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Witness Panel 1
ASSOCIATE DEPUTY CHIEF
NATIONAL FOREST SYSTEM
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
SEPTEMBER 28, 2005
The Forest Service Livestock Grazing Program
MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE:
Thank you for the opportunity to present the subcommittee with an overview of livestock grazing management in the Forest Service. The Forest Service has been managing rangelands for 100 years, and has a long history of partnerships with livestock producers who rely upon National Forest System (NFS) lands. Livestock grazing on National Forests reserved from the public domain is administered under a number of statutes, including the Granger-Thye Act of 1950, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, among others. These laws augment the authority in the Organic Act of 1897, which established the National Forests and directed the agency to regulate the use and occupancy of the forests to protect them from destruction. Livestock grazing on National Grasslands is also administered under the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937. This law authorized a program of land conservation and utilization to improve past land uses practices.
Today, there are grazing allotments on approximately 90 million acres of National Forest System lands in 34 states. The Forest Service administers approximately 8800 allotments, with over 8500 active livestock grazing permits, and about 9.6 million animal unit months of grazing by cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. Nearly all this permitted grazing is located in the Western states (99 percent), with only about one percent occurring in the Eastern forests.
Grazing Allotment Planning and Permit Administration
One of the most significant issues associated with our management of livestock grazing for the past several years has been in allotment planning. Specifically, the ability of the Agency to insure the necessary environmental analysis has been completed prior to the issuance of a grazing permit.
On June 23, 2004, before this Subcommittee, the Administration testified concerning the Forest Service’s progress in implementing Section 504 of Public Law 104-19 (the “Rescissions Act”). Section 504 directed the Chief of the Forest Service to identify grazing allotments that required NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis and to “establish and adhere to” a schedule for the completion of that analysis. The end date established in the schedule was 2010. The Rescissions Act was needed given the Forest Service’s challenge in 1995 of trying to complete the NEPA analysis on most allotments, with approximately 50 percent of Forest Service grazing permits due to expire.
The 2003 Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, Public Law 108-7 (as amended by the 2003 Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act) directed the Secretary of Agriculture to renew grazing permits for those permittees whose permits expired prior to or during fiscal year 2003, as the Forest Service was behind the schedule established for the Rescissions Act and was dealing with pending lawsuits. The NEPA analyses will still have to be completed on these allotments and the terms and conditions of the renewed grazing permit will remain in effect until such time as the analysis is completed.
The 2004 Interior Appropriations Act (P.L. 108-108) further directed the Secretary to renew grazing permits that expired or were transferred or waived between 2004 and 2008, and directed the Secretary to report to Congress beginning in November 2004, and every two years thereafter, the extent to which analysis required under applicable laws is being completed prior to the expiration of grazing permits.
The 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 108-447) further directed that for fiscal years 2005 through 2007, certain decisions made by the Secretary to authorize grazing on an allotment shall be categorically excluded from documentation in an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement under NEPA. To be categorically excluded the following conditions would apply:
• The decision continues current grazing management of the allotment;
• Monitoring indicates that current grazing management is meeting, or satisfactorily moving toward objectives in the land management plan, and
• The decision is consistent with agency policy concerning extraordinary circumstances.
The total number of allotments that may be categorically excluded under this authority may not exceed 900.
The Forest Service has continued to complete NEPA analyses on those grazing allotments that are listed on the Recessions schedule. As of September 9, 2005, approximately 3050 allotments have NEPA analysis completed. An additional 201 allotments are scheduled for completion of NEPA requirements in fiscal year 2005. Of this 201, there are 74 allotments that have pending decisions that will utilize the legislated categorical exclusion for NEPA outlined above. The Forest Service remains committed to completing the NEPA analysis on the remaining allotments by 2010 without disrupting permitted livestock grazing activities. We will track our progress and report periodically to Congress.
Grazing Permit Efficiencies
The Department testified previously before this Subcommittee that current decision-making procedures to authorize livestock grazing or other activities on rangelands administered by the Forest Service are inflexible, unwieldy, time-consuming, and expensive. For several years, the Forest Service has evaluated alternative procedures that would satisfy our legal obligations, provide the agency with management flexibility, shorten the decision-making time, and reduce the cost to the taxpayer associated with rangeland management decisions. The agency is continuing dialogue with our colleagues at the Bureau of Land Management and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to address the challenges of complying with NEPA in a timely and effective manner. In addition, the agency is working on methods of prioritization through the development and use of quantitative tools that assess rangeland health and sustainability by using indicators that are linked to existing monitoring data.
NEPA Analysis and Rangeland Decisions
This year the Forest Service set up guidance for the national forests and grasslands in order to comply with P.L. 108-447 when preparing NEPA analysis for allotments. This new authority will help the agency move forward in completing environmental analysis in an expedited manner on those allotments still remaining on the 1996 Rescissions Act schedule.
Currently, the Forest Service is in the process of updating and revising the Forest Service policy and direction in our grazing manual and handbook. The last major update occurred in 1985. New legislation, litigation, changing needs on the ground, and the need for consistency between field units have all shaped the need to update and clarify existing policy.
In the future, we will propose, and offer for public comment, changes in the Manual and Handbook that we believe are needed to improve our management of grazing, discharge our stewardship responsibilities, and to ensure sustainable grazing opportunities for farmers and ranchers on national forests and grasslands. We intend to work closely with all affected parties to address policy issues that are identified, before a new Manual and Handbook are adopted.
Expertise in Rangelands Management
Rangelands management expertise is necessary to fulfill our mission to manage National Forest System lands. The Forest Service has developed a strategy to address the loss of rangeland management skills and strengthen on-the-ground expertise. The Forest Service, working with other State and federal partners, has instituted a national Range School, that provides training sessions focusing on improving essential collaborative skills for managers, permittees, and other interested people; focusing on ecology, economy, and social issues regarding rangelands. The Forest Service has been working closely with the Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, the Society for Rangeland Management, and regional Forest Service leadership to present training sessions in 2006.
A collaborative working group of Forest Service professionals, university professors and researchers are developing a specialized training for line officers and managers to be presented April 2006. This “Rangeland Management for Line Officers” course will ensure critical decision making accurately reflects an understanding of federal land ranching, rangeland science, and an appreciation for the vital role ranching plays in reducing the loss of open space and the environmental benefits that come from grazing.
