Working for ranchers: PLC continues fighting for western issues in D.C.
Washington, D.C. – As President Donald Trump approaches the half-way point in his first term in Washington, D.C., his influence on the U.S. capitol city is apparent, said Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council (PLC), during the organization’s annual legislative fly-in held in early April.
“We have a lot of new members and a lot of new faces in Congress,” Lane summarized. “A lot of those new faces are in pretty conflicted districts.”
House of Representatives
With the last election, control of the House of Representatives shifted to a Democratic majority. However, 31 Democratic members of Congress come from districts that voted for Donald Trump and previously had Republican representation in Congress.
“Those new Democratic members represent an opportunity,” he said, noting that cattlemen and women have a big opportunity to inform those members of Congress in purple districts about important issues facing the West. “We need to make sure new folks coming through the door aren’t only hearing negative things like the reference to cattle in the Green New Deal or comments from people who live in cities who don’t understand how food gets to their plate.”
While Republicans have maintained control of the Senate, there are also opportunities there.
Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia now serves as the ranking member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Manchin replaced Ray Cantwell, and he comes from a resource-based background.
“Sen. Manchin wants to learn more, and they want to know what we know,” Lane said. “After two hours in his office, we learned that he also loved what we had to say. Helping these members of Congress understand the benefits of grazing on public lands is imperative.”
Among issues that cattle producers are likely to face in the coming years is a push to raise grazing fees, which will likely originate from Democrats in the House of Representatives.
“We’ve seen this type of effort before, and we’ve killed it before, but we need to educate these folks now while we have the opportunity,” Lane explained.
“We are using resources on federal lands that are not edible otherwise to produce steak,” he continued. “Helping members of Congress understand that footprint of grazing and its importance is vital.”
Other benefits of grazing are abundant, and what resonates with each Congressman will depend on their background and perspectives.
Lane explained, for example, that folks in the West appreciate how grazing manages fuel loads to reduce wildfire, noting grazing is the most effective, cost efficient ways to manage catastrophic wildfire.
“Wildfire is one of the most expensive issues, and Democrats want to say it’s a climate change issue so there’s nothing we can do. They’re wrong,” he said. “We can use grazing to manage fuel loads and reduce wildfire.”
Numerous other ecosystem benefits, advantages for wildlife, water improvements and more would all be lost if the footprint of grazing was reduced.
Also, Lane said it is important to emphasize that the economic benefits associated with grazing in small rural communities across the West are also striking.
“Ranchers are buying groceries, going to hardware stores and more all year around,” he explained. “When tourists and recreationists go home, ranchers are still there to keep the lights on.”
An interesting dynamic in Congress is relatively widespread currently, said Lane, who noted that too often, public lands issues are portrayed as a zero-sum game.
“There is a lot of bullying in Congress right now,” he commented, noting divisions are made marking Congressmen as pro-public lands or against public lands. “We want to be cognizant of the fact that groups like Western Values Project, League of Conservation Voters and others are providing a steady diet of information saying grazing is a harmful use that needs to be pushed off.”
“Counteracting that message with a message about the value we provide is important,” Lane added.
At the same time, the recreation economy is also a threat. One study showed an $878 billion economic impact from recreation, but Lane said the study was wide-reaching, including every jacket, pair of boots and SUV purchased, as well as every plane ticket to a part of the world where people recreate on public lands.
He noted, “If we included every ketchup packet, French fry and bun sold in America, we could get a big number, too.”
“Members of Congress have been bludgeoned with these numbers, and they need our perspective, too,” Lane said.
Migration corridors are one area recreationists will continue to target, feeding off Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Secretarial Order 3362, which was signed in May 2018.
“Secretarial Order 3362 created new authority for the Department of the Interior (DOI) to designate migration corridors,” Lane explained.
While DOI insists they intend states will be the driver behind these designations, Lane said language in the order gives federal agencies too much influence in corridor designations.
He noted, “We’ve already seen letters rolled out to landowners asking them to partner on removing fence lines on private lands that are a ‘choke point’ for wildlife. Whether or not they want to partner, they have been marked as a ‘choke point’ for wildlife.”
While Lane said some movement must be made on the corridor issue, it must be done in a way that allows ranchers to continue to operate.
“We’ve advanced policy on this issue after several roundtables on this issue over the last year,” he said, noting that DOI brought PLC, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), Wild Sheep Foundation, Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and The Nature Conservancy together to explore the issue. “We all work with those groups in some capacity, but none of us are comfortable with them making decisions on our land.”
In the first part of 2019, moves were made in DOI to designate summer wildlife corridors in the form of a Secretarial Order. However, the move was halted by swift action from Wyoming’s congressional delegation and the weight of PLC and NCBA.
“This conversation isn’t over, and it’s important that we emphasize the importance of grazing, because this is going to keep moving forward,” Lane said. “These recreation and sports groups are going to keep pushing their message, and our best defense is to help people understand why we are a critical part of the equal. We don’t see any of the benefits on public lands if ranchers aren’t managing those resources day by day.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.