The PLC held its 51st annual meeting in Great Falls, MT, last week and gathered around 200 people to the meeting. The PLC has turned into a very effective organization for federal land resource users, under the guidance of Ethan Lane, who was recently promoted to executive vice president of policy in D.C.  All the agencies PLC deals with had some presence and progress reports to deliver at this meeting. The BLM was in strong attendance along with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The big policy discussion was about wildlife migration corridors, which was introduced by activist groups and conservationists as a landscape scale tool for wildlife management. The concept can throw a monkey wrench into how some ranches operate and dish out new regulations for ranchers to comply with.

In 2018 former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362. The name of the order is “Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors.” Most ranchers don’t have a problem with big game, except when 700 elk camp out on their winter range.

The order asks the agencies to reassess existing land-use plans and develop action plans that illustrate a clear path forward, which will include habitat management and measurable outcomes. PLC feels that will result in inappropriate restrictions on grazing and other multiple uses of federal lands.

PLC wishes to have the order rescinded and avoid the episode all together. PLC produced a resolution to have the Department of the Interior (DOI) define the role of non-government organizations in the process, and clarify that only affected parties, or those who have site-specific knowledge be allowed to participate. They also oppose inclusion of any habitat or conservation plans that are not already provided for in existing management plans. PLC also wants to emphasize the contribution that working ranches already provide for wildlife management.

Other new resolutions are to help USFWS control the chronic wasting disease found in big game species, as they note that there is no scientific evidence connecting big game and domestic livestock transmission, and support for collaborative rangeland and forest management programs that promote the value of livestock grazing as a management tool in fire and fuel mitigation and forest health and sustainability of local economies. They also support the uniform application of USFS and BLM ownership and branding rules to all permitted animals, including bison.

The highlight of the meeting was an appearance by Interior Secretary David Barnhardt, who spoke at the annual PLC banquet. Barnhardt has only been on the job since April and took the time to fly into Great Falls just before a severe winter storm was to arrive. The banquet was held at a ranch just outside Belt, about a 25-mile drive east of town. It took a lot of effort for him to attend, with a small entourage.

He told us he grew up in Rifle, CO, which gave him appreciation for our culture, conservation, and those who use the natural resources. When he was a boy, he caught the calf at a catch-a-calf event and grew it into a small herd. Then he became tired of high school and left; his parents called it dropping out. But he sold his cattle and paid his college tuition. He said without his cattle proceeds he wouldn’t be standing before us today.

The secretary spoke for about 20 minutes and told us working for President Donald Trump and the American people was a real honor. He said that when the president hired him, he was given a very clear, detailed set of goals for the agency, and turned his team loose to get the job done—no micro-management here.

He said the DOI has given $3.7 billion in regulatory relief to the American economy over the past two years and that they have streamlined many processes including how we report and approve NEPA applications, which went from 199 days to approve applications to 32 days.

He was charged with reorganizing DOI, and he said in the old days the state directors would file documents in the Federal Register and the secretary didn’t know what they were and was surprised many times. He established a new process outlining when state BLM directors want to file an action in the Federal Register. He said the state director reads it, an attorney reads it, and he reads it. He is also evaluating every job in the agency for efficiency.

Secretary Barnhardt was a fascinating man and I’m confident he will achieve the administration’s goals, which in many cases are our goals in the livestock industry. Everyone with a federal grazing lease needs to be a member of PLC. They are the strongest advocate for your business, and they have a track record. We have a lot of things to accomplish before we have a turn in administrative powers. — PETE CROW

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