Recreation and ranching: Panel discusses managing public lands after COVID-19￼
Visitation to Western states increased drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the demand for multiple use lands has brought with challenges for managing the land. More and more conflicts arise as public lands become increasingly populated.
A panel discussed “Public lands after COVID-19: Managing landscapes amidst new demands” at the Public Lands Council Annual Meeting in Cody on Aug. 26.
“At the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), we believe all Americans should have access to the outdoors, to nature and to wildlife,” said NWF Public Lands Attorney Bailey Brennan. “And one of the reasons that’s a focus of ours is because we believe the more people that are outside and experiencing these places, the better understanding they will have of what it takes to manage them and the better advocates they can be.”
Brennan noted a healthy landscape is important for both wildlife and grazing.
“Ranchers are the stewards of landscapes in a way that benefits livestock on public lands, but it also benefits wildlife,” she said. “So, there’s certainly opportunities there for partnership and how to think collaboratively on how to manage public lands. While we are excited to see folks on public lands engaging in activities, it definitely does not come without conflict, and that is something we will really have to wrestle with.”
When it comes to land management, Brennan said one of the biggest challenges is the pendulum swing from administration to administration causing regulatory uncertainty and the need for everyone to react to those changes back and forth.
“We spend a lot of energy reacting and engaging in the political world when this energy could be better spent doing things like working together on a local level and engaging in collaborative efforts, which is not easy,” she said.
Visit Cheyenne and Cheyenne Downtown President/CEO Domenic Bravo acknowledged the challenges he faces with the federal government in his industry.
“Flexibility is a challenge,” he said. “I’d love to turn most of the regulations on their head. In state parks, we tried to get rid of so many of them and just put in simplified processes so if that was in place, I think life for everybody would be easier. Even as a state park, trying to get permits was insane, opposed to if they were cosponsors. I wish this were possible at the federal level.”
Park County Commissioner and Local Outfitter Lee Livingston said the biggest challenge in the outfitting industry revolves around the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) changing their management ways.
“I’ve watched the USFS change from the back country ranger model where we had a ranger doing everything – clearing trails, spending summer or fall in back country camps, etc.,” he said. “If you needed help, they were there to help. They were part of the landscape.”
“I’ve seen this bureaucratic move within the USFS moving away from being on the land to being in the office,” added Livingston.
From a county perspective, the challenges revolve around energy, he said.
“Regulations upon regulations in Park County have been coming forward and have been a challenge and will continue being a challenge,” Livingston said.
Panel participants agreed there are educational gaps related to grazing multiple use lands and familiarizing the American public with the importance of multiple use. Livingston noted keeping youth interested and involved in outdoor trips has been an issue for outfitters.
“It’s a little easier to keep the youth involved in summer activities,” he said. “It’s quite a bit harder on the hunting side because of the economics of it, and the price of hunting has gotten quite high. I take youth hunters every year, but to keep them involved in the industry and involved in hunting, that’s where the big gap is and that’s a tough one to overcome.”
As a commissioner, he finds familiarizing outsiders with the ways of the West as an educational gap. Congressional tours are being organized in Wyoming to combat this gap.
“The first Congressional tour for the counties of Wyoming was recently put together,” he said. “We had four counties involved, and it went great. That’s how we are trying to approach some of the gaps on a county level.”
“Hopefully we are closing some of those gaps,” he added. “The Congressional tour will move around Wyoming to different counties to try to educate folks on what we do out here.”
Brennan said NWF has missed opportunities for working with counties, states and conservation districts.
“There is opportunity to move the macro thinking about management down to the micro level,” she said.
She also said there’s a gap between management and those who are actually on the land relying on it for a living, and NWF needs to work more with local communities.
“WNF does do this, but I think we could do more,” she said.
She said there are also opportunities in the ranching industry to take advantage of carbon sequestration management.
“From an economic perspective, I think there’s real opportunity there and I think that’s kind of the way we are headed,” she said.
The panel offered suggestions on increasing education and managing multiple use lands. Brennan mentioned many Americans don’t understand what multiple use means or where the term applies.
“The more focus we have on our public lands and people seeing them being used in multiple ways, often at the same time, that is beneficial to the public and to the users,” she said. “There are folks out there thinking multiple use is not the right way to go. This is a real challenge. I think multiple use is the right way to go on Bureau of Land Management and USFS lands. The struggle really is how to manage those uses, and there’s educating to do.”
Bravo mentioned there needs to be strategic communication when it comes to communicating with people who are not respecting public lands.
“We can’t stop them from coming out because that’s just not going to happen,” he said. “We can’t say we are going to regulate it because that technically just damages it for everybody. It has to be a really smart conservative measure on how we market and educate to the groups coming to see us and hopefully we can convert their ethic.”
“It’s not easy, but we are trying to do the best we can,” he added.
Livingston is noticing an increasing amount of “bad apples” using public lands.
“Ranchers are tired of it,” he said. “So, they are moving towards leasing to the outfitters, and the public is screaming about the outfitters leasing up all of this ground but as a rancher, I’m sure if someone screws up on your land, you’d rather pick up the phone and call one person than 100 people.”
More and more people are coming onto the land and disrespecting it, and everyone is paying the price for it, Livingston mentioned.
“It’s unfortunate, but how much education can you do?” he said. “How many times can you teach the same thing? It’s a tough one.”
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.