Panelists provide advice on dealing with anti-agriculture organizations
“Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are not going away,” says Redge Johnson from the Office of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. “One statistic says $4.5 billion has been awarded over 25 years, so they’re not going away.”
Despite the challenges the ranching industry faces from constant onslaught of NGOs focused on the environment, a panel of industry and advocacy experts notes that the agriculture industry must stand their ground, voice their opinion, get organized and work together to accomplish its goals.
Standing our grand
Wyoming Attorney and Department of the Interior Deputy Solicitor Karen Budd-Falen encourages ranchers to push back and stand their ground.
“We need to push on agencies when they ask for comments,” she says. “Department of the Interior isn’t going to get bent out of shape when we push on them. In fact, they might appreciate it.”
Despite the fact that often comment periods are flooded by NGOs, the use of form letters by these groups means that many comments are carbon copies.
“Well-placed, well-thought-out comments get more traction than all the form postcards provided by NGOs,” Budd-Falen emphasizes.
J.J. Goicoechea, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Federal Lands Committee (NCBA) member and Nevada rancher, explains that when comments are made based around a county master plan or land use plan, they tend to be in a better position moving through the process, and Johnson agreed.
“Every time there is a forest planning document or National Environmental Policy Act document, we work with Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for consistency and coordination with our state plans,” Johnson says. “There is language under Federal Land Management Planning Act that says, if we have formally adopted plans, these agencies are supposed to work with us.”
He comments, “We have gotten great use out of these plans in the last few months. Nearly every environmental impact statement or environmental analysis that comes out is recognized and utilized. We have been able to get the language from our plans into those documents to help push local perspectives and local knowledge.”
He further notes that the more states and counites work together, the better, providing a network of coordination, consistency review and cooperation with agencies.
Opposition groups excel in their organizational efforts, Jaclyn Roberts of the Public Lands Council (PLC) says, noting these groups target and engage specific audiences. The same should be done in the agriculture industry, she adds.
Goicoechea also raised the question as to whether the agriculture industry unfairly dismisses potential cooperators, perhaps, including sportsmen or natural resources organizations.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities for us to work with other groups,” Roberts describes. “When we talk about policy and bi-partisan support, we are going to have to work across the aisle. We are working to show that we are willing to extend a hand.”
For example, the opportunity to work with moderate conservation groups, recreation or multiple use groups can provide potential partnerships, she adds, saying, “It’s important that we capitalize on these relationships when we can.”
NCBA’s Danielle Beck, however, says, “The optimist in me says, yes, we need to be the adults in the room and work with individuals whose viewpoints are different than us. However, I’ve been in Washington, D.C. too long to be too positive.”
“It’s good to be cautious and know thy enemy,” she emphasizes.
When conflicts arise, Johnson says organizations must work together, particularly when it comes to multiple uses on public lands.
“We have to recognize that groups like sportsmen and forestry are other users out there that are key,” Johnson comments. “We will have conflicts, but at the same time, multiple use people want public lands open. We’ve got to be able to bring these people together and work with them and not be in silos.”
He adds, “The environmental groups are very good at joining together and focusing on something until they achieve their goal. If we can’t bring the multiple use groups together and focus them on these issues and keeping these landscapes open, whether it’s Endangered Species Act or other issues, it makes it all the more difficult for us to be effective in our messaging, especially in D.C. where the number of phone calls matters.”
Regardless of whether the science behind the issue is present, Johnson says the loudest voice and people who make the most calls often have more influence.
The bottom line
Budd-Falen agrees but notes it is important to avoid compromising the bottom line.
“We need to know where our bottom line is,” she comments. “We have to be open to saying, here are the six things we can agree on, here is the one thing we can’t agree on, and it’s okay.”
Budd-Falen used the example of marriage, saying, “How many of us agree on absolutely everything with our spouse? It isn’t a bad thing, but we just don’t agree on everything. As an industry, we have to know what our bottom line is. If we find a group that we can agree on 80 percent of things on, agree to what we can agree on.”
While in Washington, D.C. there seems to be an all-or-none mentality, the agriculture industry must stay away from that mentality.
Public Lands Council Executive Director Ethan Lane says the key, however, is making sure that all groups at the table are honest brokers.
“Everyone on this panel has dealt with groups who simply aren’t what they appear to be,” Lane says. “Across the board, we have decoy groups who have done an exceptional job of creating an ‘astro-turf’ environment. How do we hold those groups accountable so they don’t control the playing field?”
Panelists addressed the 50th Annual Public Lands Council Meeting, held in Park City, Utah at the end of September.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.