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Environmentalists Threaten Ranching

Sun Valley environmentalist Jon Marvel has served a useful purpose by scaring the bejabbers out of Idaho ranchers.

His rangeland activism has forced Idaho legislators to consider raising management standards at the same time they’re preparing to freeze Marvel out of the process.

Management plans now cover only 18 percent of the 1.8 million acres of state-owned grazing land. The rest needs protection from overuse and stream degradation, too.

On the other hand, the state’s ranchers need protection from Marvel and his Idaho Watersheds Project, which tries to outbid cattle growers for range leases with the goal of letting land sit unused for a decade or so.

The Idaho Senate acted correctly this week by passing legislation that will revamp the grazing lease law to favor ranchers over environmentalists and stiffen management regulations. If the House, as expected, also approves the bill, Gov. Phil Batt should sign it.

A similar bill passed the 1994 Legislature but was vetoed by then Gov. Cecil Andrus, who claimed the livestock industry was trying to stage what he called “the great terrain robbery.”

Actually, what the Legislature and the livestock industry were trying to do was bring state law into line with federal law. U.S. law prohibits non-ranchers from bidding on federal lands.

That’s good law.

Environmentalists have the money to make life miserable for a valuable industry. They also have the sympathetic ear of the Clinton administration and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who proposed and then, faced with a firestorm of Western protest, abandoned plans last year to double federal grazing fees.

Environmentalists argue that state and federal governments subsidize the industry through low lease fees. Marvel contends that Idaho’s proposed law violates the state’s constitutional mandate “to secure the maximum long-term financial return” for Idaho’s public schools.

But such thinking fails to take into account the overall financial importance of a healthy cattle industry. Cattle ranches provide jobs, sales and income tax revenue, beef for the American diet, economic stimulus for the surrounding communities, and maintains part of our Western heritage.

If Marvel and friends had their way, cattle would be raised in feedlots or assigned to theme parks.

They shouldn’t be allowed to have their way.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board