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The Battle Goes On

Written by Dennis Sun

          A number of public lands ranchers from around the state and across the West met in Cody for the Public Lands Council’s (PLC) fall meeting the second week of September. The meeting included federal land managers from Washington, D.C. and other top agency officials. While the recent wildfires certainly cast a smoky cloud over the discussions, a number of good discussions took place. As you can imagine, sage grouse was a big topic – not on the management but if it was to be listed or not.

One really has to feel bad for those ranchers from Idaho, Oregon, California, Washington and other states where wildfires have burned over 1.6 million acres this year, a large part on federal lands. Homes, livestock, barns and haystacks have also been victims of the fires, and you could see the hurt in their eyes. A lot of the blame has been placed on federal land managers, not for causing the fires but in managing the lands to make them more susceptible to fire. We heard the term “graze it or blaze it” time and time again. 

While the discussions and presentations went on, the tone was professional and positive. Numerous grants from the Public Lands Council Trust were awarded for some great projects, and we only wished more dollars were available, as some great grants were not funded. Discussions were frank and meaningful, but at the evening meal, we all sat at the same tables for more discussion. 

Most federal land managers from Washington, D.C. gave the same old talk. As we know with this administration, they are not the decision makers and just talk the company line from the White House. That brings frustration from public land users in the West.

I was reading a press release that stated that if the sage grouse was listed, it would cost the U.S. more than $5.6 billion in annual economic output. But Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said lately in an interview about the sage grouse, “Ranching can be very compatible with a healthy sagebrush ecosystem, meaning those who want to use the land aren’t necessarily at odds with those who want to save the bird. Working closely with ranchers, we can actually end up with a healthier system than if the ranchers aren’t there.” I’ll guess we’ll see by the end of the month what she means with that statement.

From Cody, I went to Newcastle for a National Grasslands Association meeting, very different results from the PLC meeting. Those grazing on the National Grasslands are really frustrated these days. The Grasslands seem like the stepchild to the Forest Service in that they don’t get the respect they should, and this has lead to hard feelings of those ranchers involved. Currently the Forest Service wants more prairie dogs on the Grasslands and where the public/private lands are somewhat intermingled, but how does one keep the prairie dogs off private lands? 

Another issue dealing with sage grouse management in the southern part of the Thunder Basin National Grassland is that managers are calling for the ranchers to leave a seven-inch stubble height, where some years the grass only grows maybe five inches. They have the area in too high of a precipitation zone. We hope this can be worked out. 

The meeting turned out to be a chance for attendees to bash the feds, and little was accomplished. We hope subsequent meetings will have a more positive result. The ranchers deserve more.