Howard offers suggestions for dealing with federal land management agenciesWritten by Saige Albert
When dealing with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Elizabeth Howard notes that litigation should be a last resort, though working together may be frustrating.
“Not to say that litigation isn’t an important sword that we want to be able to wield at the right time, but there are a lot of strategies to use before we get to that point,” she says.
Howard, an attorney who devotes the majority of her time to public lands grazing issues, comments that there are some practical things that can be done to improve the relationship between livestock grazers and federal agencies.
The most important aspect of dealing with federal land managers is building a relationship.
“Having a good relationship with the folks we work with – whether that is range staff, the district manager or the forest supervisor – is so critical to having success on the ground,” Howard explains.
Oftentimes, those people permittees have relationships with are more likely to try and help the permittee when they need it.
“They also are a great source of information we might not otherwise have,” she comments. “Having the relationship is critical to being able to work with agencies.”
Howard also emphasizes that producers should focus on their long-term goals on the allotment, rather than fixating on small details.
“If we make a relationship with a young staff person who moves up over time, that long-term relationship is critical,” she adds. “Sometimes we have to sacrifice a particular principle at one moment to keep a long-term goal on track.”
After developing relationships with agency personnel, Howard suggests employing good consultants to help with the various technical aspects of the permit.
“Ranchers I see being really successful have good consultants helping them,” she comments. “Whether that is for range, wildlife, water or a combination, a good consultant who can work with the agency and is credible will make our lives easier.”
Consultants should be involved in annual operating meetings and other planning activities to help agency personnel understand what is happening out on the ground.
“It is necessary to have these folks advising us as we are sitting in our turn-out meetings and annual operating meetings to talk to the range conservationists and biologists about what’s going on,” Howard says.
She further notes that a person who has the credentials, background, personality and demeanor to effectively work with agencies can be an asset and an investment for a rancher.
With a solid team in place, Howard also notes that plans are important.
“We have to have plans for allotments, and we have to know how they interface with the programs on the ranch are important,” Howard says. “I know that most ranchers have that in their head, but they have to get it out on paper and figure out how to implement those plants.”
For long-term planning, she explains that it is important to provide what resources are available to help in cost-sharing and development of plans. Planning can also help ranchers determine the most cost- and time-effective solutions for constructing developments.
Working with agencies
Howard further says that those ranchers who successfully run on public land often work with the agencies managing the land to find opportunities to solve problems the agency is experiencing.
As an example, she uses an allotment that had a wild horse problem.
“The horses were at about four times their appropriate management level. The problem was significant,” Howard describes. “BLM’s real problem was that they didn't have anywhere to put the horses, so this producer decided not to file a lawsuit but rather to work with a consultant to develop a training facility.”
When pitched to BLM, the agency readily accepted the idea, and today, the rancher has created a training facility for wild horses.
“BLM is paying for the facility and the cost of his whole program,” Howard says. “He will train the horses and then they will be sold or adopted – and his cattle can graze again.”
“We have to look for opportunities to fix problems and be willing to be creative,” she emphasizes.
Another example is in monitoring. Monitoring data must be collected on BLM permits, but oftentimes range conservationists are spread thin over a wide area.
“A lot of states have worked out programs where permittees can work cooperatively to do their own monitoring,” Howard explains. “Cooperative monitoring agreements show that we have the ability to collect data they need to put in our files.”
After working together to build relationships, bring in experts, plan and work to solve agency problems, Howard notes, “If all else fails, then we may have to litigate. In many instances, there are a lot of other things we can do before we get to litigation.”
Howard spoke during the 2015 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in late January.