Ethan Lane and Marci Schlup, who run the Public Lands Council (PLC), stopped by our offices last week for a visit to fill us in on all the news going on in the public lands arena in Washington, D.C. Lane said it has become a very different place since President Donald Trump was inaugurated.
They are very pleased about Secretary Ryan Zinke running the Department of Interior and expect to see a few changes in how the agency manages our public lands. There has been some talk that Zinke was thinking about moving the BLM office out West and Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner was drafting up some type of bill that would push that ideal further.
Lane said that communications with the interior department have been very good but he thinks they will be more focused on the oil and gas industries. The BLM has also been reaching out to National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and PLC for guidance on various grazing issues. Lane also said it’s refreshing to have a dialogue with them, whereas the Obama administration’s BLM didn’t talk all that much. They would circumvent law by rewriting regulations as they tried to do on the BLM Management Plan 2.0. The new interior department is all about doing business while the old one was all about preservation and conservation.
He also said that the U.S. Forest Service is just now waking up to the fact that there is a new administration. Lane said he expects that Sonny Perdue will be confirmed as Secretary of Ag sometime this week, which will give the Forest Service a better directive about the new administration. There was also some discussion in D.C. about merging the BLM and the Forest Service, but they didn’t think that would go very far.
We also talked about the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the fact that many folks are actively seeking ways to “modernize” the act. The Western Governors Association has had ESA on its radar for a long time but radical environmental groups continue to file petitions.
He said they would like to get rid of the subspecies concept and look at ESA as more of a holistic ecosystem management goal and allow the states to do their own conservation and recovery programs before any listings are made, or before the federal government gets involved.
ESA has been a valuable tool for environmentalists. When you look at sage-grouse and prairie chicken habitat maps in conjunction with maps that show where oil and gas production has been going on, it’s clear those two species are meant to shut down oil and gas exploration. Lane said that they have asked the Justice Department to start keeping track on their Equal Access to Justice Act payouts so they can see exactly where the money is going.
Wild horses also came up, and Lane said that Secretary Zinke understands the issue at hand and realizes that he’s going to have to deal with 65,000 horses. Lane said it’s a sensitive issue but we’re not going to get much done until Congress changes the law. It might be the right time to rip that bandage off the wound and take the criticism early in the Trump administration.
He would like to see ranchers have more control over the horses. After all, the horses are causing these ranchers valuable animal unit months; they should be compensated for that loss of use. They should also manage the herd like the Beaty Butte herd in Oregon and Washington. This could be a free market solution to a big problem. Let them make a buck managing the herd management areas at the appropriate numbers.
The Beaty Butte herd was rounded up in 2015 and selectively culled to manage the high quality Kiger mustangs and propagate their genetics to create a desirable wild horse herd that folks would desire to own. The herd is now at the acceptable numbers for the management area. And the rest of the herd are being held in a Simplot feed yard. I still think we need to get into the global horse meat market.
According to Lane, Washington is certainly a different place, and for the first time in a long time the agencies are reaching out to us and asking us what needs fixing. Trump’s Cabinet appointments are business-oriented and ready to be friendly to business rather than regulating the heck out of them.
— PETE CROW