Wyoming Rancher testifies before U.S. Senate Committee, calls for less regulation

Today Niels Hansen, Secretary/Treasurer of the Public Lands Council and a member of NCBA, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to explain how onerous federal regulations undermine conservation goals.

“Cattle producers pride themselves on being good stewards of our country’s natural resources. We maintain open spaces, healthy rangelands, provide wildlife habitat and feed the world. Despite these critical contributions, our ability to effectively steward these resources is all too often hampered by excessive federal regulations like the ones we are discussing today,” Mr. Hansen said in written testimony.

Ranchers own and manage more land than any other segment of agriculture, implementing proven conservation practices that have sustained the environment for generations. Mr. Hansen highlighted how specific laws and regulations pose challenges to this rich heritage:

  • The 2015 Waters of the United States Rule: “As a livestock producer, the 2015 WOTUS Rule has the potential to negatively affect every aspect of my operation by placing the regulation of every tributary, stream, pond, and dry streambed in the hands of the federal government, rather the states and localities that understand Wyoming’s unique water issues.”
  • CERCLA/EPCRA reporting: “Congress never intended these laws to govern everyday farm and ranch activity. When the mandate issues, nearly 200,000 farmers and ranchers will be on the hook to report low-level livestock manure odors to the government.”
  • Endangered Species Act: “Cattle producers throughout the country continue to suffer the brunt of regulatory and economic uncertainty due to the abuse of the Endangered Species Act…Years of abusive litigation by radical environmental groups have taken a toll, and the result is a system badly in need of modernization.”

Mr. Hansen – a third-generation rancher and industry leader in environmental stewardship – asked Congress to empower ranchers and local land managers by reducing the regulatory burdens they face.

“By freeing our industry from overly burdensome federal regulations and allowing us to provide the kind of stewardship and ecosystem services only we can, you will do more for healthy ecosystems and environments than top down restrictions from Washington ever can,” he said.

PLC Opens Application for the Nick Theos Scholarship Program

The Public Lands Council (PLC) today opened applications for the Nick Theos Scholarship Program, offering qualified college students a unique opportunity to attend the PLC 2018 Spring Legislative Conference April 10 – 12 in Washington, D.C.

Selected scholarship recipients will join conference attendees as they meet with members of Congress, federal government agency officials, and leading policy influencers to communicate policy priorities of the public land ranching industry.

Two Nick Theos scholarships are available for 2018. The scholarships include a $250 stipend, hotel accommodations, and complimentary conference registration. While PLC is unable to pay for travel in full, additional sponsorships to help cover travel costs are encouraged.

Nick Theos, a founding member of PLC and lifetime supporter of the livestock industry, passed away on April 11th, 2013, at the age of 92. The scholarship was created by the Theos family to encourage the next generation to engage in the policy issues facing public lands ranching.

Application Details:

Interested students should complete an online application by February 9, 2018. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in public lands ranching.

Questions may be directed to Allie Nelson, 406-231-3328, anelson@beef.org.

Outcome Based Grazing Allows Flexible Livestock Management on Public Land

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has launched a demonstration program allowing stakeholders in the grazing community an opportunity to achieve rangeland health goals on public land while allowing greater flexibility in livestock management decisions. The program focuses on responsive outcome based grazing on public lands.

Six to twelve “Outcome-Based Grazing Authorizations” will be identified by the BLM in the first twelve months, and the selected permittees will participate in the demonstration program. Participants will actively implement a responsive grazing management plan to achieve habitat and vegetation goals on public land. The program will examine the effectiveness of a more flexible approach to livestock grazing on public land.

“Previously, ranchers have been held to a process and prescription method that tells them how to manage their land,” said Dave Eliason, Utah rancher and president of the Public Lands Council (PLC). “It’s irrational to think government officials can make a more informed decision than those who live and work on the land. When responsive management decisions fall into the hands of those who best understand it, the land, animals, and ecosystem thrive.”

Craig Uden said the cattle industry is pleased by the Trump Administration’s push to support grazing on public land and stressed the value of shared stewardship and trust that is established through this program.

“The livestock industry is thankful for the leadership of Secretary Zinke in establishing a demonstration program that allows flexibility in the ability to manage conditions on the ground,” said Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). “This decision ensures our public lands are managed in an efficient and sustainable way.”

