PLC members set priorities for 2014

Sep 16, 2013

— 45th Annual Meeting addresses industry’s challenges and opportunities.

Public Lands Council (PLC) last Saturday wrapped up its 2013 Annual Meeting in Deadwood, SD. Over 100 ranchers with public lands grazing rights in states across the West gathered to discuss the challenges affecting their industry and to consider projects and policies that will guide the organization’s future activities.

An important component of the meeting was the board of directors’ approval of projects to be funded by the Public Lands Endowment Trust. The Trust was established in 2011 to protect, enhance and preserve the public lands grazing industry. This year, seven new projects were approved, ranging from research projects; to development of software to improve resource planning; to providing PLC with new resources crucial to the expansion of the organization.

Highlights of four projects

SANE: The Stewardship Alliance of Northeastern Elko Sagebrush Ecosystem Conservation Project was formed in 2012 by the public land ranching community in northeast Elko County, NV, and is a landowner-led effort, with common goals and objectives.

PLC is funding the actual writing of an adaptive Conservation Management Plan (Plan). The Plan and process will create a foundation of trust where “on-theground solutions” can be developed that will benefit the long-term sustainability of the sagebrush ecosystem and preserve the viability of the local livestock economies. The project encompasses over 1.7 million acres.

Late season grazing on Cheatgrass: Another grant was approved for late season grazing research on Cheatgrass as a fuel reduction tool in the Great Basin.

The five-state area known as the Great Basin covers about 145 million acres, more than 70 percent of which is in federal ownership. Recent estimates indicate that 25 million acres of Great Basin lands are currently dominated by the invasive, non-native cheatgrass. And nearly 60 million additional acres are either partially infested or at high risk of similar infestation.

An initial pilot study done at the University of Nevada, Reno Gund Ranch has shown positive results for using late season prescriptive livestock grazing as a fuels reduction tool.

CVG investigation: PLC will be funding an investigation the classification “Chiefly Valuable for Grazing.”

This project would help “protect, enhance and preserve” the public lands livestock grazing industry by clarifying the assurances provided by the “chiefly valuable for grazing” (CVG) classification under the Taylor Grazing Act, and by ensuring that lands now classified as CVG do not lose their classification. The project is consistent with the Trust guidelines, as it is research- and education-oriented and will have positive impacts across the entire industry.

Unfortunately, many BLM districts have taken the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976’s multiple-use mandate as a license to sharply reduce, or even eliminate grazing on parts of grazing districts, which are designated as CVG. According to PLC, there is statutory evidence, supported by case law, suggesting that the BLM is overstepping its bounds in doing so.

If BLM permittees are to have any assurances that they will not be eliminated to make way for other uses, understanding the statutory import of the CVG classification is essential.

Part of this project will investigate the procedure the Secretary must follow in order to remove land from grazing districts (and consequently from CVG status).

Linking rangeland monitoring to adaptive management and NEPA: Federal grazing allotments must meet certain National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) criteria when being renewed. At times, range monitoring data supporting proposed actions contained in the NEPA documents is lacking or poorly integrated. These data must be fully utilized to help assess resource concerns and assist in making sound decisions in the continuously evolving adaptive management process. This collaborative process will integrate rangeland monitoring data into the development of proposed actions under NEPA for at least 26 grazing allotments on the Tonto National Forest in central Arizona.

This project will bring together grazing permittees, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, US Forest Service, Gila County Growers, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Tonto Natural Resource Conservation District, Gila County Board of Supervisors, and private range consultants to significantly improve the collection and utilization of range monitoring data.

“Since 1968, PLC has been the voice in Washington, DC for ranchers who operate on public lands,” said Brice Lee, PLC President and a cattle rancher of Hesperus, CO. “Each year, leaders of our industry meet in order to set priorities and discuss strategies that will help PLC provide a stable business environment for our members.

This is important work: at stake is the health of the economies and landscapes of the West.”

The meeting kicked off on Wednesday evening with a welcome barbecue featuring guest speaker South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture, Lucas Lentsch. Over the following two days, attendees interacted with industry experts, congressional staff, and BLM and U.S. Forest Service officials. The BLM also presented its Range Stewardship Award to the Beyeler family, who ranch near Leadore, ID. PLC’s Executive Director, Dustin Van Liew gave an update on PLC’s efforts promoting priority legislation such as the Grazing Improvement Act, fighting damaging new regulations and defending grazing in the courts. On Friday afternoon, members passed new policies and updated existing policies.

Lee, who continues in the second year of his two-year term as PLC president, was joined in leading the meeting by PLC Vice President and Idaho rancher, Brenda Richards and PLC Secretary/ Treasurer and Utah rancher, Dave Eliason.

“To me, this year’s meeting revealed a turning point for our industry,” said Lee. “Thanks to the hard work and foresight of our staff and some of our industry’s leaders over the past few years, we have opportunities available to us that we’ve never had before—and it’s generating a can-do, optimistic attitude. I was very pleased with the 100-plus turnout, and can see that PLC’s influence is growing. I want to thank those individuals who took the time to come. Their impact on our industry’s future cannot be overestimated.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor