Cow coup: Wyoming governor usurps federal grazing group

  • Wyoming Gov. James Geringer

  • State Rep. Carolyn Paseneaux

 

CASPER, Wyo. - It was not yet high noon, but the showdown over grazing between Wyoming's governor and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt had begun to unfold.

Around a table sat the 15 members of Wyoming's Resource Advisory Council. They were the very same ranchers, industry representatives and conservationists who had been meeting for over a year to develop grazing guidelines for public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming.

But this time they answered to Gov. James Geringer, not Babbitt.

The governor usurped the council in mid-October, when he and Babbitt couldn't agree on who should be reappointed to the federally chartered RAC. The dispute boiled down to one particular member, who appeared to be linked with the livestock industry. Interior officials said they felt the RAC was too heavily weighted toward the livestock industry.

The governor's decision to go it alone put a damper on a program that is the centerpiece of Babbitt's efforts to reform the management of public rangelands. The RACs were an attempt to include a broader public in the management of BLM lands in the West. The other 23 committees have proceeded with relatively little controversy, and many people have hailed them as a healing force in the range war between ranchers, environmentalists and federal land managers (HCN, 9/16/96).

"It is truly perplexing to me that we have reached this state of affairs in Wyoming while in all other states the work of the 23 other RACs is continuing while changes in RAC membership have been accommodated," wrote Babbitt in a letter to Geringer following the split.

At the late-November meeting in Casper, a few of the RAC members said they thought about walking out, unclear whether their work for a state RAC would be valid. An Interior official later suggested that the state RAC's recommendations would not carry much weight. Babbitt had been even more blunt in a letter, telling Geringer he had directed Wyoming BLM Director Al Pierson "to proceed independently" to draft recommended standards and guidelines for grazing. That could mean the state will be stuck with federal "fallback" regulations - generic grazing rules which don't make allowances for different conditions in the states.

Ranching in spades

The Wyoming Resource Advisory Committee spat began about a year ago, almost as soon as the federal advisory boards were authorized by Babbitt. At that time, with Geringer insisting on his appointments, Babbitt approved the Wyoming RAC membership, but only for one year. RAC appointments in other states were staggered, with members named to one-, two- and three-year terms.

Unlike other councils in the West, Wyoming's includes some heavy hitters from the ranching community, including former Wyoming Stock Growers Association director Bob Budd; sheep rancher Truman Julian, a former Wyoming Woolgrowers Association official who is on the rancher-oriented National Public Lands Council; well-known Wyoming rancher Jack Turnell, and Rep. Carolyn Paseneaux, the former executive director of the state woolgrowers group. When Geringer is not present, the panel is chaired by State Lands Commissioner Jim Magagna, a southwest Wyoming sheep rancher who has served as president of both state and national sheep organizations.

With the leadership of its ranching contingent, the RAC sought to exempt ranchers who sublease their federal grazing leases from a surcharge imposed by the Interior Department. The agency's rejection of the exemption was "one of the things that caused me to dig my heels in" over the appointments, Geringer said.

Another source of friction developed when Carolyn Paseneaux tried to push through a recommendation calling on Interior to recognize the economic impact of grazing regulations on communities. The proposal ran counter to the RAC purpose, which is to develop guidelines and policies based on science, not socio-economics.

Although nobody at the Casper meeting would name the RAC member Babbitt wants to dump, Paseneaux's name surfaced frequently. She is known for her close association to county-supremacy groups in the state and now works as Wyoming director of Frontiers of Freedom Foundation, former Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop's conservative states'-rights think tank.

Paseneaux said she has never been told that hers is the disputed appointment. Nor, she said, would she voluntarily resign even if that were the case.

"To me, politics is not acceptable, because I have been one damn good member of this group and I have not pushed ridiculous ideas," she said.

A history of bad blood

The squabble over RAC appointments is part of a larger feud between Babbitt and Geringer. When Babbitt arrived at Yellowstone National Park to help release the first reintroduced wolves in 1995, he never telephoned Geringer. Geringer quickly attacked Babbitt for his alleged insensitivity to ranchers, at one point calling him a "tyrant." When the governor revealed that he planned to create his own advisory committee, he made the announcement only a week before the Nov. 5 election at a joint press conference with Sen. Craig Thomas, the Wyoming Republican who would return federal lands to state jurisdiction.

"Anybody with any brains at all knows that this is a political thing," said RAC member Barbara Parsons, a former president of the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

Despite the politics, Parsons and all the other members of the group have decided to stick with Geringer's RAC, at least for the time being. In Casper, Geringer urged the board to stay together. The Interior Department was mandated to solicit local comment, he said, and "in reality, (Babbitt) can't ignore us."

Geringer said he was open to ironing out his differences with Babbitt. But with his recent suggestion that Babbitt resign, the governor seemed clearly to be waiting for a change in Washington. Any further talks on the issue would wait until after Inauguration Day in January, he told RAC members.

Babbitt, in the meantime, could appoint new members to a new federal council. A Babbitt aide said that was unlikely since Interior was too busy with other things - such as working with the other 23 councils in the West that are functioning without friction.

The writer works in Casper, Wyoming.

High Country News Classifieds
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The Vice President for Landscape Conservation leads Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing on four program areas: federal public lands management; private lands...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • COMMUNITY FORESTER
    The Clearwater Resource Council located in Seeley Lake, Montana is seeking a full-time community forester with experience in both fuels mitigation and landscape restoration. Resumes...
  • GUNNISON BASIN ROUNDTABLE
    The Gunnison Basin Roundtable is currently accepting letters of interest for ten elected seats. Five of the elected members must have relevant experience in the...
  • PCTA TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISORS IN WASHINGTON'S NORTH CASCADES
    Seasonal Positions: June 17th to September 16th (14 weeks) - 3 positions to be filled The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Salary: Up to $65,000/year DOE Benefits: Generous benefits package — health insurance, Simple IRA and unlimited...
  • UTAH PUBLIC LANDS MANAGER
    Who we are: Since 1985, the Grand Canyon Trust has been a leading voice in regional conservation on the Colorado Plateau. From protecting the Grand...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Walker Basin Conservancy Reno & Yerington, NV Background The Walker Basin Conservancy (Conservancy) leads the effort to restore and maintain Walker Lake while...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    They [Northern Plains] confound the common view that ordinary people are powerless in the face of industry. - Billings Gazette editorial The venerable Northern Plains...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Small home, 2 barns (one has an apartment), and more. Approx. two acres just in the City limits. Famously pure air...
  • FRESHWATER SCIENTIST
    The Freshwater Scientist provides technical and scientific support and leadership as a subject matter resource (SMR) for conservation initiatives in surface and groundwater hydrology including...
  • TAOS HORNO ADVENTURES
    A Multicultural Culinary Memoir Informed by History and Horticulture. Richard and Annette Rubin. At nighthawkpress.com/titles and Amazon.
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected] or visit...
  • THE LAND DESK: A PUBLIC LANDS NEWSLETTER
    Western lands and communities--in context--delivered to your inbox 3x/week. From award-winning journalist and HCN contributor Jonathan P. Thompson. $6/month; $60/year.