The announcement of this program coincides with the execution of a new Cooperative Monitoring Memorandum of Understanding between the Public Lands Council and the BLM during PLC’s annual meeting in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Permittees, Lessees, rangeland ecologists, and other stakeholders are eligible for the program. Interested participants should contact their local BLM office. Project proposals will be accepted through Oct. 13. For more information, visit www.blm.gov.

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The Public Lands Council (PLC) actively represents cattle and sheep producers who hold public lands grazing permits. The PLC achieves this through leadership, engagement, and collaboration with western ranchers who preserve our nation’s natural resources while providing vital food and fiber to the nation and the world. For more information please visit the PLC website at www.publiclandscouncil.org.

Public Lands Stewards Recognized by BLM at PLC Meeting

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced three 2017 Rangeland Stewardship Award recipients at the Public Lands Council (PLC) Annual Meeting in Flagstaff, Ariz. Recipients included Utah rancher, Bill Kennedy, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, and The Stewardship Alliance of Northeastern Elko County.

“Public lands ranchers plan their operation around sustaining a healthy, diverse and productive rangeland,” said Dave Eliason, Utah rancher and president of the Public Lands Council. “They invest time, money and resources into the process and it’s exciting to see some of these phenomenal ranchers recognized for their efforts.”

Kennedy, the recipient of The Rangeland Stewardship Permittee Award, runs an operation on a combination of federal, private, and state land located southeast of Bear Lake, Utah. Kennedy was recognized for his leadership in livestock management and advocating for proper grazing on public lands.

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association received The Rangeland Stewardship Collaborate Team Award. The 150-year-old organization has promoted multiple use and sustainable land management through producer-facing programs. The organization also was commended for establishing a productive setting for mediation services and supporting Sagebrush Steppe management objectives.

The Stewardship Alliance of Northeastern Elko County received The Sagebrush Steppe Collaborative Team Award for their work to conserve sagebrush ecosystems while supporting multiple use management. The group of landowners, public land users, and resource agency specialist developed an ecosystem conservation plan designed to protect Greater Sage-grouse and Sagebrush Steppe habitats.
Ethan Lane, Executive Director of the Public Lands Council emphasized the importance of the stewardship awards.

“It has been a privilege for the Public Lands Council to host this award ceremony for the last several years,” said Lane. “Public land ranchers continually exemplify the best conservation and stewardship practices, and are highly deserving of the recognition.”

President Signs Resolution to Repeal BLM Planning 2.0

President Trump today signed a congressional resolution directing the Bureau of Land Management to repeal their Planning 2.0 Rule. Wyoming rancher and NCBA and PLC member Joel Bousman was in attendance at the White House for the signing. Ethan Lane, executive director of PLC and NCBA federal lands, applauded the action and called it a significant victory for western ranchers.

“BLM’s Planning 2.0 Rule would have caused a wholesale shift in management focus at BLM by prioritizing ‘social and environmental change’ over ensuring the multiple use of public lands,” said Lane. “When you couple the wholesale shift away from multiple-use with the elimination of stakeholder and local input, the rule was unworkable for western communities. We applaud the action by President Trump and look forward to working with the new Administration to bring together a streamlined planning process that works for livestock ranchers and the western communities that depend on the use of BLM lands.”

Public Lands Council Welcomes New Executive Director

PLC LogoWASHINGTON (November 2, 2015) – The Public Lands Council welcomes Ethan Lane to the association in his new role as executive director. Lane is originally from Arizona and joins PLC with over 18 years’ experience in natural resource and land use issues. In his new role, he will also serve as executive director of federal lands for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Brenda Richards, PLC president and Idaho rancher, said, “We are pleased to welcome Ethan to the association. PLC is stronger than it ever has been before, and we are excited for the future of the industry. Under the Ethan’s leadership, we are confident that the organization will continue to grow, and we will continue to see wins in Washington D.C. that help public lands in the West.”

PLC is the only national organization dedicated solely to representing the ranchers who hold federal grazing permits and operate on federal lands. Public lands ranchers play an integral role in regional and national efforts to safeguard America’s open spaces, local industries, and rural heritage. Today, more than 22,000 public land ranchers maintain 250 million acres of U.S. public land.

Before coming to PLC and NCBA, Lane served as an advisor for a variety of private companies and industries operating on public lands throughout the West. He also spent ten years prior to moving to Washington D.C. helping to grow and manage a large real estate and ranch portfolio including more than 500,000 acres in Arizona alone – much of that made up of State, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Bureau of Land Management grazing permits.

