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Public Lands Council celebrates 50 years on Aug. 6

Written by Saige

In 1968, public lands ranchers across the West united under the common goal of protecting and supporting ranching on public lands. 

“We have 100-year-plus long history of the cattle industry’s organized efforts to look out for itself around the country, and then, the Public Lands Council (PLC) formed with the idea that federal grazing permit holders needed an extra layer of protection against threats,” comments Ethan Lane, PLC executive director. “It was essential something was created to focus on this area.” 

Ranchers across the country face many of the same issues – from trade challenges to fake meat and other political issues, but Lane says, “West of the 100th meridian, ranchers have an extra layer of pressures that threaten their businesses on a daily basis. That’s why PLC was formed.” 

On Aug. 6, PLC will celebrate 50 years since its formation. 

For the last half-century, PLC has operated as an extension of the state cattle and sheep organizations while working in concert with national organizations like the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) for the interest of public lands ranchers.

Organization’s history

PLC was formed in 1968 by two ranchers from New Mexico and Montana. 

“Lee and Etchard brought together a group of people from western states to create the organization,” explains Jim Magagna, executive director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) and public lands rancher. “The group of people included the presidents of WSGA and the Wyoming Wool Growers Association.”

He adds, “Wyoming was instrumental initiating and moving the organization forward.” 

Leading up to the creation of PLC, Magagna explains real threats to ranchers across the West came from the Secretary to the Interior related to grazing fees on public lands and the stability of permits. 

“The public lands ranching industry realized these challenges were more than the national livestock organization could deal with,” Magagna commented. 

Since its formation, PLC has worked to address threats in the ranching industry across the country, and Wyoming has remained an active leader in the organization, with three presidents coming from Wyoming. 

In the early 1980s, Ty Moore from Casper led the organization. Magagna led the organization in 1989, and Truman Julian was president in the mid-1990s. Today, Niels Hansen of Rawlins serves as Secretary/Treasurer. Hansen is anticipated to lead the organization in 2021. 

Success

Looking back over the last 50 years, Lane sees PLC’s success coming from the organization’s engagement in pushing back on regulatory and outside influences to the industry. 

“If we look at what has happened in the same 50-year time period that PLC has existed, we see the onset of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and a total reorganization of the permitting system just to start,” Lane explains. “The activity from the 1970s alone is enough to keep ranchers up at night, between regulatory and statutory changes.”

At the same time, the organization has worked to keep reasonable grazing fees that allow ranchers to stay at parity with private land lease rates. 

“There have been a number of threats and challenges to public lands ranching over the years that have been successfully rebuffed,” Lane adds. “We have seen a series of blows that would have sidelined other industries, but PLC’s work has enabled ranchers to continue to operate on public lands.”

PLC’s engagement has enabled the more than 22,000 producers across the West to continue running cattle and sheep on grazing permits. 

“We’re in a stronger position than we’ve ever been, and we’re playing a role that we’ve never done before, which is a credit to our leadership and their engagement,” he continues.

Moving forward

As PLC looks to its next 50 years, Lane sees a continued focus on the same top-level issues, from ESA modernization to NEPA impacts. 

“We also want to revisit those grazing rights changes we saw in the 90s to make the industry as durable as possible over the long-term and cement our role as a conservation partner,” he explains. “We cannot get conservation done in the West without the 400 million acres western ranchers own and manage.” 

Moving into the future, making sure consumers understand the role ranchers play on public lands in the West will also be important. 

Magagna says, “Our big focus is also engaging the next generation of public lands ranchers and staying strong for the next 50 years.” 

Celebration

To celebrate 50 years of the organization, Lane comments, “Our 50th anniversary meeting will be our biggest ever.”

Set for Park City Utah on Sept. 27-29, Secretaries Perdue and Zinke are expected to attend, along with past presidents and executive directors of the organization.

“This will be a real celebration of the past 50 years,” Lane says. “We have a lot of special events, trivia and history, as well as a re-telling of stories from the last 50 years. PLC has made a mark on many public lands ranchers across the West, and as we talk about where we’ve been, we’re also going to look ahead to where we’re going.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..