The ecological conditions of rangelands often affect the social and economic stability of many rural communities. To assure these lands are capable of providing sustainable products for future generations, the Forest Service monitors the ecological conditions of these lands against specific standards. Implementation and effectiveness monitoring are two types of monitoring that the Agency uses. Implementation monitoring is an annual measurement of rangeland resources, such as vegetation use, to assess environmental effects. Effectiveness monitoring is long-term (5 to 6 years) where rangeland resources are monitored to assess whether prescriptions and objectives set forth in Forest Plans, allotment management plans or other relevant documents are being met.
The Forest Service has worked with industry representatives over the years to develop our implementation and effectiveness monitoring. In 2003 we signed a national Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) for the implementation of a cooperative rangeland monitoring program. We continue to collaborate with our permittees in order to improve the quality and quantity of short and long-term allotment level monitoring on National Forest System rangelands.
To further this collaboration the Forest Service, PLC and NCBA in April 2004 signed a joint letter which was delivered to Forest Service personnel and permittees requesting volunteers to establish pilots for monitoring under this MOU to facilitate the process and lead the way for others to follow. This is a great opportunity for both entities to collaborate on long-term goals and objectives for sustainable rangeland resources.
Several National Forests and National Grasslands have established programs that encourage grazing permittees to conduct implementation monitoring in cooperation with the Forest Service. Permittees, in conjunction with the Forest Service, other Federal agencies, universities and rangeland consultants, have worked to develop monitoring programs.
In the Southwestern Region, the Forest Service has developed a cooperative agreement with the University of Arizona focused on collaborative monitoring. The goal of the agreement is to utilize the Universities’ expertise to assist in the development of agency monitoring strategies for rangelands. For example, the agreement with the University of Arizona will focus on improving monitoring data collection and analysis related to natural resource management; developing collaborative opportunities between the Forest Service and non-governmental entities and organizations to monitor the ecological trends of national forest rangelands in Arizona; establishing uniform monitoring protocols that everyone understands; enhancing data collection processes, training, and reporting methods; and increasing the number of national forest allotments being monitored.
We continue to work with our partners in the livestock industry to improve coordination and communication, as we mitigate effects that drought has had on rangelands in the West. The agency recognizes that ranching is an important component of the economies of many western rural communities.
We have actively coordinated drought management with Federal, State, and local government agencies and officials. The agency is actively participating on national, state, and local drought task forces coordinating drought relief to our permittees. We are working closely with industry representatives to provide up-front information to facilitate local communications and work together to resolve resource issues.
On Forests and Grasslands, we have managed drought impacts on a case-by-case basis. Local managers are communicating as early as possible with permittees so they are informed and have enough time to implement temporary changes or a long-term strategy. We continue to coordinate with universities, other federal agencies, and user groups to best address the concerns at the local level.
A threat to sustainable use, proper management of our rangelands and to our permit renewals and monitoring efforts, is the ever-growing presence of invasive species. The Chief of the Forest Service has targeted invasive species as one of four most significant threats to our Nation’s forest and rangeland ecosystems. It has been said invasive species are a “catastrophic wildfire in slow motion.” They are threatening the national grazing interest. Thousands of invasive plants, insects, and other species have infested many hundreds of thousands of acres of land and water across the Nation, causing massive disruption to ecosystem function, reducing biodiversity, and degrading ecosystem health, including rangelands. Add great economic loss to massive ecosystem impacts and that is the threat we have.
The Forest Service has taken steps to improve its ability to prevent, detect, control, and manage invasive species and to rehabilitate and restore affected rangelands. We are working strategically with our scientists, managers, and partners. We now have a National Strategy and Implementation Plan for Invasive Species. It outlines both short and long term goals. We are working with our partners to streamline procedures so actions can be taken quickly before invasions become widespread. We call this early detection and rapid response. This is a national initiative that supports local partnerships fighting invasive species. We have a national website (http://www.fs.fed.us/invasivespecies) available to the public which provides information and links to many other sites focused on invasive species. In 2006 we will host a national conference for managers and partners to improve our efforts and build capacity to combat invasive species.
In FY 2004 we treated over 100,000 acres for invasive weeds, greatly surpassing our goal of 67,438 acres. In FY 2005 our goal is to treat about 75,000 acres and indications are we will surpass this estimate.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. We are committed to making maximum use of our legislative authorities and policy direction in order to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generation.
This concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS
OVERSIGHT HEARING ON “PUBLIC RANGELAND MANAGEMENT AND LIVESTOCK GRAZING ON PUBLIC LANDS”
SEPTEMBER 28, 2005
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the work we’re doing at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to provide good stewardship of the public rangelands and to discuss livestock grazing on public lands in particular. Our nation’s rangelands provide and support a variety of goods, services, and values that are important to every American. They conserve soil, store and filter water, sequester carbon, provide a home for an abundance of wildlife, provide scenic beauty and the setting for many forms of recreation, and are an important source of food and water for domestic livestock. The Administration recognizes that the conservation and sustainable use of rangelands is especially important to those who make their living on these landscapes, and is vital to the economic well-being and cultural identity of the West and to rural Western communities.
The BLM takes seriously its challenge to conserve and manage this vital component of our Nation’s natural resource base and great legacy of the American west for current and future generations. We continue to work in collaboration with our partners -- ranchers, other Federal agencies, state and local governments, researchers, conservation groups and others -- to make progress in our understanding and management of rangelands.
As I will discuss further below, as part of these efforts, we are working diligently to evaluate and improve rangeland health; to update our regulations to improve grazing management and assure stability of ranching on public lands; and to make progress in reducing the grazing permit renewal backlog.
Rangeland Management Background / Facts & Figures
The BLM performs its rangeland management duties under the authority of several laws, primary among which are the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA), the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act (PRIA). The BLM manages grazing on nearly 160 million acres of public rangeland, with use authorized by approximately 18,000 permits and leases on about 20,600 allotments.
These permits and leases allow the sustainable annual harvest of up to 12.7 million animal unit months (AUMs; or the amount of forage necessary to sustain a cow and her calf for a month). In Fiscal Year 2004, actual use was approximately 6.6 million AUMs due to drought and fires. As the Committee is well aware, much of the West has been in the grip of a drought during the last five years, affecting the availability of forage and water in many areas, resulting in reduced grazing use. These reductions were the most pronounced in 2002, 2003, and 2004.
