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Bellevue, Neb. – “It costs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) five dollars to manage an ungrazed acre, but by grazing, the cost drops to two dollars per acre,” said Public Lands Council (PLC) Executive Director Ethan Lane.

He continued, “Eliminate ranchers from that equation and we simply cannot afford to manage the federal estate.”

During the May 19-20 Range Rights and Resource Symposium, Lane discussed PLC’s voice on grazing and current actions in Washington, D.C.


One of the primary ways PLC works to advocate for western ranchers is through educating the public and Congress.

“Our goal is to help people to understand what it is that livestock grazing does for western communities, both economically and ecologically,” said Lane.

Whether the message they are working to convey is related to the number of jobs agriculture creates, ecosystem services provided or acres of Greater sage grouse habitat conserved, Lane explained the intent is the same.

“We work to get the point across to people around the country that grazing is absolutely essential to managing land in the West,” he commented.

Lane continued, “None of the goals of the radical environmental community, the moderate environmental community, sportsmen, counties or anybody else can be achieved unless ranchers are doing what they do on a daily basis to manage resources, period.”

Targeted campaigns

Another way PLC actively works to educate legislatures and the public is through targeted campaigns.

The organization spent the month of May focusing on education about wildfires.

“This is partially because we’ve had such a prolific season and also because it is a topic that’s critically important,” said Lane.

As part of the campaign, videos from different range specialists and areas of the West are used to look at effective fire prevention and control strategies.

“I think a lot of us watch these videos and say, ‘Yeah, of course. We know that,’ but it helps make the point to legislators on the Hill and help them to understand just how bad the situation is and how beneficial grazing is,” commented Lane.

He continued, “We also have BLM participating at this point, agreeing with us and weighing in about how important it is to get these cows out to reduce fuel loads.”


Lane explained litigation is another large component of PLC’s activity in Washington, D.C.

“What’s surprising for a lot of people is the vast majority of our litigation efforts are in defense of agency action,” he said.

Lane noted that when an agency renews a permit or allows a producer to keep grazing numbers at a viable number, the agency is oftentimes sued.

“We spend a lot of time defending their action,” he commented. “We run counter to them, as well, when need be, but the vast majority of our efforts are in helping them combat offensive environmental litigation.”

Lane continued, “There’s not a single problem we’re dealing with in the West right now that doesn’t come back to offensive litigation.”

Current issues

“Some of the current issues and priorities we’re working on all come back to that main theme, operational certainty for permittees,” said Lane, noting that reform of the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act are top priorities.

He explained that Greater Sage Grouse Resource Management Plan Amendments (RMPAs) continue to be a major challenge.

“Eleven states were working through some solutions with the Department of the Interior for some clarification of that language that has been so challenging, as well as a path moving forward because grazing is not a threat to the Greater sage grouse,” commented Lane. “Fire is the greatest threat.”

Another important topic is wild horse populations which “have absolutely paralyzed some parts of the West,” said Lane.

“There is no solution to this problem, short of a full gather, surgical sterilization and selling excess population,” he stressed. “Anything short of that and we’re kidding ourselves. We’ll continue driving that message home moving forward.”

PLC is pleased the current presidential administration has moved quickly on the Antiquities Act, but Lane noted that public comments are critical.

“Wild Earth Guardians and groups like that have an incredibly sophisticated network of members around the world that they drive to these comment periods,” Lane continued. “They’ve out-organized us, they’ve out-maneuvered us and they’re dominating these comment periods. We have to show up for success.”

Call to action

According to Lane, the current political challenges faced, particularly with wild horse management, are not a failure to effectively communicate with inner city Democrats but rather suburban Republicans.

“We must make sure our voices are unified, make sure our message is clear and make sure when we speak, we speak with authority because we are the experts on these issues,” he said.

To protect public lands rights, Lane commented that being politically active and presenting clear, consistent positions and consequences is critical.

Lane explained that activists began flooding Congress with calls and e-mails on issues such as wild horses beginning on Jan. 1, but western offices do not receive any calls on the issues.

“Stakeholders in the West know the issue and talk about it, but we talk about it amongst ourselves,” noted Lane. “What we don’t do is tell enough other people.” 

“Folks on Capitol Hill need to know that if they make the wrong decision on these issues, they will hear about it from constituents, western ranchers and they’ll hear about it on an individual basis,” he said.

