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Those of us who attended the Guardians of the Range Annual Meeting in Worland last week were in for quite an awakening from one of the speakers. Caroline Lobdell, an attorney from Portland, Ore., spoke on the rising issues of animal rights.

Caroline has spoken on this issue before, including at the fall meeting of the Public lands Council in Cody last September, and she did a great job. But, this time, her presentation really hit home for me. Caroline is with the Western Resources Legal Center (WRLC), which represents natural resource users pro-bono. As a non-profit, WRLC receives donations and is governed by a board of directors, some of them public lands ranchers. One of their main goals is working with law students in the law school of Lewis and Clark College. At Lewis and Clark, law students are educated on natural resources and those who use them, including loggers, ranchers, farmers and others who use public lands. It is a great program located in one of the environmental hot-beds of the West – Portland. The Center for Animal Law Studies – that’s right, Animal Law Studies – is also housed at Lewis and Clark College. Be careful, your dog may sue you.

If you think about it, animal rights most likely got its start when Walt Disney produced the movies like Bambi. At the time, it seemed innocent enough, but as the years sped by and those kids who watched those movies grew up, the fawn and bunny with names who talked and acted like humans were considered almost human and had certain rights. Today, you may wind up in court with a lawsuit against you brought on behalf of those animals.

Nobody in their right mind wants to mistreat animals, and I’ll bet that most of the animals or pets on a farm or ranch are some of the best treated around. But outside of the agriculture world, it is a different story.

The radical environmental movement works closely with the animal rights movement, and in some cases, they are winning. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus have retired all of their legendary elephants following more than five years of lawsuits. Ultimately they won, but it cost them a lot of money. The animal rights people take a win, build on it and plan ahead for the next 40 to 50 years. They are driven and have the dollars, and their agenda is mapped out.

Proof of what is happening out in the world around us can be seen in a petition I came across in an article last week. The petition circulating the web calls for a ban on using bits in horses’ mouths. The person leading the movement is a professor emeritus from Tufts University and claims to have studied the horse’s mouth, ears, nose and throat for some 60 years. He says, “Prior to 1997, I might have listed 12 problems as ‘aversions to the bit.’ From research completed since then I now list over 200 negative behaviors and 40 diseases, I kick myself for not having recognized sooner that the bit causes so much mayhem.”

We have all seen people using the wrong bit for a horse, with an adjustment that isn’t right or the wrong person’s hands on the reins. Add all these factors up and we might have trouble, but if all is correct, you’ll have a great ride and can get something done horseback. 

I read a newspaper article a while back titled, “The Yellowstone of the Future.” While the title caught my eye, I realized the article came from the New York Times. I knew I probably wasn’t going to like it, and I didn’t.

You know, many years ago, our national parks were designated after much discussion, and most likely, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) wasn’t used to make those decisions. Lately, our Presidents just issue an Executive Order for monument status and call it good. Wyoming is lucky Congress passed the Antiquities Act that said only Congress could place a national park or monument on certain lands in Wyoming. This action was caused by the then-U.S. President placing that designation on land in Teton County and the uproar that followed by concerned ranchers and citizens from the area.

The newest movement to “protect” western lands is happening in the state of Montana north of the Missouri River called the American Prairie Reserve. It resembles the same method that Teton National Park was developed. At that time, John D. Rockefeller bought all the private lands in the area and gave them to the government for the proposed park. In this case, instead of using government financing, they are using private funds to purchase or lease approximately 500,000 acres of ranch lands and link them with the area’s existing three million acres of private lands. When complete, this landscape will be roughly the size of Connecticut, privately funded, endowed and managed for the benefit of wildlife and people. It is the new model for conserving large, ecologically valuable landscapes and the wildlife that depend on them, and it’s a model that does not rely on the lobbying for government action and funding. It is a hybrid, combining existing public lands with private resources and a businesslike approach to securing land, restoring wildlife and benefiting people.

I can see where the American people will fall for it, but as one reads on, you wonder just what does, “benefiting wildlife and people” really mean? The American Prairie Reserve, a non-profit, has established a for-profit company called Wild Sky for leased ranches after agreeing to modify their operations in compliance with the goals of the Reserve for not disturbing native prairie or killing prairie dogs. In return, Wild Sky will pay American Prairie Reserve a premium when they sell their cattle for slaughter. Those ranchers may also do more for higher payments, such as help restore species like mountain lions and bears. Really? Those two species are sure compatible to raising cattle, aren’t they?

We soon realize they are looking for lands for wildlife to winter on and cross as corridors between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Those who are leasing the land will soon go out of business. The Reserve will be the only buyer and will be able to establish their own land values, as livestock grazing will be impossible. And one of the Reserve’s main goals is to restore bison to those lands. We all know what great neighbors buffalo are if they aren’t managed correctly.

