Utah ranchers: Environmentalists are not your enemies, they are your friends and neighbors. You can work together for a common good, said Ed Chaney, with the Northwest Resource Information Center Inc., Eagle, Idaho.

Speaking at a rangeland conference Tuesday at the St. George Holiday Inn, Chaney told Utah ranchers that it's time to stop talking about the problems on public rangelands and who is to blame for their degradation. It's time to begin seeking solutions to effective rangeland management.The conference, "Searching for a common vision of land stewardship," was sponsored by the Utah Farm Bureau, Utah State University Extension and the Utah Department of Agriculture. It was attended by more than 100 ranchers and government officials throughout the state.

Chaney said the debate over grazing fees has missed the point of "the real problem" ranchers face today. Instead of Western senators filibustering to keep range fees down, they need to be lobbying for increased investment in rangeland improvements and providing technical support to ranchers.

Environmentalists and ranchers do not need to be at odds with each other since both share the common goal of land preservation. Ranchers who don't practice good land management, cannot survive. When creating partnerships to address land preservation needs, misunderstandings diminish, he said.

Such was the case for northern Arizona rancher Allen Kessler, who spoke the first day of the two-day conference. Five years ago he asked an environmentalist, a hunter, government land managers and university researchers to come to his ranch and help him formulate a land management plan. Because of this coalition, barriers have been broken, the rangeland has improved and productivity has increased, he said.

Hardy Redd, a rancher from La Sal, said there is much people can learn from each other if they are willing to listen.

"What we can do is reach out to people who misunderstand us," he said. "Invite them to our ranches and show them what we are doing."

During a panel presentation the last day of the conference, Chris McKeller, Salt Lake City, who presented an environmental advocacy perspective, said he once viewed all ranchers with disdain. He said that changed the day he became friends with one and visited him on his ranch. He realized then how similar their views were toward land preservation.

"I hate compromising," he said. "I'm fond of collaboration. If we can collaborate, I know we can find things in common and methods and tools to cause changes."

Panelist Coby Jordan, of Rockville, said Utah's rural areas are quickly changing as more people from outside the state are moving in.

"We need to redefine our sense of community," he said. "As we redefine that sense of community, we need to emphasize communication, cooperation and sense of mutual respect."

Chaney said it doesn't take an expert to recognize good land stewardship. "You know it when you see it."

What the public sees today is public land that "needs to be put back together again." While restoring these lands and riparian areas, livestock operations must remain viable. Ranchers are valuable partners in this restoration process, he said.

"You're not in the business of raising cows," he said. "You're in the business of raising grass."