Lane concluded, “Weigh in, get involved and get your name counted. It’s critically important.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Worland – “We’ve been working with Hay Creek Land and Livestock and Josh Longwell since roughly 2009 when he applied for some vacated Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing permits,” says Mike Phillips, manager of the Worland BLM Office. “We’ve been working hand-in-hand to build a level of trust in going through the permitting process.”

In December 2016, Longwell was awarded the permits, and he will begin using them this season after pre-grazing meetings in late December.

Unique process

“We typically don’t have vacated permits,” Phillips says, “so this was a new process for our office.”

The process led to a three-step approach for Hay Creek and Worland BLM, where they divided the large ranch into three phases.

“The ranch is divided into the low county, the middle country and the upper country,” Phillips explains. “Each phase has unique characteristics.”

For example, in their low country, the rangelands provide sage grouse habitat, while the upper country sees Bighorn sheep, grizzly bear and wolf populations.

“We worked through a three-step approach, doing rangeland health, working through a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document with public scoping and then issuing a permit,” Phillips says.

Cooperative approach

For the permit reissuance, Phillips explains that one essential component meant working with the public and interested stakeholders.

“Throughout this whole process, we invited all the interested public to be involved, which included the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Wool Growers Association, the Governor’s Office, Western Watersheds Project, the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation and others,” Philips says. “This was a large project.”

The one protest that was received on the NEPA document was answered by Worland BLM and went without appeal from the commenter, meaning that the permitting for phase one, the low country that Longwell sought to use, is now issued.

“Right now, we have a pre-grazing season meeting with Josh in late December, and he’ll be using those permits this winter,” Phillips adds.

Moving forward

“We’re working on phase two and phase three now,” Phillips says. “We’re going to do those together.”

As they conduct their rangeland health evaluations, which will then be included in a NEPA document, he explains that they have an additional wrinkle in the form of new guidance that was issued, mandating that they collect additional data.

“We’ll collect the data on the upper country this field season, which is this summer, so by next winter, we’re hoping to have the rangeland health evaluation determination done,” Phillips explains. “Then, we’ll go right into the NEPA document and try to get those permits issued by 2018-19.”

Working together

The approach taken by Longwell and Worland BLM has yielded what both parties tout as a resounding success.

“We followed a process and worked together,” Phillips says.

As they worked to develop a positive relationship, Phillips notes that the biggest piece was establishing communication and being able to bridge some gaps that had deteriorated in the past.

“We worked together to come up with common goals and objectives, looking at the land holistically and what it can really produce,” he says. “We did a carrying capacity study of the allotments to look at what they can really produce and worked all that out together.”

Phillips adds, “I think the constant communication between Josh and our staff has been crucial. He’s been with us while we’ve done the monitoring, the field tours and all of this work. Josh has done everything we’ve asked of him, and we’ve developed a really good partnership.”

Longwell commends BLM for their professionalism and the partnership they’ve developed.

“This BLM office is really just a group of outstanding guys,” Longwell says. “They did a great job and deserve to be recognized for the work we’ve done here.”

Success story

Both Longwell and Phillips recognize the other as being necessary to completing the process and getting BLM permits reissued for Hay Creek Land and Livestock.

“Josh has been so key in all this,” says John Elliott, assistant field manager for resources in the Worland BLM office. “I talk to Josh so often, and if we have a problem about anything, we’re honest and direct.”

He adds, “Our success here doesn’t mean that either of us likes everything that happens all the time, but we’re up-front with each other and we work through it. Without Josh, I don’t believe we would have been able to reissue these permits as we have.”

Broader scope

Phillips notes that the success seen by Worland BLM and Hay Creek Land and Livestock can be replicated across the state, but permittees and BLM must work together.

“I think it’s really important that BLM and permittees get out on the ground together, kicking the dirt and seeing the problems, as well as the good things, that are happening out on the ground,” Phillips said.

He adds that permitees and BLM staff can’t be afraid of conflict or communication, which are both instrumental.

“We can’t be afraid of being able to communicate or sit down with folks. We have to do that and get out into the field,” Phillips says. “It takes a lot of face-to-face, which takes more time, but that’s what we should be doing to see success on the ground.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

On Dec. 3, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) launched their Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI). WPLI develops a locally led, Wyoming-specific legislative lands package to address designation, release or other management for wilderness study areas in Wyoming.

