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Guest Opinions

Protecting My Public Land Investment

Written by Neils Hansen

By Niels Hansen, Wyoming Director, Public Lands Council

According to federal land agencies, public land livestock grazing is a mere privilege. However, if you are a Forest Service or BLM grazing permittee or lessee, you understand that your grazing “privilege” is, in fact, a significant investment and an integral part of your ranching operation. Like all of your ranching investments, it must be protected. However, unlike many of those other investments, the biggest threat to your grazing investment is not weather or market value – it is government regulation, Congressional action and environmental litigation.

This week you should have receive a letter from the Wyoming Public Lands Coalition seeking your financial support to enable Wyoming to meet its obligations to the national Public Lands Council (PLC). You may be asking yourself, “Why should I support PLC?” Perhaps you already support one or more state and national organizations that serve the livestock industry. Because the Public Lands Council works solely on public land issues, PLC is your insurance policy on your public land investment.

When leaders of the Western sheep and cattle industries began the discussions that led to the establishment of the PLC in 1968, the threat to public land grazing was described as “the elevation of multiple use over domestic livestock grazing.” Over 40 years later, Western ranchers are the champions of multiple use against the threat of those who would stop virtually all economic uses of BLM and Forest Service lands through wilderness designations and other single purpose restrictions.

It is due in large part to the singular focus of PLC that we continue to graze these lands in the face of ever growing challenges. PLC is in the halls of Congress every day carrying the message of our stewardship of these lands. They interact regularly with both friend and foe within the federal agencies, and PLC has led numerous recent efforts to protect our interests in court.

You know the issues well – permit renewal, range improvements, meeting Rangeland Health Standards, endangered species, NEPA compliance, forest planning rules, Wild Lands, wild horses. The FY 2011 PLC Annual Report reviews 11 legislative issues, seven administrative issues and three judicial issues on which PLC has provided leadership this year. I encourage you to visit the PLC website publiclandscouncil.org for more information.

In 2010, when our industry learned that El Paso, builder of the Ruby Pipeline from Opal to Malin, Ore., had made agreements to provide access to major funding to Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Desert Association in the futile attempt to “buy” their way out of potential litigation, PLC immediately sprang into action, demanding that these agreements be nullified. When it became apparent that this would not be done, PLC sought a commitment from El Paso to support the public lands livestock industry. The result was that El Paso offered to establish a $15 million endowment that will serve the industry for the next 75 years. Annual earnings on the endowment will be used “to protect, enhance and preserve public lands and the public lands livestock grazing industry.” While these revenues will provide critical additions support to the public land livestock industry beginning in 2013, they do not diminish the need for your strong support today.

The Wyoming Public Lands Coalition struggles each year to meet its PLC assessment and to provide minimal assistance to delegates to the PLC Spring Conference in Washington, D.C. and to the annual meeting in the West. We express our gratitude to those BLM and FS permittees who each year provide their generous support. This year we have avoided the apparent need to increase the assessment level because of our belief that, with significantly higher prices for both sheep and cattle, we can count on many of you who have not been able to support this effort in previous years to now get on board. Thank you in advance for your support!