Land Health Standards
In 1999, BLM began evaluating the health of the rangelands (“Land Health Evaluations or Assessments”) based on Land Health Standards that were developed in consultation with local Resource Advisory Councils (RACs). These standards are based on the four fundamentals of rangeland health found in BLM's Grazing Regulations, and address 1) water quality, 2) wildlife habitat, 3) soil stability, and 4) energy flow and nutrient cycling. By the end of FY 2004, approximately 45% of the allotments had been evaluated, and about 78% of these were meeting all Land Health Standards under current management. About 16% were not meeting at least one standard because of current livestock grazing management, while the remaining 6% of allotments were not meeting at least one standard due to other, non-grazing, factors. Adjustments in livestock grazing management have been made on 85% of the allotments where it was needed, and BLM is coordinating appropriate adjustments on the other 15%.
The BLM collects monitoring and assessment data to compare current conditions with the Land Health Standards and land use plan objectives. This information is used to complete environmental assessments, develop alternative management actions, and to modify management as needed to meet these Land Health Standards and objectives.
Assessment, Inventory & Monitoring Initiative
In order to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of BLM’s assessment, inventory, and monitoring efforts, the BLM in August 2004 initiated a multi-year strategy (“Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring Initiative”) to manage the collection, storage, and use of data regarding resource conditions and uses across the Bureau. This new effort is working to aggregate certain local and site-specific resource information so that it can be more easily utilized to address regional or national management questions.
The multi-year effort will identify a limited number of natural resource condition measures that are common to most BLM field offices, and comparable to measures used by other land managing agencies for reporting at the national level. We will standardize data collection, evaluation, and reporting in a way that improves our land use decisions, and enhances our ability to manage for multiple uses. Finally, we will refine BLM information gathering efforts at the local level, thereby improving the BLM’s ability to report on land health conditions.
The initiative is already producing promising results. In the first year, the BLM conducted pilot projects throughout the Bureau that tested ways to improve and standardize protocols for measuring the effects of off-highway vehicle use and energy development on the public lands. The pilot projects also examined technologies to make our process of collecting vegetative condition data more efficient, and identified a common set of land health indicators for use by all Federal agencies. The initial progress with the initiative suggests that an overall BLM strategy can be implemented in a way that improves our efficiency and effectiveness for many years to come.
Proposed Grazing Regulations
The BLM is in the process of finalizing the documentation associated with the proposed grazing regulations. The regulatory changes were proposed with the objective of improving grazing management and continuing to promote stability for ranching on public lands. As you know, this has been a lengthy but productive process that has involved extensive public review and comment. We anticipate publication of a final rule in 2006.
The proposed changes are, we believe, an important step forward to improve BLM grazing administration, and will draw upon the lessons learned since the previous revisions of more than 10 years ago. The BLM undertook this regulatory initiative in recognition of the economic and social benefits of public lands grazing, as well as the role of ranching in preserving open space and wildlife habitat in the rapidly growing West.
The major objectives as set forth in the proposed rule are to improve the agency’s working relationships with public land ranchers; conserve rangeland resources; and address legal issues while enhancing administrative efficiency. It should be noted that the new regulations would not affect the Resource Advisory Council (RAC) System, and would leave intact the substance of the rangeland health standards and guidelines developed by State directors in consultation with the RACs. They also would make no change to the way the Federal grazing fee is calculated. The following is a summary of the major elements of the current draft of the proposed regulations.
Improved Working Relationships
The proposed regulations would provide that the BLM and a grazing permittee or lessee (or other cooperating party) will share title to cooperatively constructed permanent range improvements – structures such as fences, wells, or pipelines. This shared-title provision reflects the Administration’s view that ranchers, when contributing financially to the construction of range improvements, should share in their ownership in proportion to their investment. In addition, shared title may help some ranchers obtain loans more easily for their operations, and may serve as an incentive for livestock operators to undertake needed range improvements.
Another proposed regulatory change is that BLM would phase in grazing-use decreases (and increases) of more than 10 percent over a five-year period. The phase-in would provide sufficient time for ranchers to make gradual adjustments in their operations, particularly so they can reduce adverse economic impacts resulting from any grazing reductions. The BLM would still retain authority to change or halt grazing immediately when needed to respond to drought, fire and other resource threats that require immediate action, or when legally required, such as where necessary to comply with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.
The proposed regulations also would make clear that BLM managers will use National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes to consider the social, cultural, and economic effects of decisions that determine levels of authorized grazing use. This change will ensure that BLM managers across the West consistently consider and document the factors they took into account in assessing the potential impacts of such decisions on the human environment.
Conserve Rangeland Resources
The proposed regulations would remove a restriction that had limited temporary non-use of a grazing permit to three consecutive years. The existing regulation allows the BLM to approve non-use each year for up to three consecutive years, but does not allow for a fourth year of non-use, whether it is needed or not. This change would allow BLM to approve non-use for one year at a time for conservation or business purposes with no limit on the number of consecutive years. The removal of this three-consecutive-year limit will promote rangeland health by giving the BLM more flexibility to cooperate with grazing permittees to rest the land as needed or to respond to changing business needs.
The proposed regulations also would require BLM to use monitoring data in cases where our agency has found, based on our initial assessment, that a grazing allotment is failing to meet rangeland health standards or conform to the guidelines. By using monitoring data, the Bureau will be better able to determine the reasons for an allotment’s failure to meet such standards, and to what extent, if any, grazing practices are at issue.
Another change to the regulations would allow the BLM up to 24 months to develop corrective management action in cases where existing grazing management or levels of use are significant factors in failing to meet the standards and conform with the guidelines. Under current regulation the BLM is required to implement corrective action before the start of the next grazing year, which, due to the period needed for completing planning and consultation, was often an unrealistic timeframe. The proposed revisions provide a reasonable timeframe for the BLM, permittee, and interested public to develop an appropriate action plan to improve conditions.
Address Legal Issues While Enhancing Administrative Efficiency
The proposed regulations include numerous changes that address legal issues while enhancing administrative efficiency, several of which are summarized below.
The proposed regulations would remove the existing provision that allows BLM to issue “conservation use” permits, which would authorize the holder to not graze. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1999 that the Secretary is not authorized to issue such permits.
The proposed regulations would expand the definition of “grazing preference” to encompass the rancher’s public land forage allocation. This expanded definition would be similar to one that existed from 1978 to 1995, and reflects that the meaning of the term “grazing preference” has two parts: first, a priority over others to receive a livestock forage allocation on public lands; and second, the amount of forage actually allocated. The BLM attaches grazing preference to a rancher’s private “base” property, which can be land or water, and upon approval by BLM would allow the preference number to be transferred to a purchaser of the base property, or to another qualifying base property.
