Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Parallel Universe, Part One: When Two Worlds Collide – Ranching and Litigation

Parallel Universe, Part One: When Two Worlds Collide – Ranching and Litigation

By Julie Kay Smithson, property rights researcher, London, Ohio

Today’s ranchers raise beef that is leaner, grown with an eye toward both responsible grazing techniques and health-conscious consumers. Unlike America’s east, where private property is in the majority of land ownership, the federal government owns vast areas in the American west. Ranchers own grazing permits on federal lands. Modern ranching has become complex. Ranching practices must be leaner and greener in order to be environmentally responsible and profitable.

The West and its federal, or “public,” lands, is no exception.

Under the Taylor Grazing Act, the first grazing district to be established was Wyoming Grazing District Number 1 on March 23, 1935. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes created a Division of Grazing within the Department to administer the grazing districts; this division later became the U.S. Grazing Service and was headquartered in Salt Lake City. [1]

The Continental Congress, through the "Land Ordinance of 1785," adopted a “Rectangular Survey System” on May 20, 1785, which defines the public lands by Township, Range and Section, modified by the Act of May 18, 1796, and other subsequent Acts into the recognizable cadastral survey system of today. Originally established by Congress in 1812 under the Treasury Department as the “General Land Office.” The GLO, among other things, was responsible for the surveys of the public lands. Successor to the GLO emerged when the consolidation of the GLO and the Grazing Service occurred on July 16, 1946, creating the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). [2]

In today’s world, being savvy about definitions and laws is vital to running a business. It is also of paramount importance to those whose custom and culture, work and lifestyles, carry the indelible stamp of resource providing: America’s farmers, commercial fishermen, miners, ranchers, and timber growers and harvesters. The saying, “If it can’t be grown, it must be mined,” is true. Food and fiber grown in America is necessary for the health of our nation. Responsible resource utilization encompasses not only the ability to extract or harvest resources, but also the keen, ever-learning manner in which those resources are brought from source to consumer.

Twenty-first century resource providers never leave the classroom – they are constantly in pursuit of new and better ways to both protect the natural environment and provide products that are skillfully grown/raised to be healthful. The old days of just “being” a rancher, farmer, logger, miner, or fisherman, are, as they say, “history.” Today’s history is being written by those dedicated to making a positive contribution to the earth and its people. Such dedication requires a willingness to learn that goes far beyond the confines of learning institutions, one that also respects the science that is ever evolving from those places.

Today’s holders of grazing permits in the West must keep in mind that new ways of grazing mean everything from riparian restoration to making sure livestock don’t tarry too long at any one watering or grazing location.

Grazing allotments carry specific restrictions, including the number of AUMs (Animal Unit Months) that may be on each grazing allotment. One AUM means the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow, five sheep, or five goats for a month. A full AUMs fee is charged for each month of grazing by adult animals if the grazing animal (1) is weaned, (2) is 6 months old or older when entering public land, or (3) will become 12 months old during the period of use. For fee purposes, an AUM is the amount of forage used by five weaned or adult sheep or goats or one cow, bull, steer, heifer, horse, or mule. The term AUM is commonly used in three ways: (1) stocking rate as in X acres per AUM, (b) forage allocation as in X AUMs in allotment A, and (3) utilization as in X AUMs consumed from Unit B. [3]

Livestock grazing requires that land be rested. Rest means the absence of grazing by livestock to benefit plants for regrowth between grazing periods, for critical periods of plant growth and development, or for critical periods of plant establishment. [4]

Today’s ranchers win awards for their stewardship that prove their actions. These men and women also place a high value on wildlife and wildfowl, for protecting habitat means everyone wins. Ranch hands know when to steer clear of areas known to be in use by nesting birds or denning wildlife. They steward these places and keep a close eye on things that they know to report to the ranch boss/headquarters.

"The good thing about it is that good cattle country is also good sage-grouse country,” stated John Dahlke, founder, Wyoming Wildlife Consultants, LLC, Pinedale, Wyoming.

The multiple use of federal land is synonymous with the ability to access that land. The land, and its plant and animal life, is made more delicate by the sparseness of precipitation. Annual rainfall that would fall in just one season, “back East,” is all there is for the entire year. In times of drought, there may be many months in a row when negligible or no rain falls. Maintaining and caring for land, water, livestock, and wildlife, becomes more of a science than a job at those times – but it also requires ranchers to keep an eye on the horizon, never taking one drop of moisture for granted and making sure that their animals don’t overstay their welcome in any one location.

