Ranchers want taxpayers to keep them in clover
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1997:
WASHINGTON D.C.– – Interior
Secretary Bruce Babbitt has asked President
Bill Clinton to veto a “grazing reform” bill that
House Agriculture Committee chair Bob Smith
(R-Oregon) sent to the House on September
24––if it clears Congress.
Wilderness Society lobbyist Fran
Hunt said the Smith bill “would lock in a new
subsidized grazing fee for livestock operators
on public lands, “ at about a third the federal
cost of land maintenance; “enact new hurdles
that would make it even more difficult for the
Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management
to protect and restore public rangeland”;
“limit public participation in federal decisionmaking”;
“hamper the ability of concerned
groups and individuals to appeal unsound federal
grazing decisions”; and “undercut the
multiple use management and conservation of
the National Grasslands by removing them
from the National Forest system.”
Hunt termed the bill “very similar”
to one advanced unsuccessfully by Senator
Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) in 1996.
Domenici at deadline hoped to
thwart a preliminary injunction issued by the
9th Circuit Court of Appeals with an Interior
Appropriations Bill rider to bar Forest Service
funds from being used “for the purposes of
executing any adjustments to annual operating
plans, allotment management plans, or terms
and conditions of existing grazing permits on
National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico.”
Ruling in Forest Guardians v.
Dombeck, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on
July 25 voided as many as 70% of the 1,365
grazing leases in the 11 Arizona and New
Mexico national forests because the leaseholders
allegedly failed to protect Mexican spotted
owls and northern goshawks.
The Arizona and New Mexico Cattle
Growers’ Associations appealed on August 8.
The Domenici rider cleared the
Senate by voice vote on September 18 and
went to a joint House/Senate conference committee,
which may either approve it or delete
it from the version of the appropriations bill
that goes back to the Senate and House for
final ratification, and then goes to the White
House for Clinton’s signature.
Grazing issues reignited almost
before the grass began to grow last spring.
Oregon Natural Desert Association staff ecologist
Joy Belsky may have tossed the first
match with a historical study published in the
May 1997 edition of Conservation Biology.
“We’ve heard for years now that the
forest health problem is due to suppression of
fire and selective logging,” Belsky told Jeff
Barnard of Associated Press. “However,
there’s ample evidence in the scientific literature
showing that the increased density of
forests and increased forest health problems
started 50 years before fire suppression was
initiated. And the increased density of
forests,” associated with fewer but more devastating
fires, “started when livestock grazing
Eating grass that competes with the
seedlings of tindery fir species, cattle in effect
allow firs to grow as future firebrands among
other trees that might otherwise be safely separated
by grasslands. Fast-moving grassfires
don’t carry flames up into the limbs of other
trees––but pitch-filled firs do, and ignite from
lightning as quickly as grass.
“We have examples from New
Mexico all the way through Washington state,
Ranchers were still sputtering in
mid-month when the Fish and Wildlife Service
responded to a lawsuit filed by Forest
Guardians by ordering the Bureau of Land
Management to study the effects of grazing on
the habitat of the endangered southwestern
willow flycatcher. An estimated 400 to 500
southwestern willow flycatchers may survive
in dense willow thickets along streams in
Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico,
and Utah, meaning a finding of definite harm
to the species could have far-reaching impact.
But Forest Guardians head of watershed
programs John Horner wasn’t mollified.
“They recognize there is a problem, but they
don’t do anything other than monitor the
extinction,” he complained.
Hell week for ranchers
A midsummer week from hell for jittery
ranchers started when federal judge Dee
Benson ruled on July 21 that grazing leaseholders
have no actual obligation to put cattle
on the range––an important precedent for conservationists
who wish to compete with ranchers
in bidding on underpriced rangeland.
Texas rancher Oscar S. Wyatt Jr. had
alleged that the BLM, Utah Division of
Wildlife Resources, Rocky Mountain Elk
Foundation and the Nature Conservancy illegally
conspired in 1989 when they jointly
undertook the Book Cliffs Conservation
Initiative. The Elk Foundation and the Nature
Conservancy bought four privately owned
ranches, took the BLM land that was leased to
the ranches out of grazing, and turned the
ranches over to the BLM and Utah DWR for
use in elk propagation. The Utah Wildlife
Board hopes to increase the elk population of
the area from 2,000 to 7,500.
A second verdict to similar effect
came July 23, when Superior Court Judge
Michael Dann, of Maricopa County, Arizona,
ruled that the Arizona Land Department must
use competitive bidding to maximize revenue
from the 8.4 million acres of grazing land that
it manages for the state school trust. Grazing
leases in 1996 brought just 31.3¢ per acre.