“With his experience and knowledge of the issues, Ethan brings unique perspective on the challenges landowners and lessees face in operating successful businesses on public lands,” said Richards. “He has a great understanding of the complexity and multitude of issues public lands ranchers face in the West and will be able to hit the ground running.”

Lane starts with PLC and NCBA on November 2, 2015.

National Public Lands Council Meeting – Podcast with Vicki Olson

PodcastLast week, Montana Public Lands Council Directors attended the National Public Lands Council annual meeting, held in Cody, Wyoming. MPLC Chair, Vicki Olson of Malta, visited with us to review important topics that were discussed affecting Montana ranchers. These topics included Sage Grouse, PLC dues increase, emerging Animal Welfare law education, Bighorn and domestic sheep conflicts, and a change of leadership for national PLC.

Click here to listen to the podcast in a new window.

Western Ranchers Discuss Policy Priorities during Annual Meeting in Cody

PLC LogoWASHINGTON – The Public Lands Council hosted its annual meeting in Cody, Wyo., last week to discuss issues critical to the western ranching industry. Session topics included the need for modernization of the Endangered Species Act, sage grouse, invasive species, wildfire management, water rights issues, and management of wild horses among others. These hot button items drew a wide attendance and speakers from national affiliate organizations, the Western Governors’ Association, Western Resources Legal Center as well as Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The western ranching industry is unique in the fact that it faces an added layer of federal bureaucracy in dealing with lands managed by the government,” said Dustin Van Liew, PLC executive director. “Nearly 22,000 ranchers utilize grazing permits to graze on federal lands equating to nearly 40 percent of western cow herd and 50 percent of the nation’s sheep herd spending some time on federal lands. I’m pleased this year’s meeting brought great insight and discussion to the table.”

The potential listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act was top of mind, as the habitat improves and even thrives, specifically in properly-managed ranching areas. James Ogsbury, executive director of the Western Governors’ Association stressed the importance of individual state involvement in land management decisions such as the potential listing of the Sage Grouse, which would not only harm the ranching industry, but potentially halt the successful conservation programs already underway by ranchers and the states.

Western Resources Legal Center Executive Director Caroline Lobdell gave an eye-opening presentation on emerging issues in animal law. One particular issue of concern being tried in the courts, she said, is attributing human rights and personhood onto animals and livestock.

The Public Lands Endowment Trust allocated nearly a half a million dollars to invest in the protection, enhancement, and preservation of the western ranching industry, including a continuation of the communications project that serves to educate policy influencers and the public on the beneficial uses of grazing on federal lands. Since inception four years ago, the Trust has distributed over $1.3 million to projects across the west.

“Grazing continues to represent a multiple use that is essential to the livestock industry, wildlife habitat, open space, and the rural economies of many western communities,” said Van Liew. “This meeting always fosters insightful conversation about the future of the industry, and we greatly appreciate those who sacrifice their time and energy to join the meeting to shape the direction of our industry.”

USDA Invests an Additional $211 Million for Sage Grouse Conservation Efforts

PLC LogoWASHINGTON – Yesterday, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Natural Resources Conservation Service will continue its partnership with ranchers to invest in efforts for the conservation of Sage Grouse habitat. The four-year strategy will invest approximately $211 million in conservation efforts on public and private lands throughout the 11 Western states. The Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association appreciate the NRCS’s commitment to a continued partnership with ranchers.

“Ranchers across the West appreciate the continued partnership with NRCS through the Sage Grouse Initiative,” said Brenda Richards, PLC president and rancher from southern Idaho. “As the original stewards of our Western lands, ranchers work day-in and day-out to maintain healthy rangelands and conserve our natural resources for the generations to come. The Sage Grouse Initiative has proven itself to be a win-win for livestock producers and the grouse, and the partnership through 2018 will support the continuation of the successful conservation efforts already underway.”

The sage grouse is found in eleven states across the western half of the United States, including California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming and encompasses 186 million acres of public and private land. In 2010, the Sage Grouse Initiative launched and has helped ranchers implement increased conservation efforts on their land, benefiting both the grouse habitat and rangeland for livestock ranchers.

The Sage Grouse, due to frivolous lawsuit and litigation, is currently at risk of being listed under the Endangered Species Act. However, the ESA has become one of the most economically damaging laws facing our nation’s livestock producers and is great need of modernization. When species are listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the ESA, the resulting use-restrictions placed on land and water, the two resources upon which ranchers depend for their livelihoods, are crippling. The ESA has not been reauthorized since 1988 and NCBA and PLC believe the rather than listing the grouse under the ESA, efforts like the Sage Grouse Initiative will benefit the bird more and prove that listing is not the answer.

