Fall is a tough time to be away from the ranch. Cattle and sheep are coming off their summer range, there’s shipping to attend to, weaning, and countless other tasks—not to mention county fair season. Despite those challenges, ranchers from across the West left their busy operations and descended on Flagstaff, AZ, recently for the chance to spend three days discussing some of the most pressing issues facing the western livestock grazing industry.
In fact, those ranchers contributed to a record number of cattle and sheep producers from across the West who attended the 49th Annual Meeting of the Public Lands Council (PLC). This year’s meeting was filled with legislative, agency and affiliate updates, policy committee meetings, and the chance to hear from some of the leading voices in our industry.
We capitalized on the opportunity to connect agency and legislative officials to western stakeholders during our annual meeting. Collectively, the message shared by these officials was encouraging. Newly appointed U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke emphasized that he is here to help solve problems and ensure that the Forest Service strives to be a better neighbor. Also on the agenda were Department of the Interior (DOI) Deputy Assistant Secretary Aurelia Skipwith and Deputy Director of the Office of External Affairs Tim Williams, who both spoke to the impact regulatory burden has had on our industry and DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke’s desire to change the way Interior does business with our industry. Beyond the administration, attendees also had a chance to hear about congressional priorities and their shared vision of meaningful reform from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), the current chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.
Membership participated in the animal unit month focus committee, wild horse and burro committee, and the sage grouse committee, providing key direction to our team in Washington, D.C., this coming year. A main priority stemming from the meetings highlighted the need to modernize the Endangered Species Act. A solution providing lasting relief to ranchers in sage-grouse country is also needed, specifically by overhauling the flawed 2015 Plan Amendments impacting ranchers in 11 western states. Additionally, opportunities to permanently control wild horse and burro populations were discussed and our team left Flagstaff with solid footing and a clear focus on the issue.
One of the highlights of the meeting was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Cooperative Monitoring with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The MOU builds on a previously expired MOU to ensure monitoring is completed properly and in a timely manner. John Ruhs, BLM’s acting deputy director for operations and Nevada state director, was present to sign the MOU with our PLC President Dave Eliason. There is historic cooperation between ranchers and the BLM, and this MOU signifies a strong relationship moving forward. It also lays the groundwork for the historic outcome-based grazing program BLM announced during the meeting, which could provide permittees with much needed flexibility in the future.
This was a special year for our leadership, who chose to begin a tradition to recognize individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the industry through the President’s Award. The inaugural winners were Oregon rancher and past PLC President Skye Krebs, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Senior Vice President Colin Woodall.
For those of you who couldn’t join us, be sure to mark your calendars for next year’s 50th Anniversary Annual Meeting in Park City, UT, Sept. 26-29, 2018. The annual meeting is the venue for shaping the direction of PLC and is a can’t miss event for anyone dealing with federal grazing permits.
There is no question the work and time required of our members. We are incredibly grateful to them for the dedication to the industry, and for recognizing the importance of ranchers having a seat at the table—something I witnessed firsthand this past month. Their involvement secures a bright future for the public lands industry, and I’m proud to represent this powerful group in Washington, D.C. — Ethan Lane, executive director, Public Lands Council and NCBA Federal Lands