THE PUBLIC Rangelands Management Act was introduced in response to the radical regulations proposed by Interior Secretary Bruce Bab-bitt.
It is a necessary alternative to the secretary's "Rangeland Reform 1994," which would give the federal government and outside interest groups an overbearing role in day-to-day ranch operations.My bill was written because the rural West would be better served by it than by Secretary Babbitt's plan.
My bill will improve federal rangeland management by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. Clarifying provisions, included at the committee level, reaffirm that point, and the sponsors are open to other changes to illuminate the multiple-use intent of the leg-is-la-tion.
Those familiar with my record know that I would not offer legislation, as claimed, that suspends environmental laws, restricts public participation, prohibits hunting, fishing and other recreational uses, in order to elevate ranching as the sole use of federal lands.
To begin with, multiple use has been, and continues to be, a guiding principle in the management of public lands and forests. This bill does not change any law related to non-livestock uses of federal lands. As an avid sportsman, I am pleased to say hunting and fishing rights are left intact. Other laws dealing with grazing administration also are unchanged.
In addition, the rangelands bill specifically says that "nothing in this section is intended to override the planning and public involvement processes of other federal laws pertaining to federal laws."
The public can still participate in federal land planning and the environmental review process established by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The fact is, the rangelands bill would not diminish environmental protections. Environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, Wilderness Act and Endangered Species Act are all unaffected by this legislation.
Grazing permits or leases can be canceled, modified or suspended for violating this bill, any term or condition of the lease, or for conviction for failure to comply with federal air, water, soil and vegetation, fish and wildlife, or other en-vi-ron-men-tal laws or regulations.
The bill would still allow groups like the Nature Conservancy to acquire federal grazing permits. The bill allows federal land managers, with the advice of the advisory councils, to fashion lease and permit conditions that best suit an allotment held by a rancher or a group like the Nature Conservancy.
Some, like Jon Marvel, the Marvel Comic heir who once said "the ranching industry is a nonessential part of Idaho's economy," even though statistics show that ranching ranks as the single largest industry in that state, advocate unrealistic and illogically high grazing fees.
He, like those who are most vocal against my legislation, would kill traditional Western industries in favor of what would amount to a giant 10-state area where federal lands are not devoted to productive, multiple-use purposes like ranching.
I believe finding a compromise to this contentious issue is a worthy endeavor. We can codify many existing management practices, reform others and preserve the multiple-use concept of federal rangeland management - all without the burgeoning, intrusive and expensive federal bureaucracy in Secretary Babbitt's plan. Reaching such a consensus would bring much-needed stability to the West.
Even in the face of the intense criticism I have received for standing up for Western ranchers trying to make an honest living on federal rangelands, I will not forsake those ranchers. A balanced result is totally acceptable, but not one which leaves ranches saddled with Secretary Babbitt's regulations.