Get 30 people who are deeply divided on an issue into a room and then put them to work on developing solutions.
So goes the task of the Federal Livestock Grazing Fee Incentive Program advisory committee, charged with advising Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy how to encourage proper stewardship of public rangeland. The group, comprising ranchers, environmentalists, range scientists, conservation interests and government officials, is meeting for three days, concluding Thursday.Babbitt acknowledges the task is not an easy one. Nor does he expect the diverse group to come to a consensus. In fact, Babbitt says he believes there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to responsible use of public land by federal-grazing-permit holders.
"We need to set that crossbar at a level, adjusted to the reality of that ecosystem and set at a height any rancher making a good-faith effort in the management of his or her land can get across," Babbitt said.
How to write such regulation remains to be seen, as does its enforcement mechanism. Still, Bab-bitt says he is willing to bring a hodgepodge of interests - everybody from cowboy-boot-wearing Western ranchers to Eastern environmentalists - to hash the issues.
"This is, frankly, very experimental stuff here. I'm willing to entertain many different ideas and models that contain logic and proper reasoning," Babbitt said Tuesday.
To no one's surprise, the panel members' approach to the task is as diverse as the makeup of the committee.
As a starting point, the federal agencies have recommended that ranchers who demonstrate outstanding land management practices receive a 30 percent rebate on their grazing fees. Under the latest Range Reform '94 proposal, fees would nearly double by 1997 to $3.97 per animal unit month, the charge assessed for the forage needed to feed a cow and her calf for a month.
But some members of the panel say some ranchers would pay the full fee rather than comply with management plans or other regulations.
Said Johanna Wald of the National Resources Defense Council: "Raise the fees higher than what's been proposed. Then you have a real incentive to get people to do what you want them to do."
Instead of providing rebates to good land users, others propose yanking permits from problem permittees or financially penalizing those who don't comply with prescribed practices.
"If we don't have penalties, it's not surprising we get some of the results we get," said Roger Sedjo of Fairfax, Va., representing Resources for the Future.
Arizona rancher Bill McDonald, also a member of the El Malpaiz Border Line Group, said problem allotments drain the already stressed management agencies. A representative of the Wyoming Bureau of Land Management office told committee members the agency can only monitor half of its present allotments with its present work force.
"All the attention is focused on a few sore thumbs. Right now, there's no incentive to do better," McDonald said.
Still, agriculture interests are reluctant to develop more regulation when law or policy exists to handle many of the problems raised by committee members. The problem, they say, is one of enforcement.