The proposed regulations would modify the definition of “interested public” to cover only those individuals and organizations that actually participated in the process leading to specific grazing decisions. This regulation change seeks to provide for a more orderly and timely decision-making process by ensuring that those who would identify themselves as interested public participate in the decision-making process before exercising their right to appeal and litigate such decisions. The BLM will continue to involve the public in grazing planning activities, such as allotment management planning, providing comment on and input to reports the BLM prepares, and range improvement project planning. The public would continue to receive BLM grazing decisions.
In contrast to the current regulations, the proposed grazing regulations would provide that BLM has flexibility to seek a variety of water right arrangements under state law and would not have to only seek ownership of the water right in the name of the United States. This proposed provision, which would revise the 1995 grazing regulations, would give the BLM greater flexibility in negotiating arrangements for the construction of watering facilities in states where the Federal government is allowed to hold a livestock water right. The BLM would still have the option of seeking to acquire the water right, consistent with state water law.
Grazing Permit Renewals
Another emphasis of BLM’s range program is dealing with the backlog of grazing permit renewals. By regulation, grazing leases and permits are normally issued for 10-year periods. In a typical year, the BLM has 1,800 permits up for renewal. The BLM experienced a “spike” in grazing permit renewals in 1999 and 2000, when over 7,200 permits were due for renewal. The BLM is in its sixth full year of reducing the grazing permit renewal backlog created by the “spike” of 1999 and 2000. At the end of Fiscal Year 2004, BLM had fully processed nearly 85% of the grazing permits that have expired since Fiscal Year 1999. In addition, BLM is actively working to prevent a recurrence of the 1999 and 2000 “spike” by processing and issuing permits scheduled to expire in the future. As a result, about 5,700 (reduced from the previous “spike” of 7,200) of the 18,000 permits are scheduled to expire in 2009 and 2010.
Processing a permit consists primarily of analyzing environmental impacts using appropriate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation and, where applicable, Endangered Species Act Section 7 consultation. The BLM has been incorporating information from monitoring and land health evaluations to develop reasonable alternatives to be considered in the NEPA documents. This information is also used to coordinate and consult with permittees and other interested parties and to make informed decisions when issuing the permits.
The BLM’s goal is to eliminate the backlog of grazing permits and to issue permits in the year they expire by the end of FY 2009. The BLM continues to prioritize the collection of monitoring data to make sound grazing management decisions and to meet land health standards, as well as to ensure that the decisions are legally-defensible. Other workload demands on range personnel – such as oil and gas permit processing, wildfires, emergency rehabilitation projects, and land use planning – can reduce the number of grazing permits that can be fully processed in a given year. Nevertheless, we are committed to eliminating the backlog of permit renewals, and will keep the Committee informed of our progress in this regard.
The BLM is dedicated to the future well-being of the public rangelands, and is committed to managing them for the many uses that serve the broad public interest. We look forward to continuing to work with the Committee to ensure their long-term viability and health. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify on this important issue. I would be happy to answer questions from the Committee.
Witness Panel 2
Statement by the
PUBLIC LANDS COUNCIL
NATIONAL CATTLEMEN’S BEEF ASSOCIATION
Livestock Grazing on Public Lands
Submitted to the
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
The Honorable Larry Craig, Chairman
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Pete Domenici, Chairman
Mr. Michael Byrne
September 28, 2005
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to discuss the issues facing ranchers throughout the western United States. My name is Mike Byrne, and I am a cattle rancher from northern California and President of the Public Lands Council, a national organization representing the interests of public lands ranchers. My brother Dan and I are fourth generation ranchers in the same area.
The Public Lands Council (PLC) represents sheep and cattle ranchers in 15 western states whose livelihood and families have depended on federal grazing permits dating back to the beginning of last century. I am also here today on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the trade association for America’s cattle farmers and ranchers, and the marketing organization for the largest segment of the nation’s food and fiber industry. Both PLC and the NCBA strive to create a stable regulatory environment in which our members can thrive and continue to produce the safest and most nutritious meat in the world.
The federal government manages over 450 million acres of land, and nearly 300 million acres are classified as rangelands. Since the mid-19th Century, ranchers have depended on the vitality of America’s rangelands for their survival, and as a result, ranchers have developed an innate love for the land and personal stake in its preservation. Nearly 40% of all cattle raised in the west spend some of their lives on public land allotments. The public lands are critical to the functioning of the livestock industry in the west. Environmental services provided by ranching operations include open spaces, wildlife habitat, clean air, clean water, and fire and weed control.
Today’s ranchers represent some of America’s last living embodiments of true environmentalism. The American public and the ranching industry benefit tremendously from the continued economic vitality of the public land ranching industry. As we look to the future of public lands ranching throughout the west, the Public Lands Council is concerned about a number of important issues.
National Environmental Policy Act
The Public Lands Council owes a debt of gratitude to this Congress for its attention to grazing issues on Public Lands. In recent years, Congress has made more funding available for monitoring of allotments, has ensured that permit renewals would not be set aside because of the agencies’ inability to complete their responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and has worked to restore a balance between wild horse and burros and other multiple uses. For these things, we applaud you.
Much work remains to be done. Grazing permit administration remains a challenge that trips up the agencies. Our understanding is the agencies are not processing enough permits to meet the schedule Congress anticipated when it enacted legislation to postpone the deadline for completing NEPA for permit renewals. When it tries to do the NEPA it also fails with sometimes disastrous consequences for our industry.
In the recent case of Western Watersheds Project versus the Bureau of Land Management, the court enjoined grazing on several hundred thousand acres of land in southeast Idaho, involving almost 100,000 animal unit months, and 28 allotments because the agency failed to meet basic requirements under NEPA. In the view of our members, a significant portion of the grazing industry in southeast Idaho, and the families and communities that depend on it, was overturned through the court injunction because the government failed to complete its paperwork.
This cannot be allowed to be the standard of business for the government. Businesses, families, communities cannot fail because the government cannot complete paperwork that does little to affect conservation on the ground, and certainly adds little to a ranching operation. The Public Lands Council strongly supports the multiple use sustained yield of public lands and the related consideration of environmental factors in processing grazing permits. We also strongly believe that a more sensible balance must be struck between environmental paperwork and actual conservation as this dynamic relates to grazing.
