There are a lot of issues occurring that could have a profound effect on public land ranching. At this point, I would have to say the Endangered Species Act is the one that needs the most attention, and soon. As an industry, we have a lot on the table that we need to pay close attention to right now.
Let’s start with the Equal Access to Justice Act; this program had good intentions at first. But environmental groups figured out that they could sue the federal agencies for falling behind their work, like Environmental Impact Statements or other required processes the agencies are required to perform. The plaintiffs would win the suit and collect attorney’s fees. The way the law is now there is no method to monitor the payments and see who’s getting what. Several congressmen want more accountability and transparency in the act. This has passed the House and waiting on the Senate.
Then we have the Healthy Forest Management Plan, which has also passed the House and the USDA is taking comment on developing the rules for regional managers to implement. There is some onerous language in the bill that is bound for a wide interpretation—those kinds of words that lawyers love to quibble over—things like ecosystem services and ecological sustainability. This one has the ability to compound the regulatory burden for federal land users.
Then, of course, we have the Clean Water Act and its expansion by the Environmental Protection Agency that wants to control more water. Initially they were bound to navigable waterways and now they want to regulate streams, ponds, sloughs and everything that might flow into a major waterway, which eventually it all does.
The Endangered Species Act, the most damaging law on the books, has far reaching consequences. I’m sure they were unintended when the act was passed in 1970s during the Nixon administration. At that time we had a desperate president taking desperate measures to get re-elected.
The ESA has stopped major development projects everywhere, but is more damaging to agriculture and food security because it can lock up large tracts of land and stop agriculture development in it tracks. One example: maintaining stream flows in the Sacramento River delta for a tiny smelt, consequently forcing farmers to fallow 800,000 acres. Then there is Cliven Bundy and his tortious story.
These are all hot button issues that are currently in play in D.C. And you can be assured that every group with an agenda will voice their views to your congressmen and senators. The activists, who we all are, will be communicating their stories as loud as they can and throwing money around to buy the votes of our leaders. The Equal Access to Justice Act should be reformed easily. Transparency is an issue that everyone could agree on. However, Senator Harry Reid controls the Senate with an iron fist, and any bill that has a Republican smell on it won’t get scheduled for a vote. Mr. Reid is up for re-election this fall and I think it’s a good time for him to go. Don’t you?
We’ve got to get a handle on these western land issues. Issues are intertwined and layered on top of each other and twisted into one big unmanageable mess. The Forest Service and the BLM need to be restructured and the EPA and Fish and Wildlife need a good yank on their leash. Some common sense has to prevail if these lands are to remain productive and enjoyable and not be a political tool. This is why I support states’ rights to manage federal lands within their borders; less national politics.
The multiple use concepts on public lands have made managing the lands problematic and the main problem I see is respect. There are a number of diverse views on what these lands need to be and who they should benefit. The national economy should be the primary benefactor, and then the conservation of them. We have a long-running debate on management techniques and we need to find consensus on the best practices for each area.
These lawsuits over land use, water, and the ESA have got to end. But when the agencies are constantly defending themselves from every special interest group and using limited financial resources to defend themselves, they aren’t able to do their job. There is no accountability in our federal government and certainly no respect. We have to respect our democracy, our freedom, and our liberties and each other before we can fix this and preserve our western landscape and culture. Cliven Bundy gave us the national stage and we need to take advantage of it now. — PETE CROW