Range management has become a well-attended college course, a science in its own right. Ranches and farms now earn many of the awards once handed only to self-proclaimed environmental organizations. The “great wrinkled ranges” of the West may still look the same from the air, as they have come to be called “flyover country” – but they have come to be tended by far more knowledgeable hands and minds.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management manages livestock grazing on about 160 million acres, having stewardship responsibilities for nearly two thirds of all public rangelands. [5]

The Bureau of Land Management does not make an annual national “count” of the livestock that graze on BLM-managed lands, because the actual number of livestock grazing on public lands on any single day varies throughout the year and livestock are often moved from one grazing allotment to another. So an aggregate head count would provide very little information on overall livestock use. Instead, the BLM compiles information on the number of AUMs used each year, which takes into account both the number of livestock and the amount of time they spend on public lands. … Over time there has been a gradual decrease in the amount of grazing use authorized by the BLM, and that trend continues today. Authorized (as distinguished from actual) grazing use on public lands has declined from about 22 million AUMs in 1941 to 12.5 million AUMs authorized in 2008. In most years, the actual use of forage is less than the potential amount available for use because forage amounts and demands depend on several factors, such as drought, wildfire, and market conditions, as noted earlier regarding annual public land grazing levels. In 2008, the number of AUMs actually used on BLM-managed land was 8.6 million. [6]

Enter the “Western Watersheds Project.” Against the responsible, award-winning grazing of livestock in harmony with nature on federal lands by ranchers, the WWP boasts: "WWP manages the 432-acre the Greenfire Preserve on the East Fork of the Salmon River in Central Idaho. The Preserve incorporates more than 1.25 miles of the East Fork, which provides critical habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout all listed under the Endangered Species Act. The preserve also provides winter habitat for 150 elk, over 2,000 whitetail and mule deer, wolves and the remnant White Cloud herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. The Preserve also provides year-round habitat for a wild horse band of sixteen horses. Since WWP began management of the property, more than 50,000 acres of public-lands grazing allotments associated with the Preserve have been closed to livestock grazing. Peregrine falcons, bobcats, spotted bats and wolf packs have replaced cattle. WWP's management program for Greenfire includes an extensive restoration project funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency." [7]

“Advocates for the West” filed a lawsuit, Case No. 08-cv-435, against the U.S. Department of the Interior and its agency, the Bureau of Land Management, on behalf of the WWP. 08-cv-435 seeks to stop all public lands grazing “…within the habitat of the Great Basin core population of greater sage-grouse in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and its implementing regulations, and the Clean Water Act.” This allegation, in the form of sixty-nine pages and numerous claims “for relief” by the WWP, “…covers a five state region of southern Idaho, northern Nevada, southern Oregon, eastern California, and western Utah.” The lawsuit accuses the DOI and BLM of refusing to acknowledge “ … that their grazing, vegetation treatment, energy development and other management actions are, in fact, contributing to the loss and fragmentation of greater sage-grouse populations and habitat across the Great Basin.”

WWP makes nebulous and non-factual allegations, like: “Livestock grazing is also pervasive across the Great Basin. Domestic livestock are exotic or alien species to this landscape, and have exacted a terrible toll on the ecological health of the Great Basin. Bred for the cooler and moister conditions of northern Europe, domestic livestock are poorly adapted for the hot dry summers and long cold winters of the Great Basin. Livestock thus tend to congregate around water sources and shady areas during hot periods, causing severe damage to streams, springs, seeps, and wet meadows – habitats that are critical for survival and reproduction of many native wildlife species, including sage-grouse.”

The following map shows the scope and intent of current litigation by groups such as the WWP:

The map [8] suggests that sage-grouse habitat is very limited, with connectivity through narrow bands (green). The map is questionable, since sage-grouse range is actually far more widespread. There is a difference between “habitat” and “range.” Range refers to: 1. The geographic range is the entire area where a species is known to occur or to have occurred (historical range). The range of a species may be continuous, or it may have unoccupied gaps between populations (discontinuous distribution). 2. Some populations, or the entire species, may have different seasonal ranges. These may be overlapping, or they may be widely separated with intervening areas that are, at most, briefly occupied during passage on relatively narrow migration routes. 3. Home range refers to the local area that an individual or group uses for a long period of life. [9] Habitat means the particular type of place where an organism lives within a more extensive area or range. … characterized by its biological components and/or physical features. [10]

Livestock grazing can result in impacts on public land resources, but well-managed grazing provides numerous environmental benefits as well. For example, while livestock grazing can lead to increases in some invasive species, well-managed grazing can be used to manage vegetation. Intensively managed "targeted" grazing can control some invasive plant species or reduce the fuels that contribute to severe wildfires. Besides providing such traditional products as meat and fiber, well-managed rangelands and other private ranch lands support healthy watersheds, carbon sequestration, recreational opportunities, and wildlife habitat. Livestock grazing on public lands helps maintain the private ranches that, in turn, preserve the open spaces that have helped write the West's history and will continue to shape this region's character in the years to come. [11]



[3] BLM Rangeland Program Glossary

[4] The National Range and Pasture Handbook Glossary

[5] Hope on the Range, Final Script, January 16, 2009: (4 pages; 132.81 KB)




[9] December 15, 2004 (page 12 of 654 pages; 5.22 MB)

[10] Ibid. Page 10



Part Two will explore the reasons litigation has become pervasive.


Article citation: "First published in the August/September 2009 issue of Progressive Rancher Magazine."

Also posted at these Internet locations:

Western Institute for Study of the Environment:

Klamath Bucket Brigade:

Klamath Basin Crisis:;article=40112;title=Our%20Klamath%20Basin%20Water%20Crisis

No comments:

Post a Comment