Public Lands Council (PLC) will hold its annual meeting Sept. 3-6 in the southwest Colorado town of Ignacio. PLC is the only organization in Washington, D.C., dedicated solely to representing ranchers with public land grazing rights. Expected to attend this year are ranchers, range professionals, legal experts who fight for the industry, elected officials, and personnel from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.
“For ranchers worried about holding onto their permits, or just for concerned citizens who care about maintaining the ranching way of life in the West, this is the meeting of the year,” said Brice Lee, President of PLC and cattle rancher of Hesperus, CO, serving in his last of six years as an officer. He told WLJ that in the West, where half the land is under management of the federal government, public lands grazing rights are crucial to the economy, the production of food and fiber, and to the environment.
“Protecting grazing rights on public land is also important to anyone interested in private property rights,” said Lee. “And that should include all of us.”
On the agenda at the Ignacio meeting is a host of threats and opportunities for the industry, Lee said. One highlight will be an address by Susan Combs, the Comptroller of Public Accounts for the State of Texas. While Texas is not a large public lands state, it has had its run-ins with Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations in recent years. Combs will discuss Texas’ approach to dealing with the ESA, a law that is particularly onerous for ranchers on public lands, according to Lee.
“We’re really glad that other states—like Texas— are looking seriously at the problems with ESA and what can be done about it,” Lee told WLJ.
Lee added that another “very exciting” aspect of the PLC meeting will be the Board of Directors’ consideration of projects for funding by the Public Lands Endowment Trust. Each September, the board, comprised of representatives from each of PLC’s affiliates, votes to fund projects designed to “protect, enhance and preserve” public lands grazing. Project proposals are usually accepted until May 31 and must be endorsed by an affiliate of PLC (a western state livestock association; National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; American Sheep Industry Association; or the Association of National Grasslands).
Lee described some of the projects funded by the trust, which was established in 2012. Among the examples were: a comprehensive database full of grazing-related information to help combat a listing of the sage grouse; research to resolve the domestic/bighorn sheep disease transfer issue; the PLC internship program in Washington, D.C.; and education for law students studying to defend natural resource industries.
“We’ve accomplished some great things with this trust,” said Lee. “And at this point, the available amount is growing each year, now approaching half a million dollars for distribution.”
This year’s meeting will also mark a changing of the guard: Lee is passing off the torch to a new president. Slated for the post is Brenda Richards, a rancher of Reynolds Creek, ID.
“This has been a great ride, and a great honor,” said Lee. “PLC will be in more than capable hands when Brenda takes the helm. I’m looking forward to seeing what her youth and energy will bring to the organization.”
Richards, who runs a cattle operation with her husband and sons, is expected to serve two years as PLC’s president.
“It won’t be easy seeing Brice go,” Richards told WLJ. “But we’ve worked so closely and so well together, I feel that we can make a smooth transition—and he’s just a phone call away. At annual meeting, we’ll get the chance to pay tribute to Brice’s leadership, and recognize all he did to help get us through the ups and downs over the years. Of course we’ll also have a few laughs,” she said, referring to the “roast” that traditionally takes place at each PLC president’s sendoff.