I am writing to address recent
comments and misinformation in the November 21, 2001 article in the Ogden
Standard-Examiner regarding our appeal of recent grazing permit renewals by BLM
in Box Elder County.
It is too bad that a member of the
Box Elder County Commission and Public Servant has labeled us as terrorists in
his comments to the press.As a
patriotic American, I support the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
These protect our freedoms including the right to participate in our
government. Further, the laws and regulations governing the Bureau of Land
Management allow for a Citizenís right to protest and appeal decisions made
regarding management of our Public Lands.I
would like to also remind the County Commission that these BLM lands belong to
the American People, not isolated enclaves of ranchers who have abused and
degraded them for a century, while being subsidized by the American taxpayers
It would seem appropriate for Mr. Holmgren and the County Commission to
publicly withdraw his accusation that our actions constitute terrorism without
even taking a glance at the facts in the matter.
The Farm Bureau and Box Elder County
Commission have grossly exaggerated the importance of livestock grazing on these
BLM lands to the economy of Box Elder County. The 32 grazing allotments we have appealed cover some 521,000
acres of BLM land and 70 individual permits.
The forage provided to livestock on this land is 16,483 animal unit
months (AUMs). If half that forage
went to grow beef for market and half to maintain herds, at market rates for
beef, the value would be $370,000 per year.
This is 0.35% of the agriculture income in Box Elder County.
In fact, it is much lower than 0.35% because the fees and other costs
associated with production were not subtracted.
It is only 0.04% of total personal income in the County.
The 70 individual permits represent individual ranchers.
Their importance to the economy pales when compared to the civilian and
government labor force of almost 20,000 in Box Elder County. In addition, two-thirds of the land in Box Elder County is
private and most agriculture income is generated on these lands, not Public
Lands. It is misleading to allow
the public to think that our appeals affect the entire agricultural economy of
Box Elder County and the State of Utah. The
County Commission should set the record straight on this.
April 4, 2002
I read with interest the op-ed piece by Lori Cornia in your March 29 edition. I will try to address at least a few of her opinions, which I must say lack any factual basis.
Ms. Cornia intimated that I and the Western Watersheds Project are terrorists because we appealed the recent BLM grazing decisions in Rich County. Would she do away with our First Amendment right to speak or to operate within the law which allows us to protest and appeal decisions on Public Lands? These lands belong to all the American people, not just the ranching folks. In spite of efforts by people like Ms. Cornia who would apparently limit free speech to retain effective control of our public lands in the hands of a few ranchers, we have every right to seek protection of these lands and will continue to do so.
Ms. Cornia complained our action will be devastating to Rich County ranchers and that the environmental analysis we requested will be paid by the taxpayer, not us. I would like to note, that if the ranchersí livestock were not grazing these lands, the environmental analysis we appealed would not have been necessary. The cost of that analysis was also paid by the taxpayer. In addition, Federal grazing fees are $1.43 per cow and calf for each month to consume somewhere around half a ton of forage. With hay running near $100 per ton, that is quite a discount and is a fraction of market value of private grazing ground. The costs of administering these grazing permits across the west are subsidized by the American taxpayer to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. This does not count the additional billions of dollars in lost topsoil, stream damage, silted reservoirs and canals, treating water supplies to remove silt and fecal material and the need for fish hatcheries because fish canít reproduce or even live in many of our streams due to livestock. It doesnít count the annual loss of millions of acre-feet of water due to watershed damage from livestock grazing. It doesnít count the loss of deer and elk and other wildlife. Did you know that the forage consumed by livestock on public lands in Utah is equivalent to that needed to support over 1,000,000 deer? And we wonder why deer and sage grouse are having a hard time.
We did a very conservative economic analysis of the value of the forage used in the permits we appealed compared to the value of goods and services produced in Rich County. It turns out that this is about 2.8% and is probably an overestimate. It is also a small percent of agriculture production in the County. The Governorís Office of Planning and Budget provides figures for economic growth in each county in Utah. The annual growth in non-agriculture income in Rich County is greater than the value of the livestock grazed on BLM lands. Ms. Cornia should also realize that the most productive lands are in private hands, not on Federal land and that closing Federal lands to grazing would not end ranching in Rich County, especially when you consider that many of these permits are for a handful of livestock, typical of hobby ranching where the permittee holds a job elsewhere and is only a part-time rancher. Economic studies have shown that other values of public lands hold more economic value for local communities than livestock grazing.
Ms. Cornia seemed to find it unfair that we requested ranchers be held to the same environmental standards of other industries and that cows put back what they take out. Is she suggesting that ranchers should be exempted from environmental requirements to protect watersheds and water quality? Does she want water polluted with cow manure and the over 150 human pathogens contained in it? As to cows putting back what they take out, it is well known that cows gain weight at the expense of the forage they consume. This results in a decrease in the fertility of the soil and over time a loss in plant production. We have measured losses in grass production in grazed lands in northern Utah of 90% compared to ungrazed lands with soil nitrogen reductions of over half. Any farmer knows you have to put nutrients back into the soil. Can you grow corn for 100 years in the same field without fertilizing? That is essentially what public lands ranchers are doing on our public lands by taking out more than they put back every year. Inevitably, this continued lowering of soil fertility and plant productivity will end public lands ranching because of the lack of willingness of ranchers to address overstocking of livestock. Why should we wait for the total destruction of our watersheds and wildlife?
As to Ms. Corniaís claim that we donít live in Rich County, donít know what we are talking about and anyway, where do we get the time and money to put a ludicrous action like this together? We are professional ecologists, scientists, economists, former BLM and Forest Service employees and others. Some of us were raised on farms and ranches and have made our living surveying conditions on the ground, including Rich County BLM lands. Many of us work without pay, at our own expense or at minimum wages because we believe in protecting these lands. So do the people who contribute to our cause. We work full time on these issues, foregoing pursuit of money. So who is operating on principal and who on financial self-interest without regard to the costs borne by the public?
Finally, I would like to mention that Western Watersheds Project is part of the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign which is proposing legislation to provide for funding voluntary permit retirement. We recognize that many ranchers are advancing in age and may not have children to continue the operation or have debt and would like to consolidate their operations. We are supporting a buy-out price of $175 per AUM, about triple market value. More information can be found at http://www.publiclandsranching.org/ . Your readers should check this out and urge the Farm Bureau and Utah Cattlemenís Association to support this legislation. It will provide a retirement benefit to ranchers when they want to retire and protect some of our public lands as well. What can be wrong with that? It is totally voluntary and we already have ranchers calling to support us in this effort.