WPLI will bring interested stakeholders to the table to develop agreements on the final designation or release of Wyoming’s 45 wilderness study areas, as well as other potential land designations that could benefit from legislative intervention.

“WPLI seeks to resolve the final disposition of wilderness study areas and any other land designation issue,” says Fremont County Commissioner Doug Thompson. “We have a lot of land in wilderness studies areas and other classifications, and there are more suitable ways to classify some of that land. They may become wilderness areas, be released or be designated as any level of use in between, but it is important for the well-being of livestock, wildlife and economic activity to have those suitably classified.”

“The last time Congress passed a major lands bill specifically for Wyoming was more than 30 years ago,” Thompson adds. “We believe it’s time for a new effort that tackles the temporary wilderness study areas in Wyoming and faces head-on some of Wyoming’s most difficult land designation challenges.”

WCCA adds, “The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative is the first grassroots effort to create a comprehensive lands package for Wyoming in more than three decades. It is an opportunity to make meaningful decisions about the designation and use of public lands in this state.”

Beginning with a vision

“This started almost a year ago as a vision,” Thompson says. “There has always been a desire to get some final resolution on wilderness study areas.”

Similar efforts have taken place in other states, but Thompson says they are tailoring a process that will work for Wyoming.

“Idaho did a state-wide program to address roadless areas that was focused in the Governor’s Office,” he says. “This is going to be a county-level initiative, but we will have touch-points in the Governor’s Office.”

A look at WLPI

Thompson explains that Wyoming’s County Commissioners are currently preparing a draft process to help counties get involved and determine how lands should be classified.

“WCCA is putting together a draft process, and we need to finalize that,” he says. “At our next meeting, we will look at the latest draft and finalize the process.”

Each of Wyoming’s 23 counties was invited to be a part of the voluntary process. 

Thompson comments, “Counties will have to look at the process, decide if they want to be involved and make a decision.”

Working individually or as a bloc, counties will appoint a County Advisory Team (CAT) charged with determining the scope of the land designations they seek to address, visiting the areas and making a recommendation on their designation, says WCCA.

Wide representation

CATs will be formed from a variety of interest groups.

“Everyone’s interests – from producers to wilderness advocates to wildlife advocates to industrial interests – will be considered.”

Thompson further notes that the process is fair and strives to bring all interests to the table, similar to the Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT).

“Everyone who has an interest in public lands and the ability and track record of working together to achieve goals will be invited,” Thompson says. “Everyone working together doesn’t mean that everyone gets what they want, though.”

Final product

After working together, Thompson explains that the final product will be in the form of a package of bills presented to Congress.

“Final designations will, optimistically, be finished in a year to a year and a half,” he said. “The final disposition would be a bill going to Congress to address a wide range of land designation issues.”

Because of the wide representation, Thompson notes that the effort is more likely to be successful.

Optimism for success

Thompson strongly believes that this process has the potential to succeed.

“One myth is that any change in the status of a wilderness study area would automatically be detrimental,” he says. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

“The well-being of wildlife will always be on the table, but it will be broad-based,” Thompson continues.

“The WPLI is about local Wyoming people making decisions that are best for Wyoming,” adds WCCA Executive Director Pete Obermueller. “Ultimately it is up to us to decide on the future of these areas. County Commissioners are well positioned to lead this effort given their knowledge of the land in their counties and their elected mandate to represent the best interests of their entire county.  This will be a long and sometimes difficult process, but if we don’t work together to make decisions about these lands, eventually someone else will do it for us.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

On Feb. 22, the Coalition for Self-Government in the West (CSGW) released their newest study, which looks inside the rate that grazing across Bureau of Land Management Land (BLM) 11 western states has declined.

Matthew Anderson, policy analyst with CSGW, commented, “The cowboy is a quintessential part of American heritage. Today, this fixture of western culture is under attack, and at the rate we’re going, it won’t be long until he becomes just another chapter in history.”

In CSGW’s recent study, titled Dusty Trails: The Erosion of Grazing in the American West, Anderson and others assert that grazing has declined, which threatens the heritage of the West.

“From 1949 to 2014, the average number of grazing district Animal Unit Months (AUMs) – a measurement that takes into account both the number of livestock and the time they spend on public lands – that were approved by the BLM plunged from 14,572,272 to 7,160,432,” said the report. “Some states have seen a drop-off of more than 70 percent.”

