Watersheds Messenger     Fall 2001     Vol. VIII, No. 3     PDF ISSUE


Ranchers to Public-Lands Managers: See No Evil, Speak No Evil
By Darrel Short

My career with the Bureau of Land Management spanned 35 years and four locations: Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington, D.C. Since my retirement in 1998, I have often reflected on the opportunity I had to work with many dedicated people that put proper management of our public lands as their primary career goal.

Unfortunately, I have also seen many careers suffer, including my own, because of the desire by other interests to protect and manage these lands for multiple use and the health of resources.

In October 1976, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) became law and established the parameters for the management of public lands retained in federal ownership. The concept of multiple use was well-defined in FLPMA, and the BLM was at the threshold of developing land-use plans that would provide for true multiple use of our public lands.

Unfortunately, political pressure, primarily from grazing interests, has insured that land-use plans and subsequent revisions over the years have not resulted in true multiple-use management. Wherever livestock grazing was originally authorized, it continues to be the dominant land use today.

Throughout my career with the BLM, I tried to emphasize adherence to the laws and regulations pertaining to the administration of public lands. My feeling has always been that Congress provided the tools for proper management through FLMPA and other laws and regulations.

If the spirit of these laws had been carried out over the years, we would be much closer to ensuring the sustainable use of resources as well as fair management practices for all interests and users of public lands. Many field supervisors with the BLM have not shared my philosophy. As a result of their bias toward the range livestock industry and susceptibility to political pressure, they have failed to address problems with livestock grazing that continue today.

After FLPMA was passed, I was directly involved in the development of land-use plans for many years. Whenever limitations on livestock grazing were proposed in an attempt to create compatibility with other land uses and values, it was only a matter of time before the plans were changed to allow livestock grazing to continue as the dominant use of the land.

In 1989 I was assigned to manage the BLM's Kemmerer Resource Area in southwestern Wyoming. After documenting the condition of several grazing allotments in the resource area, it was evident to me that major changes in grazing management were needed, beginning with substantial reductions in livestock numbers, at least in the short term, to reduce grazing pressure. As I began to propose changes, the ranching community informed upper management in the BLM and elected officials that such changes were not acceptable to them.

Tensions between me and grazing permittees escalated when they realized I was serious about enforcing regulations and correcting resource problems.

The ranchers found sympathetic ears at high levels within the BLM. This development, along with pressure applied on the BLM by elected federal officials, resulted in my removal as manager of the Kemmerer Resource Area in 1994.

A fairly recent philosophy that has developed among many upper management personnel within the BLM is a reliance on "collaborative" processes in an attempt to solve livestock grazing problems on public lands. This philosophy may be sound in principle but, in reality, it is simply an easy out for the BLM which abdicates responsibility to collaborative groups in order to avoid dealing directly with politically hot grazing issues. In southwestern Wyoming these collaborative processes have become completely dominated by grazing permittees who have succeeded in dragging the processes out for as much as seven years with virtually no change in resource conditions while successfully bypassing or fragmenting proper environmental evaluation and planning processes.

I am thankful for organizations like Westem Watersheds Project that continue to challenge the BLM and other agencies on improper livestock grazing management on public lands. I feel strongly that if true multiple-use management is to be applied to public lands, livestock numbers in most areas must be substantially reduced. In many cases the BLM has the data necessary to make the needed reductions in grazing use. But valid concerns of BLM employees about job security and continuing political pressure create an atmosphere that makes change very difficult to accomplish.

I continue to challenge the BLM on improper livestock grazing and the resulting degradation of public resources. It is my hope that the citizens of this great country will become involved in seeing that true multiple use management is implemented on their public lands. I believe many of these areas that have been badly damaged from improper grazing can eventually be restored to health and productivity with broad public involvement. Even under the best of circumstances this will take many years on thousands of acres of severely degraded rangelands in areas like southwestern Wyoming. The healing can be accelerated if grazing use is appropriately reduced and proper grazing systems are developed and followed. We must consider the removal of livestock in areas that have been seriously degraded or are more valuable for other uses. The longer the BLM and other managing agencies are allowed to procrastinate the issuance of decisions to correct grazing problems, the greater the damage becomes and the longer it will take to restore the health of the resources.

Darrel Short of Evanston, Wyoming is a retired BLM manager.

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