Seeking the leases on four parcels
totaling 21,681 acres, Forest Guardians and
the Western Gamebird Alliance, a hunting
group, last year bid from two to five times the
going rate of $2.09 per animal unit month, but
were rejected because they intended to fence
cattle out and replant native vegetation. The
two groups were required to post nonrefundable
deposits of $100 per square mile they bid
on. Ranchers posted only $100 per bid.
Dann ordered the Land Department,
the plaintiffs, and the Arizona Cattlemen’s
Association to work out a plan for competitive
bidding by September 25. On August 12,
however, the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association
announced an appeal––and on August
15, the Land Department again refused to
lease the land to Forest Guardians and the
Western Gamebird Alliance.
“The lands have to be put to the use
for which they are intended––grazing,” asserted
Land Department range section manager
Williams’ opinion contradicted the
view of his counterparts in New Mexico, who
allowed Forest Guardians to manage 550 acres
of New Mexico grazing land in 1996. A
Forest Guardians bid on another 4,000 acres of
New Mexico grazing land is pending.
The Dann ruling paralleled a Oklahoma
judgement of several years ago, which
has markedly increased state land revenue.
The influence of the Dann verdict
was soon felt in Idaho, where architect John
Marvel has used arguments similar to those of
Forest Guardians in trying to win grazing leases
for conservation. The Idaho Land Board
also manages state property to fund education.
Reported Susan Drumheller of the Spokane
S p o k e s m a n – R e v i e w, “The state makes more
money off 3,200 acres devoted to cottage sites
than it does off nearly two million acres of
grazing land. Regardless, 596 cabin owners
who lease land from the state could soon see
their rents double or triple,” as the Land
Board moves to increase revenue to 2.5% of
market value. “The 1,050 ranchers with state
grazing leases will pay less next year for the
same amount of forage,” Drumheller continued,
“even though the return from those leases
is less than half of 1% of the appraised value.”
The Forest Guardians v. Dombeck
9th Circuit decision concluded the week.
Ranchers also got a symbolic jolt,
on August 10, when U.S. Magistrate Samuel
Alba sentenced prominent rancher D.A.
Osguthorpe, DVM, of Holladay, Utah, to
serve 30 days in a halfway house, spend five
years on probation, and pay a fine of $5,000
for repeatedly allowing his sheep to graze in
Forest Service land without a grazing lease.
“The stiff sentence was the latest
development in an almost 40-year dispute
between the Forest Service and Osguthorpe
over trespassing livestock,” Jim Woolf of The
Salt Lake Tribune summarized. “Osguthorpe
contends it is impossible to keep track of all
his sheep in the forested, high-mountain terrain.
The Forest Service contends Osguthorpe
makes only a token effort to control his animals
and benefits by allowing them to graze
for free on public land.”
The case resulted from the discovery
of about 75 starving sheep with Osguthorpe’s
brand who were trapped in deep snow last
winter near Dog Lake. Osguthorpe escaped
trial in 1994 on similar charges, after 25 of his
sheep were found trapped in snow, because
the prosecutor didn’t appear.
Osguthorpe appealed, challenging
Alba’s ruling that the Forest Service had no
obligation to prove that he intentionally or
knowingly allowed the sheep to wander.
Mr. Smith goes to D.C.
By mid-August, Representative
Smith had announced intent to push through a
bill removing the “administrative whim of
bureaucrats” from range policy decisions.
But the bureaucracts didn’t back off.
The Interior Board of Land Appeals on
September 8 upheld a 1993 order that evicted
350 cattle, or 10% of the allotment, from
72,000 acres of BLM land leased by the Ute
Mountain Ute Tribe alongside tributaries of
Comb Wash, Utah. The eviction was initiated
through an administrative appeal filed by
Arizona State University law professor Joe
Feller, who described the verdict as a precedent
for further reducing public lands grazing.
Three days later the Forest Service
ordered that the number of cattle allowed on
the Tonata allotment of the Colville National
Forest in eastern Washington be reduced from
400 to 90, temporarily, with a gradual
increase to 348 permitted conditional on vegetation
recovery and streamside protection. The
action was sought by the Kettle Range
Then, September 27, the Fish and
Wildlife Service ordered the BLM to remove
cattle from 15 Arizona river bank areas of
importance to endangered species.
Representative Jim Hansen (R-Utah)
called a September 31 hearing at which he and
a parade of disgruntled ranchers denounced
what they called a 20% reduction of “animal
unit months” allotted by the BLM since 1979.
Assistant BLM director Maitland Sharpe said
the actual reduction had been only 10%.