However, the study also recognizes that during the same time, the number of operators and permittees has also declined from more than 21,000 to just over 10,100.

“Such a sharp decline not only impacts ranchers’ way of life but has a profound and lasting effect on taxpayers, local economies and the environment,” the report added.

Anderson said, “The disappearance of ranchers means much more than the loss of a cultural icon.”

Analysis of impacts

The study noted that historically, public lands in the West, both U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and BLM lands, have traditionally been managed as multiple-use, and they comprise over one-fifth of the lands in the West. 

While still charged with a multiple use mandated, Dusty Trails said that use of public lands for grazing has decreased sharply, which causes resounding impacts.

“BLM and USFS has enormous potential to generate revenue for public good,” it reads. “However, these federal agencies on average lose taxpayers nearly $2 billion each year – with grazing losses accounting for a substantial portion of this shortfall.”

The report summarizing that, from 2009-13, BLM and USFS spent an average of $9.41 per AUM, while state trust lands in Arizona, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico spent $2.30 per AUM. The average return per AUM on federal land was only $1.18 compared to state returns of $7.79.

“While states often charge higher prices for grazing than the federal government, their policies actually encourage public grazing opportunities,” said Dusty Trails.

In Wyoming, there were 1,372 operators, permits or leases in 1949, compared to just 987 in 2014, a decrease of 28.06 percent.

However, the decrease in the number of AUMs over the same time period was 56.25 percent, from 1.9 million AUMs in 1949 to 848,000 in 2014.

Colorado saw a 56.68 percent decrease in operators, permits or leases and a 71.2 percent reduction decrease in AUMs, while Montana experienced an 18.36 percent decrease in operators and a 9.7 percent increase in AUMs.

Montana is the only western state to see an increase in AUMs.

Rangeland impacts

As an example of the negative impacts that occur when lands aren’t grazing, the report compared western rangelands to a lawn.

“Like a lawn, which needs trimming and mowing, rangelands need attention, or they die,” the study commented. “Harvesting the annual renewing forage on our public lands maintains the health and vitality of these ecosystems by reducing fuel loads that can lead to catastrophic wildfires.”

Dusty Trails continues that ranchers are “a vital piece of the rangeland puzzle.”

“It would be almost impossible to quantify how many watersheds, how much wildlife and how many acres of vital habitat these volunteers have saved over the years,” the study read. “The continued decline of grazing operators and permittees has serious implications for the environment.”

With the decline of ranchers, Anderson asserted that rangeland quality and health will similarly decline.

“There is no denying that market forces, such as the decline of America’s sheep industry, have played a role in the decrease of grazing on federal lands,” Anderson said. “However, instead of mitigating these effects, unresponsive federal policies are making life more difficult for rural Americans, adding insult to injury.”

Moving forward

“It’s time to undo decades worth of harmful management practices and bring grazing back to our public lands,” Anderson commented.

Dusty Trails continued that moving forward, states have begun to take things into their own hands.

“Utah has passed and many western states are considering legislation calling on the federal government to honor the promise it made upon statehood and turn over multiple use public lands to the state’s care,” the study said. “Western states are well-equipped to managed these lands and have already demonstrated the ability to balance conservation, recreation and economic interests.”

Anderson emphasized, “The Coalition for Self-Government in the West urges our Legislature, Congress, federal land management agencies and the President to take actions and once again reinstate grazing as an integral part of public lands management.”

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from several sources. Send comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Planning 2.0 is an initiative from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review the way in which the agency develops and updates Resource Management Plans (RMPs). Shasta Ferranto, the Planning 2.0 project manager for BLM’s Washington Office, described changes in the proposed planning rule on March 21, during a live webcast.

“Under the last four years of developing resource management plans under the federal land and policy management act (FLPMA), we gained a lot of experience, and we have learned many lessons and also many best practices of planning in collaboration with our partners and with the public,” she stated.

The Planning 2.0 proposed rule aims to develop RMPs that are responsive to issues and opportunities within planning areas.

Best practices

“We’ve learned that collaboration is most effective when it happens early and often,” mentioned Ferranto.

