GUEST opinion

Feb 19, 2010
by WLJ

Anti-grazing organization says no to multiple use

With public lands diminishing due to urban sprawl, beef producers have fewer and fewer options on where to raise their cattle. One option, which has been around for over a century, is to utilize grazing allotment permits from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). These grazing allotments allow producers to stay in business and continue to provide a food source to the American people. At the same time, ranchers and USFS work diligently to conserve these lands and their resources, again a benefit to the general public.

Ranchers who have permits in Colorado’s Pike and San Isabel national forests are being threatened by Western Watersheds Project (WWP), which is suing USFS to end livestock grazing on 13 allotments. WWP is alleging that continued livestock grazing will diminish already-damaged wildlife habitat, streams and wetlands on those forest allotments. The allotments in question cover more than 250,000 acres, of which a majority is in Chaffee County. The local permittees, by way of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and Chafee County, are filing an intervention in support of USFS and, ultimately, the livestock grazers who graze those allotments.

“This is one of the most important battles we are up against,” replied Chaffee County Commissioner Frank Holman. “The county decided to support our ranchers because they preserve the open lands that our area is well known for. Should we be so unfortunate as to lose this lawsuit, our ranchers will be forced to downsize or completely sell out. It would have a huge negative impact on our entire county.”

“As a permittee, I felt it essential to defend and protect this important component of my ranching operation,” stated Jay Wilson, president of Tri Lazy W Ranch. “The decision by the court will, to a large extent, affect whether or not I continue my ranching operation. I must be able to defend myself in court against the untrue and inaccurate accusations made by an organization whose agenda is to have all livestock removed from public lands at any cost. Our side of the story must be told.”

WWP is an association whose mission is “to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation.” This group makes money through donations and by suing USFS and the Bureau of Land Management. For example, over the past 10 years in Idaho, WWP received a total of $999,190 in tax dollars for “reimbursement” for attorney fees and costs. WWP’s goal at the end of the day is to “end public lands ranching.” Should they accomplish this goal, numerous beef producers will be forced out of business.

Case in point, Samuel Scanga and his family have been ranching in southern Colorado since 1907. They have raised cattle on the Cochetopa C&H Allotment because it “provides us with affordable, dependable, highquality summer pasture for a portion of our cow/calf herd,” stated Scanga. “The Cochetopa C&H Allotment is an integral part of the history of our ranch and allows us to keep a cow herd of approximately 100 head. Loss of this national forest grazing permit would reduce our cow herd to a point that we would discontinue raising cattle.”

Because of the threat from groups such as WWP, USFS and permittees work handin-hand to ensure the land is being properly managed. It is in the best interest of both parties to guarantee the protection of soils, watershed conditions, and wildlife habitat. They also work to minimize adverse effects to water, recreation, and other resources.

The continued use of grazing fosters a good ecological balance because it promotes growth of forages, decreases the threat of wildfires, and controls the spread of weeds. In 2007, there was a 1,000-square-mile wildfire in Idaho that eliminated the sage grouse WWP was attempting to protect in an earlier lawsuit, which re sulted in the removal of grazing from the area.

“My family has been in Chaffee County for decades, and I have seen pictures of the San Isabel Forest when there were no trees, grass, or wildlife. It’s because of ranching families like ours that there is now vegetation and wildlife,” exclaims Tim Canterbury, rancher and president of CCA. “What most people don’t realize is that the rancher is the original environmentalist. Without the land and its resources, cattlemen would be out of business.”

Since the land is such a valuable resource to so many parties, the permittees and range staff are required to monitor the allotments to be certain the National Environmental Policy Act requirements are being met.

Throughout the year, monitoring is taking place and then each summer, range staff and the permittees go together to check on the ecological sites and ensure the permittee is not over-utilizing the resources. All of this information is studied to make sure the management plan for the allotment is working properly, and if not, the necessary changes are made.

Should WWP win this lawsuit against USFS, there will be numerous repercussions to the permittees, USFS, and the county. Without the grazing permits, there would be a chain reaction of events causing negative economic impacts on the aforementioned parties, not to mention the citizens of the county and state of Colorado. Ranchers would be forced to sell all or part of their herds, resulting in a major loss of income. Without income, they will be spending less money, which results in a loss of sales tax revenue for the county. The county would also see a loss of revenue from the grazing fees. Under federal law, the county is entitled to 25 percent of all fees collected from uses on national forest lands in the county. With no grazing fees over a 10-year period, the county estimates to lose approximately $77,000 in revenue. Additionally, without ranchers, USFS would see an increase in management costs, as well as work, to assure the land is being properly managed and in compliance with federal legislation.

The bottom line is that grazing is good for the public lands, the community, and the family rancher. The following points express this importance:

• A loss of grazing on national forests would reduce the number of ranches, virtually ruining rural communities.

• When cattle graze, they regenerate grass growth and spread grass seeds. Without livestock grazing on federal lands, the areas will become overgrown by weeds, causing the land to become unsuitable for wildlife to graze.

• Grazing keeps down overgrown weedy vegetation which reduces the risk of wildfires, keeps invasive weeds at bay, and improves habitat for some wildlife.

• Most of the improvements made to the grazing allotments are resource improvements that help with wildlife. — Colorado Cattlemen’s Association