Keith Grant: making a difference with federal agencies
Lovell – “We are experiencing a concerted war on the West by Washington, D.C. Many counties in Wyoming are facing new Resource Management Plan (RMP) revisions. The federal agencies will lead us down the primrose path of half truths, expecting us to believe everything they say. Trust, but verify,” encourages Bighorn County Commissioner Keith Grant of Lovell.
“It’s necessary for us to read the federal agency’s planning handbook, planning regulations, guiding legislation and NEPA. Know their laws and regulations better than they do – it’s not that hard, because they don’t actually read their own laws and regulations. We must study the tactics used by the environmental community, and learn how to force the agencies to respect our opinions,” he continues.
Grant, and others like him, are fighting back against the war on the West. Grant is beginning his fourth term as a Big Horn County Commissioner – a county that is 82 percent public lands. He is currently involved in the RMP revision with the BLM in the Bighorn Basin. Previously, he was involved in the RMP revision of the Bighorn National Forest Plan, and the Bureau of Reclamation and National Park Service planning on the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
“Be prepared to counter the half-truths agencies repeatedly use,” cautions Grant. “Read and know the Multiple-Use and Sustained-Yield Act. When they tell you it reads, ‘some land will be used for less than all of the resources,’ you can respond it reads, ‘without impairment of the productivity of the land.’”
Grant believes it’s vital for ranchers to be involved in the public land processes.
“Public comments are the scoping process that drives the decision process. The environmental community is very, very involved, and they comment all the time. Our ranchers are at home working, trying to make a living, but by not being involved they are making it easier for the environmental groups to be successful in forwarding their agenda,” Grant explains. “The ranching community has to make their voice heard in writing and get those comments in the public record. Too many times, ranchers tell their range cons and think that’s enough. Unless input is in writing, it has almost no value.”
“Ranchers contact your county, state and federal elected officials. Comment on everything in writing to make sure your voice is heard,” he continues.
County commissioners have more influence with the federal agencies than folks realize, says Grant.
“Encourage (your county commissioners) to be involved in your allotment plans. Make sure your commissioners know all the facts; do not send them in with half the facts. He or she can help; just their presence can make the negotiations better,” he says.
By law, federal agencies are required to consult and coordinate their plans with local land use plans, and be as consistent with those plans as possible.
“It is our duty, as elected local government,” explains Grant, “to ensure the agencies are informed of our plans, and that they fully consider them. Our involvement with those agencies must be recorded. We must have a documented record for our administrative file, so when, or if, the time comes, we are prepared for litigation.”
“Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) afford the opportunity for local government to influence decisions made by federal agencies. We have the right to be involved in the development of the EAs and EISs, even if the agencies don’t want us to be. Insist on it. Document it,” he says.
Grant continues, “Any county commissioner body with public lands in their county that is not educating themselves on, and becoming involved in, public lands issues is not doing their job. As elected county commissioners, we have the power, now we must develop the knowledge.”
Grant says finding and utilizing a good consultant can prove invaluable in working with federal agencies.
“When we are unable to educate ourselves enough to fight these issues, we need to remember that there are folks out there who are educated in these issues who can help. A few folks I have come to know and appreciate are Gregory Kennett with ERG, and Wyoming attorneys Harriet Hageman and Karen Budd Fallen,” he says.
“It does no good to say, ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘I’ve done it this way forever.’ Know the facts and have the data. Comment, and make sure your comments are substantive. Don’t give up!” he states.
Echo Renner is a field editor for the Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted with permission from Guardians of the Range.