Proposed changes have been developed to address best practices and address collaboration efforts, including those that cross administrative boundaries, such as migration routes that cover multiple states or concerns that affect multiple agencies.

“Although BLM recognizes the need for a landscape approach to resource management, we also acknowledge the importance of local issues and the important role that local partners play in the planning process. Our proposed landscape approach is meant to enhance local planning and involvement, not to replace it,” she added.

The proposed rule has also been designed to acknowledge changes that inevitably occur in resource management scenarios.

“Whether it be environmental change, ecological change, social change, economic change or changes in the best available science or management techniques we have available to us, when change occurs, we need to be ready for it, and we need to be able to respond quickly and meaningfully,” she explained.

BLM directives

BLM’s mandate to develop land use plans comes from the Federal Land Use and Policy Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976.

FLPMA directs BLM to provide for public involvement when developing those land use plans, and to coordinate with state, local and tribal governments. It also directs BLM to seek consistency with state, local and tribal land use plans to the extent practical.

“Planning 2.0 will revise two key components of BLM’s planning policy that implements FLPMA,” noted Ferranto.

Both the land use planning regulations and the land use planning handbook will be updated if the current proposed rule goes into effect.

“Regulations provide the framework for developing resource management plans, as required and directed by FLPMA. Although minor changes were made to these regulations in 2005, the last major revision occurred in 1983, making our current planning regulations over 30 years old,” she explained.

The new handbook will be based on how procedures are described in the final regulations and provide details about how to implement procedures. A draft of the handbook is expected to be available by next summer or early next fall.

Planning 2.0

“We began this process formally in the fall of 2014. At that time, we hosted two public listening sessions, and we accepted written comments,” Ferranto stated.

Input from BLM staff, the public and other stakeholders was considered for the proposed rule, which was formally published on Feb. 25, 2016 in the Federal Register. The proposed rule is out now through April 25 for public comment, and BLM encourages feedback.

One proposed change is an overall planning framework that would describe the content of RMPs, as well as supporting documents included with the plans.

“The goal of our proposed changes to the planning framework is to improve the BLM’s ability to apply adaptive management approaches and also to focus BLM management on achieving desired conditions in the planning area,” Ferranto commented.

Planning components and implementation strategies are two key categories that would be adapted in accordance to the proposed rule. Plan components include land use decisions, and implementation strategies would assist in implementing the land use plan.

Plan components

“The plan components would be required for every single land use plan and would provide ‘planning level management direction,’” she noted.

Implementation strategies and contrast would be developed as needed and would be updated on an ongoing basis to incorporate new information and the best available science.

The six kinds of components described in the proposed rule include goals, objectives, monitoring and evaluation standards, designations, resource use determinations and lands available for disposal. Of those, goals and objectives will be achieved through the direction of the other four components.

“The intent is that the goals would be landscape-minded and responsive to cross-boundary concerns when it is appropriate, or the goals might focus on a small area and unique local concerns when that is appropriate,” remarked Ferranto.

Objectives would be required to be specific and measurable, while also intending to be aligned with specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, or SMART, objectives.

Key attributes and indicators would be implemented to address the outlined goals and objectives and a revised planning handbook would provide detailed guidance for those factors.

Collaborative input

“To the extent that it makes sense, we would like to align with national indicators in coordination with BLM’s Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring program, also known as the AIM program,” Ferranto continued. “That being said, for some resources, we won’t be able to use national indicators, and we’ll develop them locally for that particular planning effort.”

A number of new steps would also be included in the planning process, including planning assessments, information gathering and other steps designed to involve the public and other stakeholders as early as possible in the planning process.

“It’s going to be additional work, and it’s going to be additional time for the BLM upfront. But, we believe this is going to be time well spent, and ultimately, it’s going to result in a better plan and probably some efficiencies,” Ferranto explained.

By gathering more information upfront, BLM hopes to develop more robust draft plans that have already considered issues that impact RMP development.

Changes in the protest process have also been proposed, with the intention of creating a system that is easier for protesters to use, so BLM is able to receive quality and timely feedback.

Public comments

Other procedural changes have been proposed, as well, and BLM strongly encourages the public and other entities to review the proposed rule and provide feedback about Planning 2.0.

Ferranto suggests that feedback should be specific with reference to specific section numbers and concise explanations about why certain aspects are supported or not supported.

“We would really like to know what people think and why,” she said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..