Part of the agencies’ challenge in completing environmental documentation can be addressed by more closely tailoring the paperwork requirements to the actual environmental profile presented by grazing or an activity ancillary to grazing. For example, it seems irrational to produce full-scale NEPA documentation for longstanding continuing activities that have long-ago made their imprint on the landscape. Once the environmental baseline has been established in environmental analysis, and no new information emerges, what sense does it make to spend scarce federal resources on additional NEPA documentation? We strongly urge this Committee to consider enacting legislation that provides for categorical exclusions to be available for such classes of grazing activities.
We also believe that categorical exclusions should be made available for range improvements such as installation of fencing or water facilities. These activities have a minimal impact on the land but can play a critical role in putting in place a well-managed grazing program resulting in important benefits for the resources.
National Historic Preservation Act
Similar issues arise with the intersection of grazing with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) as with NEPA. Federal land managers have used the NHPA to block or significantly delay grazing in areas where grazing has taken place for years and where no cultural artifact of any significance has ever been identified.
A significant part of the land on which my cattle run have been overtaken by invasive juniper trees. These trees turn grasslands into fields of dirt eliminating habitat for wildlife, and forage for cattle. Removal of junipers is considered to be a key practice for helping to restore habitat for the sage grouse. Juniper encroachment on western landscapes is of epidemic proportions. Again, NHPA has been invoked to block my effort to clear the junipers from my federal allotments. All Americans appreciate the importance of preserving our cultural heritage. Still, ranchers and undoubtedly most Americans would have a hard time understanding how this Act can be used to block activities that would clearly benefit the resource, particularly in the absence of any information indicating that cultural significant resources are present in the area proposed for juniper clearing.
Wild and Scenic Rivers
Americans are rightfully proud of the many beautiful rivers that course through our nation. Unfortunately, as things so often happen, management of these rivers, and particularly those with segments that have been designated under the Wild River and Scenic Act, has brought harm to other segments in society, in this case the state’s rural ranching communities. A better balance between ranching and river protection needs to be struck under the Act.
The Wild and Scenic River Act protects existing uses along designated river corridors, such as grazing. However, the Act also requires these existing uses to protect and “enhance” the values for which the river corridors were designated under the Act. PLC and NCBA believes that properly managed grazing can be compatible with maintaining healthy river corridors. Many of the rivers currently designated achieved their status with years of grazing on their sides.
Unfortunately, as interpreted by the courts, the “enhance” standard in the Act poses a virtually impossible hurdle for grazing to meet. This is a national issue in scope as there are more than 1.2 million acres included in the Wild and Scenic River system in the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land throughout the west. Very roughly, it has been estimated that permitted grazing may occur on one-third of these acres. In each instance in which environmentalists have brought suit challenging grazing management plan for corridors along rivers designated under the Act, grazing has been eliminated.
In Oregon alone, environmentalists have brought suit challenging grazing under the Wild and Scenic River Act on the Donner und Blitzen, the John Day, the Malheuer, and the Owyhee Rivers. More than 50 operations ran cattle along the subject area of the Donner und Blixen, Owyhee, and Malheur Rivers, involving hundreds of people if you consider that each operation often consisted of several different families. Elimination of these ranch operations means the elimination of a way of life that has been in place for generations in many cases. Without the ranches and their economic activity, the local communities obviously suffer as well, and ultimately the fabric of life in rural Oregon and throughout the west.
The original congressional sponsors of the Oregon Omnibus Wild and Scenic Rivers Act certainly believed grazing would continue in the wild and scenic river corridors and communicated this belief to the local ranching community. Congressman Bob Smith explained that he was seeking to ensure the maintenance of the grazing status quo along the river, in a letter to Senator Mark Hatfield dated August 29, 1988. Congressman Peter DeFazio wrote that “grazing and Ag practices are fully protected under the Act,” in a letter dated September 28, 1988. Senator Hatfield wrote on October 3, 1988, that grazing under the Oregon legislation would be allowed “to the extent currently practiced.” Senator Bob Packwood wrote on January 13, 1989, to assure a constituent that grazing “will not be affected by this [new] law.”
PLC and NCBA ask this Committee to bring a better balance between grazing and river protection to the Wild and Scenic River Act in line with the expectations of congressional authors of wild and scenic river legislation for Oregon. The people whose lives are rooted in rural Oregon deserve the respect and attention of this body. The law should prevent degradation of river values. It should also prevent degradation and harm to rural families and communities in Oregon and throughout the west. We would be pleased to work with the members of this committee to bring a better balance to the Act.
Wilderness Study Areas
PLC and NCBA understands, even if we do not support, the interest in part of the public in creating new wilderness areas in the west. As much as we oppose the creation of additional areas removed from multiple use management, we even more oppose the way wilderness study areas are administered. It is a fundamental abuse of the law and should be stopped.
Federal agencies law provides for the designation of wilderness study areas for periods of ten years after which the administration is to make a recommendation to congress whether to establish a wilderness in that area. In practice, once an area has been designated for study, it is managed as a defacto wilderness past the time limit on the study period.
If Congress intends to restrict access to still another class of lands, it should debate the issue and pass a law to this effect. Until that time, the authority to create study areas suggests that the appropriateness of creating a new wilderness area will be studied, and then at some point a decision will be made whether to do so or not. The law needs to be clarified as to Congress’ intent for the treatment and disposition of these areas. We also ask Congress to release those areas for which the study periods have expired.
Bureau of Land Management Grazing Regulations
We are grateful to the BLM and this administration for considering grazing in a systematic manner and nearly completing grazing regulations that help restore the balance of multiple uses on public lands. As are many, we are concerned with the delay in their issuance. We urge this Committee to monitor the situation and do all it can to ensure the regulations are issued as expeditiously as possible.
Endangered Species Act
The number one resource priority for PLC and NCBA federal lands members is to reform the Endangered Species Act. Livestock producers are concerned with minimizing the red tape associated with species protection and maximizing conservation efforts on the ground. We would like to see a greater focus on the recovery of species. If a species must be put on the list, there should be at least a concerted effort made to identify the criteria needed to recover the species and then take them off the list. We want these efforts to be based on reliable information, not the biases of individual federal officials.
A significant effort has been made to pass ESA legislation in the House. We will learn tomorrow whether this effort succeeds. The effort in the Senate has moved at a slower pace. Anything the members of this Committee can do to speed the process in the Senate will be greatly appreciated by our members.
