Nevada organizations find common ground in objecting to ROAM act

Oct 16, 2009
Nevada organizations find common ground in objecting to ROAM act

“Folks have a whole lot more common ground than not. A lot of the contentiousness comes from focusing on those things we don´t agree on.”

Ranchers and public lands advocates can take inspiration from a group of politically-minded Nevadans who banded together to take on the ROAM act which is currently awaiting vote in the Senate. A diverse coalition of Nevada agriculture, conservation, and sporting organizations banded together this spring to send a unified message to Washington voicing their displeasure with HR 1018, otherwise known as the Restore Our American Mustangs act (ROAM), sponsored by Congressmen Rahall, D-WV, and Grijalva, D-AZ. In a noteworthy collaborative effort, organizations as ideologically disparate as the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA) and the local Sierra Club chapter co-signed a letter objecting to particular points in the proposed legislation and voicing common concern with the potential consequences of the ROAM act on rangeland health. Although the ROAM act did pass in the House this July, there were several key changes made to the legislation reflecting the Nevada coalition’s concerns. It is likely that the coalition will continue its efforts to prevent ROAM’s passage in the Senate. However, demonstrating to lawmakers in the capitol that ROAM is objectionable to such a wide range of interest groups can be considered a victory in itself.

Spearheaded by Meghan Brown, executive director of NCA, and Shaaron Netherton, executive director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness (FNW), the campaign began when some initial conversations revealed that ranchers and conservationists had a common interest in seeing Nevada’s wild horses managed in such a way that the rangeland resource was not compromised. Other interest groups were drawn into the project, among them the Nevada Bowhunters, the Nevada

Wilderness Project, the Society for Range Management, the Nevada Farm Bureau, and the Eastern Nevada Landscapes Coalition. In all, 24 groups signed the letter.

Their common concern was that the ROAM legislation would prevent adequate management of wild horses on the range by eliminating important management tools such as conducting helicopter gathers to remove surplus horses, and removing surplus horses permanently from the range. Instead, the ROAM bill proposes to accommodate wild horse numbers primarily by expanding the public lands where wild horses can range. Members of the Nevada coalition were concerned that unacceptable amounts of rangeland resources, both in acreage and forage, would be necessary to absorb the vast number of wild horses currently in holding facilities and that other uses of public land, such as cattle and wildlife grazing, would take a back seat to the horses’ needs, essentially eliminating the multi-use character of public lands. Netherton of FNW describes the coalition’s initiative as “an effort at finding common ground, and having public lands and horses managed wisely. There was legislation being proposed that didn’t make ecological, economical or management sense to us.”

Prior to passing in the House, several of the coalition’s chief complaints were addressed, in particular, the ban on helicopter gathering which was in the original version of the bill but was later removed.

It is likely that the Nevada alliance will organize a similar effort when ROAM comes up for consideration in the Senate. Although many individual groups will undoubtedly voice their displeasure with the bill, the broad-based Nevada coalition may potentially have an important impact on lawmakers’ decisions. According to Netherton, “When that many diverse groups get together, it sends a pretty powerful message to our delegation, regardless of whether they are Republicans or Democrats.”

Netherton also commented that the coalition offered an excellent opportunity for groups with different focuses to discover that underlying superficial differences are common goals. “Folks have a whole lot more common ground than not. A lot of the contentiousness comes from focusing on those things we don’t agree on.”

According to NCA’s Brown, the Nevada coalition is currently considering their position regarding last week’s announcement by Ken Salazar, secretary of the Department of the Interior, of his own revised wild horse management plan, a potential alternative to the ROAM legislation. The Public Lands Council (PLC), an advocacy group for ranchers dependent on public lands, which works closely with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, issued on Oct. 9 a press release strongly endorsing Salazar’s plan. Skye Krebs, president of PLC and a rancher from Ione, OR, explained: “Secretary Salazar’s proposal is a rational approach to managing this population problem.

This solution recognizes both the importance of preserving wild horses and burros and the need to maintain productive, healthy rangeland for multiple uses.”

The sentiment is echoed by Dan Gralian, NCA president and manager of the TS ranch, Battle Mountain, NV. Although Gralian feels that clarification of the proposal is necessary before a full endorsement can be made, his overall reaction is positive: “I like the approach Ken Salazar is taking. He is starting to think out of the box, and he is recognizing that the number of horses we have out here in the West is more than the land can carry. He is looking to the East to manage some of these horses. He’s looking at sterilization and reproduction (control). That makes sense.”

It may ultimately turn out that Salazar’s proposal represents a workable horse management plan, and members of the cattle industry are certainly inclined to view it as an improvement over the ROAM legislation. But the Salazar plan, or any acceptable alternative, must first gain congressional approval and funding if it is to be implemented. As a means to this end, the Nevada initiative may continue to have an important role in steering lawmakers toward a more broadly acceptable wild horse management program in the future. — Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent