring because it made the grass grow back in thick and green. The same is true of cattle grazing, it is a benefit. Just like timber harvests reduce the risk of fire hazards. Lack of multiple use creates monocultures and stands of pinon-juniper which decreases water shed quality. Quinton said we must stop the feds from purchasing land. Why don't we have control? We need to take a proactive approach and we need help from public input, he stressed.
Meredith said the debate on public lands has been going on for two centuries and won't be going away. The old west now consists of litigation and appeals and laws from Congress and constant debate over the lands. Utah is a state made up of largely federal lands. They are always going to be there. There are wars going on not just over grazing and nongrazing, but over consumptive uses versus nonconsumptive uses. Enviros are all for nonuse. "In my opinion BLMs official position is that grazing is a legitimate use. In my BLM office I have more people work with grazing than with any other issue. Grazing is important to the BLM, both state director, Sally Wisely and national director Kathleen Clark believe in it. It is a public law by Congress which mandates multiple use. People only give lip service to multiple use. People don't want this or that and they don't want to work together. They don't want to share and the system in place encourages that kind of thinking. Officials need to listen to viewpoints and examples of ways to get people to work together. Make solutions......trade offs......it's important and critical to lifestyles. We have a system that awards people for litigation. We need compromise and solutions not fighting, arguing and litigating.
"Public lands belong to all citizens and we need to work towards solutions. I admire Governor Leavitt. He is struggling in a troubled system that rewards fighting instead of cooperation. Ranchers, public officials and environmentalists are not talking. In the BLM planning system if you don't participate and have standing then you can't file an appeal. We need to start thinking of ways to move toward laws for federal and state agencies that encourage compromise and problem solving and reward those kinds of things instead of the opposite. It is a thought worth pursuing," said Meredith.
Clark said, "Public lands belong to the people and the wildlife also belongs to the people and the wildlife belongs on public lands. DWR takes a management approach, not a naturalist approach. We identify areas and make choices to manage. You need to have objectives to know what you're trying to accomplish. We have highly altered ecosystems and there are people who say, 'just let it go naturally.' But, they don't understand cheat grasses. Active management is a part of the picture, if you let it go, it won't necessary go the way it would naturally because landscapes have been altered. Deer and elk grazing needs to be recognized as an important tool in management. Grazing is a valid use and can be compatible with plant communities. Hands on management can be done. Cattle and sage grouse and wildlife can all exist together. We need to look at ways for grazing associations to work together to accomplish these things.
"Big Horn sheep herds can contract diseases from domestic sheep and wildlife can also transmit diseases to domestic animals. Wildlife can be an economic asset, there are now 80 cooperative units which covers 2 million acres of private land which is making money from wildlife. There have been five petitions to file sage grouse on the endangered species list. We are trying to work through and get ahead to see this doesn't happen. When a species is listed it is a failure to do what we're supposed to do," said Clark.
Questions were fielded from the audience for the panel. One audience member was interested in the idea of the willing seller, willing buyer and giving the AUMs back to the BLM to retire. Meredith answered that the BLM does not have a policy to retire grazing AUMs and that AUMs need to be allocated to something either horses, recreation or livestock grazing. It is important that BLM take serious consideration for national policy dealing with this issue. One sportsmen group wanted to buy AUMs for wildlife. A group got together and the grazers were happy with bigger AUMs and the AUMs for wildlife gave them critical winter deer range.
The question was raised about the allotments that were purchased by the Grand Canyon Trust. Meredith said the allotments have a designation, it is either for watershed, recreation, or grazing. They are not prohibited from buying the allotments, but they can't change the use. It was not clear what happens when those AUMs purchased by the Grand Canyon Trust come up for renewal. There are certain qualifications a buyer must possess to purchase AUMs, they must have base property, so if their cattle are sent home off the mountain they have some place to go. They can't just buy AUMs and sit on them, the AUM needs to go through the process for reallocation.
The audience member pointed out that in the case in Kane County with the Grand Canyon Trust, they did try to eliminate grazing on that allotment. There are many considerations given before an allotment could be retired, the BLM looks at beneficial use, gradual encroachment, eroding, utilizing roads, and other considerations.
The Apple Initiative was also discussed, it identifies why we don't have enough funds in Utah and how payments in lieu of taxes from the federal government are not sufficient. The government needs to live by FLPMA said the citizen.
One rancher said we have to fight the fight and it will be an expensive battle, we've given to the environmentalists and they won't compromise. AUMs should not be retired, an individual or an organization does not have the right to make that decision.
In Emery County we have several cattlemen's associations who are always trying to make improvements on the range. A Quivera range conference is scheduled for mid-December.
The bottom line of the discussion was that grazing is compatible, sheep, cows and wildlife can graze together. A well managed range is a benefit to everyone.