Dr. Rick Knight
Ranchers as Keystone Species in a Healthy West
Dr. Richard L. Knight
Professor of Wildlife Conservation
Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Watershed Stewardship
College of Natural Resources
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523
Listen to this: "Livestock grazing has profound ecological costs, causing a loss of biodiversity, disruption of ecosystem function, and irreversible changes in ecosystem structure." Now this: "The trend of U.S. public rangelands has been upwards over a number of decades and the land is in the best ecological condition of this century [the 20th]."
Could both be right, or wrong? In 1994, the research arm of America's most august group of scientists reported that inadequate monitoring standards prevented them from concluding whether livestock grazing had degraded rangelands in the West. Critically, they concluded that, "Many reports depend on the opinion and judgment of both field personnel and authors rather than on current data. The reports cited above [this report] attempted to combine these data into a national-level assessment of rangelands, but the results have been inconclusive."
Because the American West is half public and half private, and because so many Western ranchers are dependent on public grazing lands for an economically viable operation, one cannot discuss public-lands grazing without acknowledging the half of the American West that is privately owned. Their fates, and the fate of the New West, are entwined, indivisible.
The future of Western ranching and the role of science in shaping public policy regarding ranching is a topic still under discussion. What gives urgency to this issue is the rapid conversion of ranchland to rural housing developments in much of the West. As ranches fold and reappear in ranchettes, 20 miles from town and covering hillsides, people of the West and beyond increasingly wonder what this New West will resemble. For with the end of ranching and the beginning of rural sprawl comes the question most central to conservationists, "Can we support our region's natural heritage on a landscape, half public and half private, but where the private land is fractured, settled, and developed?"
Some people might think it is a far stretch to connect livestock grazing with former-city-people-now-living-country but I see it differently. Ranching and exurban development are part of a single spectrum of land use in the West, representing the principal alternative uses of rangelands in much of the New West. This is so because the protection of open space, wildlife habitat, and the aesthetics of rural areas runs right through agriculture; at one end stands a rancher, at the other a developer. As we transform the West, seemingly overnight, we see the region's private lands reincarnated as ranchettes, those ubiquitous estates, ranging from mobile homes to mansions, that are covering hillsides faster than Herefords can exit. We have arrived at a point in Western history where conversations about Western lands and land health, grazing and ranchettes, are entwined, cannot be separated. They must be dealt with simultaneously when discussing the future of our Next West. The science needs to be accurate, not value driven, and the conversations about cultural and natural histories need to be honest, not mythologized. Science is important in these discussions, but to be useful, the science must be done carefully so that the answers are the best we can get. Ranchers and scientists and environmentalists need to look better and listen more carefully. Below are five observations, supported by social and ecological science.
a. Ecologically Sustainable Ranching is Possible. Ranchers understand that to be economically viable on a sustainable basis requires one to ranch in a way that is ecologically sound. Rangelands co-evolved with grazing and browsing (natural ecological processes). In the absence of grazing and browsing rangelands shift into something else. Science is just now catching up to what many ranchers already know--that by letting animals behave within "nature's model" they can have their grass and eat it too.
b. Cultures Matter. Ranching in the American West is over 400 years old. Indeed,
it is the oldest sustainable use of Western lands. More than any other justification, the timeless traditions of ranching legitimizes its existence and continuation. An irony hard to ignore is evident when Americans argue for the maintenance of biodiversity without realizing the equal legitimacy of different cultures.
c. Ranchers Protect Open Space. It is estimated that the approximately 21,000 ranch families who operate approximately 30,000 federal grazing leases own at least 107 million acres of private land. Private lands in the American West are the most biologically productive (deepest soils, best watered, lower elevations). These lands are critical for the maintenance of the West's natural heritage. The alternative uses of these lands (residential and commercial development) are ecologically and economically flawed. In the only scientific study to date that has compared biodiversity (carnivores, songbirds, and plant communities) on lands that are grazed with equivalent ungrazed lands, the ranchlands supported more species of conservation concern and fewer invasive species; while the ungrazed lands were dominated by non-native species. In addition, the alternative land use to private ranchlands is residential and commercial development. Studies to date show that these rural lands, once they have been sub-divided, support the same human-adapted species that one finds in city suburbs. This occurs at the expense of species of conservation interest, hastening the day that these species become candidates for Federal protection. There is a perverse economic twist to this land-use conversion as well. Property taxes from exurban development (former ranchlands now in "ranchettes") fail to cover the economic costs of county governments and local school districts. For example, in Wyoming, for every dollar of property taxes paid by ranchette owners, the cost of county services and schools is $2.40; whereas, for every dollar of property taxes paid by ranchers and farmers, county and school costs are only $0.69. As the saying goes, "cows don't drive and wheat doesn't go to school!"
d. Ranchers Practice Husbandry and Stewardship. Husbanding domestic animals and stewarding open lands are traditions in America practiced by ranchers. These skills no longer exist in any other American enterprise. By their very scarcity, they are being increasingly valued by Americans who are paying attention.
e. The Movement to End Public-land Grazing is Detrimental to a Healthy American West. The reciprocal demonization of ranchers and environmentalists--the so-called "rangeland conflict"--has dominated public debate for too long. It has not contributed to on-the-ground solutions. Instead, it has enraged rural Westerners, paralyzed agencies and frustrated public leaders. It has divided people who might otherwise be united by common goals: the conservation of magnificent open spaces, scarce water resources, and imperiled wildlife. If it continues, both sides will lose what they purport to defend. The increasing popularity of rancher-led initiatives (community-based conservation, cattlemen land trusts, grass-banking, healthy beef initiatives, cooperative conservation initiatives) demonstrate that cattlemen are an essential pillar in an American West that works better.
Ranch families working viable ranches that sustain biodiversity and contribute to the social fabric and local economies are critical to a West that works. Indeed, in most of the arid West, ranching is now the only livelihood that is based on human adaptation to wild biotic communities. Its ultimate competitive advantage is equivalent to its ecological sustainability; grass and cattle can grow on their own, with minimal human inputs. No matter how grave its flaws or its historical misdeeds, ranching now stands out for its dependence on native biota and unaltered landscapes.
Aldo Leopold, a pioneer in the American conservation movement, and the father of wildlife management, wrote 72 years ago in his seminal work Game Management:
"The central thesis of conservation is this: game can be restored by the creative use of the same tools which have heretofore destroyed it--axe, plow, cow, fire, and gun."
