tAfter a new round of public hearings, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's attempt at a political compromise on grazing reform appears dead.
The proposal -
partly developed in negotiations between Babbitt, ranchers and
environmentalists in Colorado last winter - would raise fees and
tighten ecological standards for ranchers who graze livestock on
public lands. At the same time, it would oversee reforms through
local advisory councils and allow ranchers to keep some current
However, ranchers have rejected the
In 48 simultaneous public hearings held
across the West and in Washington, D.C., June 8, Babbitt and top
federal land managers saw their draft regulations and environmental
impact statement ripped to shreds. As at last year's hearings on
grazing reform, ranchers dominated virtually every meeting. And,
like last year, ranchers denounced the reform compromise as an
attack on rural Westerners.
"The government is
trying to take our livelihood, our rights, and our dignity,"
testified Steve Lucas, a Paradise Valley, Nev., rancher, at the
Reno hearing. "We can't live with it."
the most threatening ordeal our family has faced in five
generations of ranching," Jona DeLong, of Imlay, Nev., said. "Every
regulation is against the rancher."
Rawlins and Rock Springs, Wyo., a parade of ranchers blocked what
few environmentalists there were from mounting the podium. Ranchers
accused Babbitt of trying to drive ranchers off the land, stealing
water rights, and waging a heartless "War on the West."
In Albuquerque, N.M., ranchers wore black
armbands, and one speaker threatened to personally stop any federal
officials who interfered with his cattle operation. The rancor and
bitterness were repeated in hearings in Grand Junction and
Caûon City, Colo., in Pocatello and Salmon, Idaho, in Butte
and Miles City, Mont., La Grande, Ore., Wenatchee, Wash., and other
rural Western towns.
"If Mr. Babbitt was
listening, he heard 98 percent of the people out there tell him
these reforms were a bad idea," said Bill Myers, the National
Cattlemen's Association director of federal lands in Washington,
Myers warned that if Babbitt doesn't change
his proposed reforms - in particular the doubling of grazing fees -
the livestock industry will go back to the Senate, or federal
So far, Babbitt hasn't blinked. "Those who
continue to fire rhetorical charges and use scare tactics simply
don't get it," Babbitt retorted during an appearance in Denver the
day after the hearings, reported the Portland Oregonian. "The fact
is, grazing reform is good for ranching communities and it's good
for the American West."
Babbitt may be able to
stand firm this time. Last fall, ranchers dominated front pages
nationwide. But coverage of this spring's hearings was buried
inside newspapers' second sections, even in the
Western politicians have also backed off.
Babbitt's reform plan was almost universally opposed by the West's
governors last year, but he now enjoys support from Democrats Roy
Romer in Colorado and Cecil Andrus in Idaho.
administration has come a long way towards meeting reasonable
Western interests," said Andrus spokesman Scott Peyron. "We now
have a pretty sound plan on the table."
hearing in Butte, Mont., Gov. Marc Racicot told both ranchers and
environmentalists that the time had come to end the rhetoric and
find fair solutions.
The industry's strength in
Congress has also faded. Republican senators, including Pete
Domenici, N.M., Malcolm Wallop, Wyo., Dirk Kempthorne, Idaho, Hank
Brown, Colo., and Conrad Burns, Mont., still beat the "War on the
West" drum. But key Democrats who helped filibuster reform in the
Senate last fall, such as Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado
and Max Baucus of Montana, are neutral thus
In a letter to Babbitt, Campbell asked the
administration to moderate grazing fee increases, but supported
changes in water rights language, public participation and other
On the House side, a three-to-one
majority favors even higher grazing fees and stronger environmental
But there has been a casualty on the
road to change. The chance of negotiating a compromise with
national environmental groups - and thereby avoiding appeals and
litigation - appears lost.
reform proposal, negotiated with both local and national
environmental groups, included a decentralized, on-the-ground
approach as an alternative to centralized, command-and-control
regulations (HCN, 2/7/94).
Arizona attorney Joe
Feller, who helped win the Comb Wash case, sees the new regulations
as a noticeable, but not major, strengthening of the BLM's ability
to manage grazing and environmentalists' ability to force change.
He dismissed the importance of the reform's collaborative
After the June 8 hearings, Tom
Dougherty, Western regional director of the National Wildlife
Federation and a participant in the Colorado roundtable, pronounced
the spirit of the negotiations dead.
"I'm one of
the people that modified my views and called for a broader base of
people and a collaborative approach. I helped convince the National
Wildlife Federation of that," says Dougherty. "Yet even the people
who participated in the process are back to the old rhetoric about
the war on the West."
Dougherty and Maggie Fox,
who represented the Sierra Club in the Colorado roundtable, say
that while environmental groups will continue to participate in the
administration's reform effort, the bulk of their efforts will now
go to litigation.
That, Dougherty adds, is a
tragedy. "The most likely allies on behalf of healthy ground are
the environmentalists and the ranchers," he says. "But until there
is an acceptance by the ranchers that the public lands are exactly
that - public lands - and until the public is given an equal role
in management, this conflict will continue."
striking example of the power of litigation is the National
Wildlife Federation court victory that forced the Bureau of Land
Management to remove all cows from canyons on the Comb Wash grazing
allotment in southern Utah (HCN, 1/24/94).
other recent cases include lawsuits by the Oregon Natural Resources
Council over violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered
Species Act from cattle grazing on the Malheur National Forest;
appeals by Gila Watch over the 230-square-mile Diamond Bar
allotment in southern New Mexico; a National Wildlife Federation
challenge against grazing management in the Beaverhead National
Forest in Montana; and a challenge to the transfer of grazing
permits in south-central Oregon (see article
* Steve Hinchman
Hinchman is staff
reporter for HCN; Mensing is an intern at HCN's Great Basin
Comments on the
Department of Interior's proposed grazing reform regulations must
be sent by July 28, 1994. Comments on the agency's Draft EIS are
due by Aug. 11, 1994. Send comments to: Rangeland Reform "94, P.O.
Box 66300, Washington, D.C.