Guardians of the Range – What Range Would that Be?
By Kathleen Jackowski, Guardians of the Range Executive Director
The real western range extends beyond bumper stickers and cattle guards, it is where the Guardians of the Range (GOR) does at least half of its work and where there is more work that will continually need to be done.
The purpose articles such as this is to help folks better understand the importance of both the obvious and not-so-obvious federal land factors and stakeholders affecting ranching operations.
The GOR is now in its 11th year as a non-profit organization, focused on sound science and community partnership in public land management. The impetus to form the organization stemmed from perceived poor communication between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the permit holders grazing livestock on the Cody and Worland BLM resource areas and the Bighorn and Shoshone National Forests.
Many, not all, of those perceived problems have been resolved, and the working relationships are now much stronger. Livestock grazing on federal lands, however, is not just about cattle, sheep, horses, forbs and grasses. Actually, those are the easier parts of this fluid natural resource picture. Where human beings come into play is where operating on the public landscape can get rough and tough, and all too often problems seem impervious to solutions.
The Guardian’s strategic plan attempts, with the resources available, to address all parts of the dynamics of operating on federal lands. The organization’s strategic plan is divided among national, state and local platforms. We implement our strategic plan by dividing our body of work into two parts – on-the-ground projects and problem solving; and public policies affecting our interests.
Our philosophy and approach is that member interests and efforts must be relevant and must resonate within each of these public arenas if we are to continue to improve both rangeland health and working relationships.
In an example of local level involvement, during the past two years, we took on an especially cumbersome water pipeline project for one of our members, with successful results. Water started flowing two weeks ago. The details of the project required that it be permitted under a utility type of Right of Way rather than a straightforward “range” project – enter confusion and a whole host of unfamiliar rules and regulations, loops and hoops that needed to be navigated. Initially the Guardian member was understandably overwhelmed and hesitant to move forward. However, utilizing his membership, he picked up the telephone and asked for help. That meant we were both initially overwhelmed.
However, with the Guardian’s strong relationship with the agency and a first-class permittee, we managed to navigate the unknowns turn the agency’s initial hesitancy into confidence that with the Guardians help the permittee would see the project through to completion. It worked, and we all learned things that can now be applied to the next challenge.
On the national and state levels we have and will continue to be proactive on both the cheatgrass and sage grouse issues. We are very disappointed but not deterred about the poor progress and anemic position of our state on substantively addressing the cheatgrass challenge. The recent decision on the sage grouse has made the past 11 years of Guardian participation and leadership on the Big Horn Basin Sage Grouse Local Working Group gratifying. The cumulative effects of quality involvement in such agonizing processes have been worth it. These types of involvement require that the organization field a caliber of staff that knows how to neutralize political correctness and integrate substance into discussions and group dynamics. Nationally, we support and network with the Public Lands Council, which is the voice of public land ranchers on Capitol Hill.
Locally, statewide and nationally we have proactively involved ourselves in the challenges and opportunities that mechanized recreation brings to the grazing of livestock on public lands. We are determined to facilitate a local, state and national discussion around this changing multiple use that will respectfully bring Americans together.
The future of the Guardians is always evolving as we try and anticipate and incorporate aspects of the changing real western range.
For more about Guardians of the Range, visit guardiansoftherange.org.