Leopold's words anticipated today's time when land stewards, such as ranchers and loggers, would be needed to restore health to degraded range and forest lands. We run a great risk if we lose ranching as an economy in the New West. I suspect, in the not too distant future, public land agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, will be taking Leopold's words to heart and using cows and sheep to help restore degraded rangelands. This may seem a far stretch in the eyes of some, but only for those who have not walked the land, and listened to what it says.
Peer-reviewed scientific publications supporting my statements are summarized in a book chapter titled "The Ecology of Ranching" by Richard L. Knight, Pp. 123-144 in Ranching West of the 100th Meridian, edited by R. L. Knight, W. C. Gilgert, and E. Marston. 2002. Island Press, Washington, D.C.
Additional information can be found in the following scientific papers:
Stohlgren, T. J., L. D. Schell, and B. Vanden Heuvel. 1999. How grazing and soil quality
affect native and exotic plant diversity in Rocky Mountain grasslands. Ecological Applications 9:45-64.
Gentner, B. J., and J. A. Tanak. 2002. Classifying federal public land grazing
permittees. J. Range Management 55:2-11.
Mitchell, J. E., R. L. Knight, and R. J. Camp. 2002. Landscape attributes of subdivided
ranches. Rangelands 24:3-9.
Maestas, J. D., R. L. Knight, and W. C. Gilgert. 2002. Cows, condos, or neither: what's
best for rangeland ecosystems? Rangelands 24:36-42.
Maestas, J. D., R. L. Knight, and W. C. Gilgert. 2003. Biodiversity across a rural land-
use gradient. Conservation Biology 17:1425-1434.
Richard L. Knight is a Professor of Wildlife Conservation at Colorado State University. He has served on the boards of the Society for Conservation Biology (10 years), the Center of the American West (4 years), the Natural Resources Law Center (8 years), the Malpai Borderlands Group Scientific Advisory Committee (4 years), and the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust (4 years). He is presently an Assigning Editor for the journal Conservation Biology. He was selected by the Ecological Society of America for its first group of Aldo Leopold Fellows. He has published over 110 papers in scientific journals and over 45 book chapters. Titles of his books include: A New Century for Natural Resources Management; Stewardship Across Boundaries; The Essential Aldo Leopold; Forest Fragmentation in the Southern Rocky Mountains; Ranching West of the 100th Meridian; Ecosystem Management: Adaptive, Community-based Conservation; Aldo Leopold and the Ecological Conscience; and Wildlife and Recreationists: Coexistence Through Management and Research.
STATEMENT OF WILLIAM S. WHELAN
DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IN IDAHO
PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS SUBCOMMITTEE OF
ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE
Oversight Hearing on Public Lands Grazing
September 28, 2005
Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to address livestock grazing on the public lands of the West. I am Will Whelan, Director of Government Relations of the Idaho Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
Much of the discussion on the topic of grazing today – and most days – is focused on the high level of conflict between environmental groups and public lands ranchers. I would like to shift that focus to the proposition that conservationists and ranchers have important interests in common and that it is imperative that they work together to promote healthy rangelands. Although I believe this proposition to be true throughout the West, my comments will draw primarily from our experience in the sagebrush country of the Intermountain West.
First, I would like to say a few words about The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy is dedicated to preserving the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. The Conservancy has more than 1.1 million individual members, including 4,500 in Idaho. We currently have programs in all 50 states and in 30 other nations.
Our conservation work is grounded in pragmatism, sound science, partnerships with landowners, and tangible results in local places. An important part of our experience as conservationists comes from the fact that we are a landowner. Many of our preserves in the West are working ranches where we and our partners manage livestock in an ecologically sustainable manner. Some of these preserves include grazing allotments on federal lands. In other words, we are a federal lands grazing permittee at places like Red Canyon Ranch in Wyoming and Pahsimeroi River Ranch in Idaho.
The starting point for my comments is also the most fundamental: ranchers and wildlife both benefit from healthy rangelands.
Healthy rangelands produce more forage for livestock, resist invasive weeds, and are more resilient after fire. Each of these qualities is critical to successful long-term ranching operations. One study of bluebunch wheatgrass-mountain big sagebrush sites demonstrated that healthy range produces more than double the forage than degraded range. Healthy rangelands also provide essential habitat for a wide range of plants and animals.
The prime responsibility of public land agencies and grazers alike is to manage human activities to ensure rangeland health.
There is cause for all of us to be concerned by what we are seeing across the rangelands of the West. The rapid pace of degradation, fragmentation, or total loss of sagebrush ecosystems presents a grave threat to both the livestock industry and everyone else who cares about the land. Sagebrush once covered roughly 150 million acres. Perhaps 50-60% of the native sagebrush steppe now has either exotic annual grasses, such as cheatgrass and medusahead rye, in the understory or has been totally converted to non-native annual grasslands. These annual grasses produce poor quality livestock forage compared to the season-long forage provided by the native perennials. Large areas of sagebrush have been entirely lost to subdivision, roads, alternative crops, and other human development. Sagebrush habitats are now among the most imperiled ecosystems in North America.
The speed of change in western landscapes is illustrated by the Clover Fire, which in just a few days last summer covered nearly 200,000 acres in southwest Idaho. Such fires are increasingly common. Incredibly, sixty percent of the land affected by the Clover Fire had already burned in the previous 5 -10 years. Highly flammable weeds such as cheatgrass gain a foothold in the wake of these large burns and, in turn, accelerate the frequency of fire in sagebrush country. Post-fire assessment and appropriate restoration are essential in breaking the cycle of fire followed by invasive weeds followed by yet more fire.
Public policy makers need to comprehend the scope of this threat to rangeland health and recognize that our current land management is not equal to the challenges that face us. If public lands ranching and wildlife are to thrive in the Intermountain West, we must find new ways to be effective together.
There are many ways in which ranchers and conservationists should work together. I will address three: weeds, conversion of ranchlands to subdivisions, and the need for better rangeland monitoring.
Nothing unites people like having a common enemy, and noxious or invasive weeds are about the scariest villain imaginable. Alien plants such as yellowstar thistle, leafy spurge, and rush skeleton weed degrade the value of rangelands for both livestock and wildlife. And, they are spreading with breathtaking speed. Several years ago, the Idaho Department of Agriculture estimated that 8 million acres of rangelands were infested in Idaho alone. That’s about 15% of the entire state.
In Idaho, The Nature Conservancy has made a major investment in working with local cooperative weed management areas or CWMAs. These local organizations bring landowners, all levels of government, and groups like ours together to develop projects for fighting weeds. Here is what we like about the CWMAs: they are responsive to local needs, they are a vehicle for earning the support of landowners, and they permit us to extend our reach by pooling resources with partners.
