A bill sponsored by Domenici would phase out the RACs by early 1997, and reinstate the grazing advisory boards dominated by ranching interests (HCN, 6/12/95). The bill would also keep grazing fees under $2 per AUM (the amount of rangeland eaten by a cow-calf pair in one month) for the next five years, according to estimates by the Economic Research Service.
The Domenici bill was once thought dead, but it has been revived by the strenuous effort of House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He convinced Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., a leading environmental advocate, to sit down with the House Resources Committee and draft a grazing bill that could dodge a presidential veto. According to Jim Jontz of Defenders of Wildlife, Boehlert agreed to compromise because his East Coast constituents don't consider grazing a pivotal issue.
But for Western Republicans, passage of a grazing bill is key to pleasing voters. According to Reeves Brown of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, even ranchers who appreciate the RACs are willing to ditch them for Domenici's rancher-friendly bill.
"(The RACs have) been pretty positive for getting different viewpoints out there," says Caûon City, Colo., rancher Nate Patton. "So far as any practical achievements ... I don't think the RACs have accomplished a whole lot or are going to."
Chris Wood of the Bureau of Land Management disagrees: "More people are moving West and using these lands ... This bill gives preferential treatment for one use of public lands ... We think we have a program that is working ... And the genius of these regulations is in the RACs."
* Heather Abel