“The Endangered Species Act is outdated and has proven itself ineffective,” said Philip Ellis, who ranches in Wyoming. “Of the 1,500 domestic species listed since 1973, less than two percent have ever been deemed recovered. With this partnership, voluntary conservation efforts have increased, ranchers remain on the land, and wildlife habitat is thriving. In fact, Interior Secretary Jewell announced this year that through working with ranchers and other stakeholders in Nevada and California, the Bi-State Sage Grouse population was no longer at risk and was not listed under the ESA. This is prime example of how land management and conservation efforts should be made, in partnership with those that know the land the best.”

Learn more about the USDA NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative programs here.

Catastrophic Wildfires Across the West Bring Attention to Need for Management

PLC LogoWASHINGTON – As massive wildfires blaze across the West this week, the need to address the increasing wildfire threat is even more apparent. According to the Agriculture and Interior Departments, there are currently 19,000 interagency personnel fighting wildfires across 13 states. The Soda Fire that burned across southern Idaho and eastern Oregon consumed roughly 300,000 acres of rangeland, threatening the homes and lives of residents, livestock and wildlife.

While Washington bureaucrats call for more funds to suppress the growing fires, the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sent a letter to the White House today stressing the importance of proper natural resource management in order to help prevent these catastrophic events in our nation’s forests and rangeland which are managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, wildfire suppression now costs the agency more than $1 billion annually and for the first time in its 110-year history, the agency is spending more than half of its budget on wildfire suppression. When the cost of suppression exceeds the budgeted amount, USFS is forced to reallocate funds from other programs to cover the cost of fire suppression, known as fire-borrowing. While PLC and NCBA believe that having fire suppression funds available to cover the cost of fighting fire and prevent fire-borrowing is important, the organizations firmly believe that proper forest and rangeland management is the key to reducing catastrophic wildfires in the first place.

PLC President Brenda Richards said the mismanagement of federally-owned forests and rangelands has created great economic hardship and danger for ranchers that depend upon the land.

“This year’s fire season has proven once again the federal mismanagement of our forests and rangeland,” said Richards, whose ranch has suffered damage in the current Idaho/Oregon fire. “The livestock industry and rural economies will spend decades attempting to recover from the millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure damage and forage loss that have been the result of catastrophic wildfire in recent weeks and years, not to mention the loss of valuable wildlife habitat. Because of frivolous litigation and attempts to keep peace with extremists, our government agencies have hampered the most natural and cost-effective wildfire prevention techniques, and subsequently put the lives of ranching families like mine and others in rural communities at risk.”

As the letter stresses, natural forest fires were nature’s tool to burn the underbrush and smaller trees, creating less competition for resources and resulting in healthier forests. Due to population growth and urban sprawl, people now live in the natural path of fires and as a result humans must take over managing the resources. However, Philip Ellis, NCBA president from Chugwater, Wyo., said with 82 million acres of Forest Service land at an elevated risk of catastrophic wildfires, insect, or disease outbreak, it is clear the federal agencies tasked to manage our forests are failing to exercise their responsibility.

“We have seen more red tape and regulation than ever before, and our natural resources are paying the heavy price,” said Ellis. “This administration continues to push the best caretakers off the land, and now it’s up to Congress to rein the agencies in. As Congress continues discussions to address the lack of stewardship these agencies have shown to the land and natural resources, we encourage them to find a solution that will help prevent these wildfires, rather than simply throwing more money in the attempt to control them after the fact.”

PLC and NCBA strongly supported H.R. 2647 introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) which passed the House on a bipartisan vote, and continues to support S. 1691 introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) which saw a hearing in July. These bills would require the Forest Service to treat a minimum of 2 million acres with mechanical treatment or prescribed burns each year, with reduced NEPA requirements for these projects. Further, this legislation would discourage frivolous litigation by requiring litigants to post a bond equal to the estimated costs of court proceedings and would require an arbitration process to precede the lawsuit. The legislation would also prevent fire borrowing and stop the federal agencies from raiding accounts necessary for proper forest and range management. PLC and NCBA encourage the Senate to take up this legislation and pass it without delay and call for federal land management agencies to streamline regulations that will allow for active management of forests and rangelands and discontinue harmful closed-door settlements with litigious radical groups that seek to see non-management on all lands across the west – the very action which leads to catastrophic wildfire.

–Press Release, Public Lands Council