In the current debate over grazing fees and multiple use of public lands, livestockmen are frequently, and inaccurately, characterized as insensitive to or uncaring about the condition of the land. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I'm 76 years old and our family has been in the livestock business in southwest Utah and northern Arizona for four generations. Most of the land we use is private, but some is public. While I concede I come at it with a point of view, this is an issue I know something about.Despite our differences on means, those of us in the livestock business share with environmentalists a common end: that the public trust be maintained when it comes to public lands. No one's interests are served, certainly not those who graze their sheep or cattle, if public lands are allowed to deteriorate. However, the proposed Rangeland Reform Act goes too far.
In his role as administrator of public lands, Secretary Bruce Babbitt has proposed new regulations - some of which will have the opposite effect of that intended. Specifically:
Fee increases: Babbitt wants to increase grazing fees, raising them on a par with those charged for private land. On the face of it, this sounds fair, but it isn't. When we lease private land, it's fenced and water is provided. When we lease public land, we have to fence it and either haul water or drill for it. What's fair about charging the same fee for less value with no equity in the improvements? To be charged the same fee would be like paying hotel rates to pitch your tent at a campground.
Stewardship incentives: Babbitt proposes raising the fees less for those who are "good stewards" of public lands. Sounds reasonable. But my experience has been that the proposed 30 percent incentive will not nearly compensate the livestockman for his range-improvement expenses. The incentive should be at least equal to the cost of the improvements.
There are two other problems with the stewardship program. First, monitoring will be costly and add to an already large Bureau of Land Management (BLM) bureaucracy. Second, the current proposal suggests no recognition for those who have been good stewards all along.
Advisory councils: Babbitt proposes creation of advisory councils to administer and regulate public lands. These councils would have representation from all segments of the public. I recognize the rights and needs of all citizens to use and enjoy public lands. Hunting, recreation, grazing, wilderness and all other uses should be provided for. But, as proposed, the councils are flawed.
Local communities and governments are affected by the way public lands are used but are not among those represented. They should be added to the councils. Livestock interests are also seriously underrepresented.
While there are many national parks and recreation areas that are widely used by the public, the predominant use of public lands in southern Utah is grazing. If, as proposed, only one or two livestockmen are on a 15-member council, we will have an unfairly small influence in forming grazing policy. I am not suggesting that livestockmen hold a majority, but as the people closest to public lands we should not be shunted aside, either.
Babbitt's proposal also ignores the fact that the BLM, as presently constituted, has the statutory authority and responsibility to protect and improve the rangeland without the radical changes proposed by the Rangeland Reform Act.
The Rangeland Reform Act as currently drafted is too restrictive and must take into account the good intentions and experience of those of us who have used and conserved those lands for generations.
Charles C. Esplin