Those behind this effort claim the model is currently working in Africa and South America. That’s great, but let’s just use it in those countries. We’ve found out that having a ranch with families managing it properly is what turns out best for wildlife and the tax rolls to keep communities together in the West, which benefits the people.

$3.1 billion sounds like a lot of money, and it is a lot of money. That was the figure our President requested for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

As the BLM Director Neil Kornze says, “The President’s budget gives BLM the resources we need to manage the public lands on a landscape scale. This funding will help us to continue to devise 21st century solutions to the challenges we face.”

As the press release states, “The FY budget $1.3 billion for BLM operations and activities, more than $7 million above the BLM’s FY 2016 enacted budget, positions the agency for success by restoring the health of the West’s 65 million acres of sage-steppe ecosystem and enduring responsible development of energy resources on the public lands. It also invests in the agency’s national conservation lands, including many of the nation’s most precious and wildest areas, and seeks new tools to address a rapidly growing and unsustainable wild horse and burro population.”

BLM manages 245 million surface acres of public lands and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate nationwide. This comes to 13 percent of the nation’s surface and roughly one-third of its subsurface mineral resources. If we add surface acres and subsurface acres and divide the $1.3 billion, we get around $1.38 funded for every surface and subsurface acre BLM manages. I wonder if that takes into account the Bundy’s Nevada acres or the Hammond’s Oregon lands.

The FY 2017 budget proposes $1.2 billion for BLM operations, which is $2.1 million above the FY 2016 enacted level. They raised the grazing fees from $1.69 to $2.11 per animal unit per month (AUM). This is around a 25 percent increase. I’m ok with the raise in grazing fees just as long as they followed the formula that was adopted years back. It was based on the price of cattle and sheep and the price of doing business – our expenses. Public lands ranchers worked hard to get it adopted, and we need to stick with that formula. Our President has recommended that BLM tax one dollar per AUM to the grazing fee, but so far it has been stopped. Most Americans don’t realize how much more expensive it is to run on federal lands than private lands.

The budget also gives $44 million for land acquisitions. One wonders where those acres are to be located. $44 million equates to a lot of acres. Remember, years back when the government identified lands along Wyoming’s Green River to acquire, nothing came out of it but scaring the heck out of a lot of ranchers.

One budget item we are glad got raised was Wild Horse and Burro Program funding. The BLM request would support new, innovative efforts to secure safe and cost effective placements for unadopted animals. BLM mismanages over 100,000 feral horses and burros, around half of which are in holding pens. They claim each horse or burro placed into private care can save the BLM almost $50,000 per animal. If that is the case, I’d take some wild horses if they would give me $48,000 to $49,000 per animal. Wouldn’t you? That would be a fair government deal.

What we really need are more range improvement funds. Let the range cons and ranchers, along with some other multi-users, decide where the dollars are to be spent.

A while back, we all read or heard about phase one of the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) that will take place this coming year. With all the talk about livestock and antibiotics, it was going to happen, but it could be worse. We all know there has been a lot of talk in the past years about antibiotics being used excessively in livestock and then, so some said, creating bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics.

I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that cattle and sheep raised in the open country or pastures are not the reason for this directive. The dairy, pork, chicken and turkey producers – those animals raised in confinement – are the ones who are really being targeted, but we all have to live with it. The American consumer is scared of antibiotics, but they also wants a prescription every time their child has a runny nose.

This whole directive is meant to just appease the consumer, I think. No meat or poultry products should ever have antibiotics is their system or get into the food chain because the withdrawal periods in place prevent it. Those who don’t think meat should be on our plates and think we should just get our protein from vegetables have convinced the average consumer of this garbage. So now, we have to do all of this to keep consumer confidence in our meat products based on misinformation that they were fed and then believed. As livestock producers, we have let ourselves down by not combating this issue sooner. It is another reason we need a strong checkoff for our meat products.

The Centers for Disease Control claims that every year in the United States at least 2 million people are infected by bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment, and more than 20,000 people will die from those infections. Maybe it’s from all the antibiotics that humans are taking.

The VFD was written and passed into law to try and curb these resistant infections.

By December 2016, livestock producers will no longer be able to legally use medically important antibiotics for growth promotion or feed efficiency under a new law enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, livestock producers will be able to use medically important antibiotics for treating sick animals or controlling a potential outbreak of a disease. To use those antibiotics, you will have to go through a vet and work through the paperwork of the records following the medicine. Some of the regulated antibiotics are penicillin, sulfas and tetracycline. Ionophores such as Rumensin and Bovatec are not included in the VDF, but they will be impacted if they are fed in combination with antibiotics. They say that last minute requests for feed grade antibiotics will be a thing of the past.

Visit with your vet or vet products supplier to see what you need to do. I’m sure there will be some misinformation out there to confuse everyone. Stay positive on the issue. We have to have the trust of America’s consumers in our meat products.