Utah rancher calls for national monuments transparency and accountability
A Utah rancher last week testified before Congress on behalf of the Public Lands Council (PLC), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Utah Cattlemen’s Association (UCA) in support of legislation to bring transparency and local input to the national monuments designation process. Dave Eliason, PLC secretary/treasurer, immediate past president of UCA and active NCBA member, told the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation that misuse of the Antiquities Act of 1906 by the executive branch is destabilizing the public lands grazing industry and harming local communities.
Eliason, a fourth-generation rancher with public land grazing permits, runs a cattle operation with his wife and five children. He said the Antiquities Act, intended to allow presidents to protect small areas on federal lands such as archaeological sites, has instead been used to designate sweeping expanses of land as national monuments, with the effect of putting heavy restrictions on productive multiple uses such as grazing. He called for support of the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act (H.R. 1459), introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and the Utah Land Sovereignty Act (H.R. 758), introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. Bishop’s H.R. 1459, he said, would ensure that the public knew the facts about the impacts of a proposed national monument, allow for public comment and provide local governments an avenue for government-to-government cooperation and coordination in the process.
“Historically…national monuments have had strangling effects on livestock grazing,” Eliason said. “Even when grazing is grandfathered in, either direct agency decisions reduce grazing or the cost of doing business on these restricted areas becomes prohibitive.”
Eliason cited President Clinton’s nearly 2 million-acre Grand Stair-Case Escalante National Monument (Grand Stair-case) designation as an example of the negative impacts that sweeping monument designations can have.
“The Grand Stair-case has resulted in land use plan amendments that have so far closed four full grazing allotments and portions of four others. More closures are being considered as we speak. Grazing is just one of the multiple-uses being impacted. Communities in the area are suffering. Schools are shutting down. As a Utahan and on behalf of UCA, we greatly appreciate and support Rep. Stewart’s bill to prevent any further such designations from being permitted to harm our state’s citizens.”
With regard to Bishop’s bill, Eliason said its transparency and oversight provisions would help provide stability to the public lands grazing industry and rural communities across the West. He finished with a call for action:
“We can argue ’til we’re blue in the face about the inappropriateness of presidents using the Antiquities Act to designate de facto wilderness over millions of acres at a time without congressional consent. But until Congress does something to put a stop to it, that’s the reality we face.” — WLJ