Public Lands Council sees wins and more work ahead for 2018
In its 50th anniversary year, the Public Lands Council (PLC) is looking towards the next 50 years, updating its infrastructure, modernizing operations and improving communications.
“We’re focusing on policy in Washington, D.C,” PLC Executive Director Ethan Lane comments, noting the tenor of their policy efforts has changed from last year. “After spending the first year of this administration focused on relief from regulatory burdens, it’s fitting that this year, we’re looking at policies that will set us up for the next 50 years.”
Citing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) as examples, Lane says the focus of the organization lies on impacting policies that affect public lands ranchers over the long-term.
“We have an avalanche of things we’re still looking for from this administration, however,” he adds.
“We have a number of issues, both regulatory and on The Hill, and there is work to be done on both sides,” says Lane. “We can do a lot with an administration that is amenable to our view.”
However, he cautions that if Congress isn’t involved or doesn’t approve of action, there is a greater risk of creating policies that the next administration can unravel.
“I refer to it as cotton candy. It tastes good in the moment, but it doesn’t last,” he says. “We want policies that will stick and be as difficult to dislodge as, say, the sage grouse plans.”
“We’re spending a lot of time trying to do things the right way, and Congress needs to play a role,” Lane says. “Some things need to be statutory, instead of regulatory.”
He adds that additional confirmation of their progress can be seen as a result of the vocal backlash from environmental groups and activists.
“We know we’re doing something right,” he comments, noting that the work is far from over.
With positive action seen in Washington, PLC Treasurer Niels Hansen adds that western public lands ranchers are also positive.
“The people out in the country are positive, anxious and looking forward to what’s coming next,” Hansen says. “They do have a little bit of frustration on the issues that we all talk about. I haven’t heard discouragement, though, from ranchers.”
Among top-list reform for PLC is ESA reform, which centers around returning to the original intent of the law.
“People say that a lot, and they throw it around a lot,” Lane says, “but there is some teeth behind that. There’s a recovery planning process that is supposed to take place when a species is listed. The reason for that is, the intent of the Endangered Species Act is to recover a species and delist it – not to retain a species in perpetuity.”
Lane hopes for language from the Senate that mirrors the Western Governors’ Association process to put recovery planning at the front and give more control to western states for that process.
In addition, he hopes for timelines on the back end to avoid litigation on delisted species as soon as they are delisted.
Data transparency in the evaluation process and openness on decision-making is also important.
“We need to get back to a process that is dependent on science, not on litigation,” Lane says.
For wild horses, Lane says the administration is committed to taking action but has been surprised by the nature of the issue.
“We have an administration that is committed to doing something, but I think they’re finding this is an incredibly politically charged issue,” he says. “Compared to the last administration, this administration recognizes the political hurdles in place but realizes our current model isn’t sustainable.”
While the options proposed don’t go far enough to meet PLC standards, a willingness to reduce populations, utilize permanent sterilization and do large-scale gathers is a start and Lane comments, “We’re interested to see how that plays out.”
“But as an industry, we are obligated to advocate for the full suite of options,” he adds.
A look forward
With momentum in the right direction, Hansen indicates optimism for the future.
“I’m most excited about where we’re moving on endangered species,” he says. “Endangered species have been such a burden to us on the land. Regulatory reform is so positive, too. Getting some sanity back in our grazing regulations and NEPA are also encouraging.”
Hansen says it can be difficult to maintain optimism with the reporting that comes from the national media.
“We see biased reports and negativity in the national media,” he says. “It can be really frustrating and depressing at times.”
The organization continues to move forward, however, full speed ahead to advocate for western public lands ranchers.
Looking at the next 50 years, Lane says, “As staff, I would like to be sitting here next year talking about re-written grazing regulations, a passed Endangered Species Act modernization bill and 20,000 fewer feral horses on the range today.”
PLC will hold its 50th anniversary meeting in Park City, Utah on Sept. 27-30.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.