PLC: Standing up for ranchers' rights since 1968

Mar 7, 2014

If you are a rancher with public lands grazing rights, then you know that property rights are as dear as they are fleeting. For you, every day is a fight for the principles that make America great: independence, self-reliance and property rights. Nowhere is the federal government more likely to try to run roughshod over your water and grazing rights than on federal land. Attempts to tax and regulate you off the land seem to multiply as time goes on—just take the president’s recent proposal to hike the grazing fee by 74 percent and hammer you with the death tax.

But these threats do not go unanswered. A rancherfounded and rancher-run organization is constantly at work in Washington, DC, protecting your rights: the Public Lands Council (PLC). PLC was founded in 1968, and is the only outfit in DC dedicated solely to representing the 22,000 sheep and cattle producers that run stock on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.

“PLC’s work takes place in the legislative, regulatory, and legal arenas, all with the goal of protecting land, water and grazing rights,” said PLC President and Colorado rancher, Brice Lee in an interview with WLJ. “There’s an awful lot at stake: 40 percent of the western cow herd spends time on public lands, and so does half the nation’s sheep herd. Federal land grazing rights are crucial to large sectors of the economy and to the infrastructure of the entire American livestock industry. Not to mention the fact that ranching in the West is the backbone of our identity and culture.”

PLC’s dues-paying affiliates include the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the American Sheep Industry Association, the Association of National Grasslands, and state livestock organizations in 12 Western states.

State affiliates pay dues based on the number of federal AUMs in their state. In many cases, these state livestock organizations collect PLC dues from individuals on a voluntary basis.

Together with these affiliates, PLC has won significant victories for the industry over the years. In the realm of legal, you may have heard of the PLC v. Babbitt Supreme Court case in 2000, where PLC took the Interior Department all the way to the highest court for its Draconian new grazing regulations. PLC, while unsuccessful on the specific questions before the court, was successful in fending off terribly ambiguous definitions found in Department of Interior’s new regulations, which would have torn down the industry.

“We were able to put a good portion of (Interior Secretary) Babbitt’s overall environmental agenda in check,” said Lee.

PLC has been a part of Supreme Court victories more recently—such as the water rights win in Sackett v. EPA—and more are in the hopper. And likely just as important as these highcourt cases, Lee said, is PLC’s involvement in the district courts. PLC has successfully gained intervener status in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) cases, which has allowed them to defend ranchers when the agencies issue harmful decisions or radical groups challenge grazing decisions. Another all-important case is an ongoing direct challenge of the US- FS’ new forest planning rule.

“The new rule puts ideas like ‘spiritual values’ above productive multiple uses like grazing,” Lee said. “Our attorney will be arguing in the DC District Court next month. We are working with the other multiple-use industries and have a lot of confidence in the outcome.”

On the regulatory front, Lee said it’s hard to put words to the constant stream of ill-conceived efforts coming out of the Obama administration.

“Where to start? We’ve been fighting sage grouse regulations, monument designations, EPA and US- FS water grabs, BLM’s attempts to wipe grazing preference off the books… Before long we may find ourselves in court over the administration’s refusal to manage wild horses,” Lee said. “The president’s recent proposal to tax us $1 per AUM is nothing new, and we’re confident that we can work with our friends in Congress to once again strike down this proposal.”

He said PLC’s top legislative victories in recent years have included: consistently securing the “appropriations rider” that keeps grazing going despite the government’s permit renewal backlog; helping to increase agency range budgets; getting relief for ranching families on the death tax; blocking wilderness designations; and defeating industry-threatening measures such as permit “buy-out” language and proposals to raise the grazing fee.

He said that PLC is focusing its efforts on Capitol Hill on bills that would: limit payments of Equal Access to Justice Act funds to radical enviro-litigators; expedite fuel reduction activities to prevent catastrophic wildfire; and— PLC’s top priority—stabilize the public lands ranching industry by reducing the regulatory burden. Passage of the Grazing Improvement Act, he said, would stabilize the industry by cutting back on the red tape surrounding grazing permit renewals and activities like livestock trailing and crossing. The legislation would limit who can appeal grazing decisions and also make radical enviro-litigators pay when they take ranchers to court (through lawsuits against the government) and lose, he said.

Lee said that ranchers interested in joining the fight for these important bills—and in talking to their members of Congress and to Washington-level agency staff—should come to Washington April 7-9 for the annual PLC Legislative Conference. It will be held in conjunction with the NCBA fly-in, April 8-10.

“There’s no substitute for ‘cowboy boots on the ground’ in DC,” he said. “I invite anyone who depends on public lands grazing rights to come help us fight. PLC is working for you— but no organization can survive and thrive without its grassroots. We count on your involvement.” — Theodora Dowling, WLJ Correspondent

Public Lands Council (PLC) strives to maintain a stable business environment for ranchers with public lands grazing rights. Founded in 1968 and based in Washington, DC, PLC works through Congress, the federal agencies, and the courts to represent the 22,000 ranchers who operate on public lands. These ranchers serve as the caretakers of the range, the economic drivers of the rural West, and providers of food and fiber for the nation and world. See more at www., and follow PLC on Facebook and Twitter.