Our flagship project is taking place in Hells Canyon, where we work with the Tri-State CWMA to implement a weed control strategy based on prevention, early detection, and rapid response. Using innovative field survey and remote sensing techniques, we are tracking the spread of yellowstar thistle and other invasive plants. When we find a new patch in an area of ecological importance, we send in a Conservancy SWAT team to eradicate the weeds before they have a chance to spread. This is challenging and sometimes frustrating work. We still have much to learn about how to control a highly invasive plant in this rugged landscape. But, our effort is beginning to produce results and is growing. This year we added a second SWAT team and expanded our area of work to include Adams and Owyhee counties in western Idaho.
We want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for working with your colleagues last Congress to pass S. 144, the Noxious Weeds Control and Eradication Act. This law authorizes federal support for local weed control efforts such as CWMAs. Funding this effort should be a high priority for this Congress.
The second area of common interest focuses on the loss of private working ranchlands to subdivisions and residential development. The western states lead the nation in population growth. This growth brings many economic benefits to our region. But, it is also changing the landscapes we cherish.
In 2002, the American Farmland Trust conducted a study of ranchlands in seven western states. They found that over the next twenty years, these states stand to lose 11 percent of all prime ranchlands to urban development. As cities and subdivisions grow, many ranchers are looking for ways to stay on the land and keep their local communities, custom, and culture alive.
There are good reasons why conservationists should support working rural landscapes that are in danger of being chopped up into ranchettes and subdivisions. Most importantly, these private lands contain essential wildlife habitat. For instance, in Wyoming, more than fifty percent of the winter habitat for big game species is on private land. In Idaho, the Conservancy is concerned about wildlife habitat losses in places such as Henry’s Lake, the valley bottoms of the Upper Salmon River country, and the Boise Foothills.
Numerous studies show negative ecological effects from conversion of ranchlands. A study in a Colorado watershed compared bird, predator, and plant biodiversity in sprawling areas with that in nature reserves and ranchlands. Researchers found that rural residential developments supported the highest number of human adapted bird species and domestic predators (dogs and cats) at the expense of native plants and bird species.
Moreover, the fragmentation of working ranches into small parcels closes off options for good stewardship. Whether it is controlling noxious weeds, improving water quality, or restoring fire adapted ecosystems, it is far more feasible to practice good conservation in a landscape that has intact ranches than in an area with dozens of small parcels – often with absentee owners.
There are success stories across the West. For instance, this summer, we celebrated a voluntary landowner agreement that will keep a large ranch at Henry’s Lake, virtually at the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park, from being turned into subdivisions. For years, the Moedl Family had turned down lucrative offers from developers. With your help, Mr. Chairman, the Bureau of Land Management received a Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriation to secure a conservation easement on important wildlife habitat. The Nature Conservancy negotiated the agreement with the Moedls. This was a win for wildlife and a multi-generational ranching family.
The Grassland Reserve Program is another success story. This program within the Farm Bill gave financial incentives to ranchers who agreed not to convert their ranchlands to other uses. The program was strongly supported by both the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and The Nature Conservancy. We hope that the 2007 Farm Bill will continue this important effort.
It is clear that we can work together for voluntary incentives, such as GRP, that protect family ranches while providing clean water, natural areas, and wildlife habitat
My third suggestion for working together involves rangeland health monitoring. Monitoring is a mundane label for a thing that is absolutely fundamental to good management: understanding the condition and trend of the land. If we do not know what is happening on the land, we cannot make sound decisions. Our partners in the ranching industry have, like us, made strong calls for improved monitoring.
One way to think about the importance of monitoring is imagine what highly successful public rangeland management might look like. Imagine that we make all the right decisions today and in ten years we return to this committee to celebrate our success. Here are some of the elements that would make us proud. First, we would talk about how we have achieved a broadly shared understanding of the condition of our rangelands as well as their ecological trend. Public land managers have both the capacity and the policy support to manage grazing in response to range condition. Our improved understanding of the land and its needs has allowed us to direct the public’s money wisely to places and projects that make the most difference for rangeland health. Ranchers are regarded as part of the solution – not merely the source of the problem. Where problems are identified, the agencies and ranchers have the flexibility to shape management measures that work for the rancher and are accountable to the condition of the land. “One size fits all” thinking is a thing of the past. There is trust among the public land managers, the industry, and the public.
Needless to say, that scenario does not describe what we have today. What needs to change? The Conservancy believes key success is having a scientifically sound, cost-effective, and fully implemented system for monitoring rangeland health. Unless and until we have a strong grasp on what is happening on our public rangelands, the trust, the flexibility, and the support for action will remain elusive.
For the last four years, The Nature Conservancy has been working in a collaborative effort with ranchers, recreationists and environmentalists in Owyhee County, Idaho. Interestingly, when the various groups first came forward with their proposals, the Owyhee Cattle Association and the Conservancy both arrived at the meeting with very similar calls for improved landscape monitoring. Monitoring is not an uncomplicated issue but it is one that can unite different interests.
Here are some suggestions:
? Reach beyond the land management agencies. Universities, industry groups, and non-governmental organizations have much to contribute. The level of their understanding of and support for the monitoring system will do much to determine the level of conflict in rangeland management.
? Conduct monitoring at multiple scales. In addition to allotment or pasture monitoring, we need to look at the landscape and even regional scale to comprehend the truly huge changes we are seeing in rangeland health. These broader views will help us allocate resources to the places where they are most needed and fashion landscape-specific strategies. Exciting, new, and cost-effective methods for large-scale monitoring using a combination of remote sensing and on-the-ground data offer real promise.
? Increase the agency’s capacity to put people in the field for monitoring at all levels and strengthen agency-wide systems for continuing education for field staff.
The need to improve monitoring is not unique to the federal land agencies. The Conservancy has examined its own programs throughout the world and determined that we need to greatly improve our own capacity for monitoring and measuring success. We have created an organization-wide team to address this challenge and made a commitment that we will change the way we work in response to what we learn.
In the public policy arena, Americans today tend to focus on what divides us. Battles over rangelands will undoubtedly continue. But, the Nature Conservancy believes it is possible – even essential – that environmentalists and ranchers work together. We face many of the same threats. We share important interests in promoting rangeland health. Whether one calls it “cooperative conservation” or just being good neighbors on the range, our most productive work is done when we find common ground.