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Grazing Bill Eats Away At Public Input

Thu., May 2, 1996

‘Shut up about your rangeland; we’re giving it to the livestock industry.”

That aptly sums up two basic elements of the grazing bill working its way through Congress.

Public rangeland may belong to all the people, but if Congress has its way, the public won’t have much say in how those 270-plus million acres of federal grazing land are managed. Ranching interests will decide all that for us.

Public involvement must be allowed when any use - such as recreation, mining, oil and gas development or logging - is proposed for other public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service.

But the grazing bill, the Public Rangelands Management Act (S1459), drastically would limit the public’s right to challenge federal management decisions.

The legislation is a step closer to a full House vote after it passed through the House Resources Committee last week. It already has been passed in the Senate.

Current law allows members of the public to be involved at every stage of public land-use planning.

But the proposed law would eliminate the general public from virtually all involvement at the local level, and it would turn that role over to livestock operators and their allies.

In the past, resource advisory councils have been created to provide advice on the management of all public lands administered by the BLM and the Forest Service. Those councils are to consist of a “balanced and broad representation” of the public.

But under this rangeland bill, those councils would be replaced by grazing advisory councils. You could be a member of a grazing council only if you have a grazing permit, own adjoining land or have an economic interest in the land. Grazing interests would make up half the membership on a grazing council.

An elected official would break any tie vote. This lone official is supposed to represent the public.

Furthermore, under this proposal, the public would not be allowed to protest BLM decisions. Only ranchers would be able to protest.

If a hunting outfitter, for instance, faces a business impact from a BLM decision allowing cattle into a winter forage area for elk, there isn’t much the outfitter could do but file a lawsuit.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 allows the public to participate in grazing management decisions. But the “land use plans” section of the proposed legislation contains a sweeping exemption to the 1969 law for livestock grazing activities and management actions, “including the issuance, renewal or transfer of grazing permits or leases.”

The public is excluded. The give-and-take of public comment is stifled.

The open dialogue necessary for more representative management decisions will be lost. There is little leverage for the public to force land managers to reconsider their decisions, no matter how negative the impact.

But the bill would go further. It would restrict multiple use of federal rangeland - the livestock industry would be the dominant user.

The proposed legislation would limit federal agencies’ decisions to provide water for purposes other than grazing. Under range improvement permits, ranchers would control access to any water source, pond or well. Rare fish on rangeland would not be protected. The bill even would allow ranchers to move water off federal lands for private use.

This legislation is a prescription for environmental disaster.

The bill doesn’t even allow the public to monitor use of grazing rangeland. BLM and Forest Service managers won’t be given resources to monitor the rangeland for overgrazing or for damage to riparian areas, wildlife habitat and water quality.

Although supporters of the bill say it will resolve public controversy over the use of public lands, the bill will do just the opposite. It invites lawsuit after lawsuit instead of dialogue and compromise.

The Public Rangelands Management Act is a public-be-damned giveaway to the livestock industry.

It’s time the public shows members of Congress that they’re riding a rodeo bull with this bill. Buck ‘em off.


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