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Recreational use of public lands proves to be a hot topic in DC

Written by Saige

Washington, D.C. – At its 50th Anniversary meeting in September, the Public Lands Council provided comments to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on unmanaged, dispersed recreation and the challenges that result on livestock allotments.

“The increase in recreation seems like it’s everywhere, in so many different areas,” USFS Assistant Director for Planning Dave Neeley said, noting outdoor recreation ranges from hunters and shooters to snowmobilers, ATV users and hikers. 

Neeley added, “The way recreation grows and changes outpaces us pretty regularly. We try to get out in front of things, but it all changes quickly.”

Understanding 

PLC Executive Director Ethan Lane commented recreation communities assert, however, that they are the priority use – both on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.

“I think that is because we have groups that are maturing in their understanding of the environment they’re operating in, relative to the group of ranchers that knows very well what the complex dynamic looks like,” Lane added. “It’s important that agencies support the understanding and importance of multiple use.”

Big challenges

Colorado Rancher Tim Canterbury noted recreation activities often interfere with livestock grazing on public lands in many ways, and he described several challenges he has faced.

One particular challenge relates to livestock water, and Canterbury said, “Cattle have to be able to get a drink and get out. It would be helpful to have no camping within a certain perimeter around stock tanks or in certain pastures when livestock are using them.”

“I really can live with unbridled recreation, but we also have to have tools to try to help ranchers,” Canterbury said. “When campers pull up to our permits – which are in high-access areas – they are using our stock tanks for everything but cattle water.” 

Working together

While many ranchers are on a first-name basis with their range conservationist, USFS Assistant Director for Recreation Jamie Schwartz explained they should have the same familiarity with the recreation staff to create more open communication lines. 

Neeley added, “We’re a big organization. Sometimes we have challenges with people working together, so things don’t always work perfectly.”

Further, Neeley encouraged ranchers to stop in local ranger offices to talk about challenges in running on allotments. 

“That interaction, if we have the recreation folks dealing with the latest problem, it can be tough to get together to talk about what matters,” he said. “It’s important that we get people out of a silo to recognize that activities take place across the landscape.” 

Neeley commented, “We’re getting input from all kinds of people on how to solve these problems.”

Solutions

Schwartz explained use of educational campaigns paired with effective, existing programs, such as the “Tread Lightly” campaign, to create messaging targeted at recreation users is effective in increasing awareness.

“Using tactful thought, we can get information out there that isn’t rules and regulations. Rather, it is ethics,” Schwartz explains. 

Neeley commented, “We must help people understand how their behavior is impacting the livelihood of ranchers.” 

“I don’t know what the solution is, at this point,” Neeley continued. “It just keeps coming.” 

While perfect answers don’t exist, he noted, “The solution is partnering with everyone who has a stake at the table to get better messages out. Then, we can supplement those messages with the regulations if education doesn’t work.” 

Neeley suggested camping or use prohibitions can be exercised in extreme situations, but he also noted it is much less effective to have a rule and enforcement than an understanding of ethics.

Schwartz commented, “If we can pull everyone together and they can experience what our issues and concerns are, we have a better way of changing people’s thought train than through regulation.” 

“Education and understanding is a better methodology,” Schwartz said. “To do that, we need the involvement of ranchers.”

Taking action

Canterbury explained Colorado PLC hosts a state-wide meeting annually to discuss conflicts between recreation and livestock grazing. 

“Every year, I hear the same things that I’ve heard today,” he emphasizes. “We have to quit talking and start implementing some actions or there won’t be any ranchers left. We cannot economically survive without public lands grazing.”

“Let’s forget about the box and think about innovative solutions,” Canterbury commented. 

He further noted innovative solutions often make people uncomfortable, but, “We cannot continue to allow recreation to happen without boundaries or anyone helping the ranchers.” 

Frustration levels started low when conversations about recreation and grazing conflicts began, but Canterbury noted many years of no action is beginning to escalate frustration levels. 

Lane further noted every use of public lands is capped at some level. Grazing permits have specific animal unit month allowances, oil and gas operators are only allowed to do certain activities.

“How we start to have that conversation with USFS as far as how it looks like for recreation is another question,” Lane said. “How do we balance the equation?” 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..