OP-ED: Public Lands Grazing, an essential partnership in public lands management and support of local economies
By U.S. Congressman Rob Bishop
Published by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA)
Our nation's public lands are an important part of our American heritage and play an essential role in the livelihoods of many industries, including ranching. This is especially true in the West where over 90% of our nation's public lands are located. The relationship between ranching and public land management is often symbiotic and as stewards of our public lands, ranchers are a cog in the wheel that helps manage the long-term health of our resources.
Those who are opposed to grazing on public lands often overlook the important role it plays in the management of our land as well as its support of our local and rural economies. As chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees public lands, I am often amazed when critics appear before the committee to tout fuzzy statistics claiming that cattle are destroying our public lands. Their evidence almost always contradicts the points they are trying to make, further illuminating the cost effectiveness and other benefits of having ranchers and cattle helping to maintain our public lands.
One point I often find myself making, particularly to radical special interest groups opposed to public lands grazing, is that ranchers serve as surrogates who help with fire suppression and mitigation, protection of endangered species, watershed restoration, and many other important components that keep our lands viable for years to come. Through this continued partnership we likely save the federal government quite a substantial amount of money each year.
At the local level, public lands ranching plays an important role not only in the management of our resources, but also as a significant contributor to the stability of local and state economies. For many western states, where one out of every two acres is owned by the federal government, private land ownership is scarce at all levels, from small single family ranches to large cattle operations. As a result, our public lands must be accessible in order for them to provide economic support for local economies. Inability to utilize these lands renders them useless and only further depresses economies that already suffer from the overwhelming presence of federal lands and subsequent lack of tax revenue, which is why I, along with other members of Congress from the West continue to fight for multiple use of our public lands. For many rural communities, ranchers are among the biggest employers and their industry serves as an important economic multiplier for the local economy-in fact, they are often the primary economic driver.
Recently, Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar issued a Secretarial Order creating a new type of land designation known as "Wild Lands." For those unfamiliar with this, Wild Lands was the DOI's guise for creating new de-facto wilderness without having to go through the congressional process necessary to create new wilderness areas. This was their attempt to circumvent the open and public process in order to lock up millions of acres of land from multiple use, which would have a devastating impact on local economies that rely on revenues generated from use of public lands. It's no surprise that the controversial Wild Lands proposal was met with a groundswell of opposition- after all, livelihoods were at stake. I along with other western Members of Congress joined with communities throughout the West to voice our united opposition against the initiative and illustrate the devastating impact it would have on industries including ranching. Once communities, local officials and stakeholders were finally given an opportunity to voice their concerns, including during congressional hearings, and after House Republicans successfully withdrew funding for the Wild Lands initiative from the annual budget, Secretary Salazar was forced to announce that his ill fated initiative would not be moving forward as planned. This was a victory for public land users. However, while we were successful in ending Wild Lands, I remain cautiously optimistic and continue to closely monitor the DOI's efforts to identify areas as candidates for new land designations as well as their efforts regarding the Endangered Specials Act.
Many would have us believe that obtaining and maintaining a grazing permit is akin to punching a button at parking garage and taking the ticket, especially those opposed to grazing in general. You know better! A rancher with a federal lands grazing permit is essentially a ward of the federal government, beholden to a host of regulations, mandates, and requirements that must be upheld in exchange for use of the land.
Many Washington bureaucrats and radical special interest groups ignore the fact that without ranching, many communities would not receive much needed support for schools, roads, and other infrastructure. Ranching on public lands is not only an important part of the West's proud heritage but is a vital component of our western economies. Ranching and stewardship of our public lands are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many fail to recognize that ranchers are uniquely invested in ensuring that the lands on which their cattle graze, and in many cases have grazed for multiple generations, remain viable for years to come. As chairman of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, I am committed to ensuring that we protect both the livelihoods of our public land users as well as the health of our public lands themselves so that they can remain open and accessible for future generations.