Monday, June 30, 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Protect N.M. Land and Its Many Uses

By Tom Cooper And Jodi Denning
People For Preserving Our Western Heritage

LAS CRUCES — The Wilderness Act of 1964 provides the framework for the use and management of designated wilderness areas. Wilderness is the most restrictive land use designation available, and one of its most contested aspects is access. Motorized vehicles and even mountain bikes and motorized wheelchairs are prohibited.

The restricted access not only affects the public, but significantly impacts law enforcement, search and rescue and firefighting activities. Wilderness areas close to the border created havens for drug trafficking and other illegal activity; concerns for citizen safety resulted in closure of those areas to the public.

Wilderness also severely limits proactive conservation and stewardship measures for the land and its wildlife. Recreation, outdoor sports and hunting are impacted, and unrealistic burdens are placed on existing ranching operations.

Wilderness designation results in numerous impacts to every individual and organization that utilizes federal land. The designation is one way to “protect” wild areas, but not the only way, as New Mexico Wilderness Alliance would have the public believe.

Our group, People for Preserving Our Western Heritage, developed an alternative proposal to protect these areas that became the basis for HR 6300.

Our objective was to provide a meaningful balance among environmental protection, water resource management, law enforcement, national security, conservation, community development, recreation and respect for private property rights.

The result is the Doña Ana County Planned Growth, Open Space And Rangeland Preservation Act of 2008, introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M. The People's Proposal would protect 302,000 acres by creating two Special Preservation Areas and four Rangeland Preservation Areas.

These lands could never be sold or exchanged and will be permanently withdrawn from the mining and mineral leasing laws — protection legislatively identical to wilderness designation.

This proposal differs from wilderness designation in that each area would be managed to protect its unique resources. Open space would be preserved and established, and historic uses of the land such as ranching, recreation and hunting would be accommodated.

The lands would be managed in a manner that protects and enhances grazing, recreation, wildlife management and scenic values under multiple-use, while conserving open space and unique resources.

The use of motorized vehicles will be allowed only on designated roads and trails. There would be exceptions as needed for administrative purposes, homeland security, law enforcement, emergency response, construction and maintenance of authorized rainfall runoff management systems or authorized rangeland improvements.
The act incorporates provisions from legislation drafted in 2005 by U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici for a land exchange for NMSU, and for the disposal of federal land identified in the Bureau of Land Management's 1993 plan.

The “People's Proposal” quickly earned significant community support, with a coalition of more than 700 businesses and organizations along with numerous professional endorsements. The concept of tailoring legislation to meet each area's specific needs, addressing identified threats and preserving beneficial historic use has been viewed with great enthusiasm.

The proposal is receiving attention throughout the West, where the never-ending flow of wilderness proposals has created public outcry and legislative logjams. We can protect our land, our natural resources and our open space without federal wilderness designations. This proposal protects not only the land itself, but also the access to the land and the beneficial stewardship and use of the land.

For a copy of the act and more information, visit

Tom Cooper is chairman, and Jodi Denning is communications director, of People For Preserving Our Western Heritage.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Plan based on community input, would result in a balanced approach

For Immediate Release
June 27, 2008
Contact: Brian Phillips
202.225.4759, brian,

Washington - Congressman Steve Pearce, on June 18, 2008 introduced legislation to create special designations for land that balance open space preservation with other needs of the surrounding community. The Dona Ana County Planned Growth, Open Space And Rangeland Preservation Act of 2008 (HR 6300) would create four Rangeland Preservation Areas and two Special Preservation Areas that permanently protect open space and ensure appropriate access for public safety and other purposes.

"The issues are complex, and we have worked diligently to find a middle ground that is acceptable on all sides of the issue," said Pearce, a former small businessman. Over 700 businesses and organizations have formed a Coalition supporting this proposal. We believe it offers a compromise that would greatly benefit southern New Mexico and has great potential across the western states struggling with these issues for providing appropriate protection without creating unnecessary hardships on surrounding communities."

The debate over public lands legislation has helped to raise local citizens awareness of the importance of preserving open space and providing protection for our natural resources. Congressman Pearce has closely followed the debate that has surfaced with the competing proposals.

While many question the qualification of the lands in Dona Ana County, New Mexico under the standards established by the Wilderness Act of 1964, it is clear the community stands in solid agreement that these areas are worthy of protection from encroaching development as well as from mining and mineral leasing. The community has expressed concerns about the impact of Wilderness access restrictions on law enforcement, search and rescue operations, fire fighting, and flood control projects, as well as access for sportsmen, hunters, horseback riders and other recreationalists. The development community raised concerns about impacts on community growth. The ranching community raised concerns about their economic viability when faced with impacts from management and administration practices typically imposed within Wilderness areas.

Concerns expressed by Border Patrol organizations about impacts to Homeland Security operations raise serious issues that impact every citizen. Richard Hayes, retired Chief of Air Operations for the Border Patrol, expressed his concerns by stating "The current effort to create Wilderness along the border in Dona Ana County and ultimately the expansion of such activities along the extended border is dangerous and ill conceived."

Specifically, the legislation will allow appropriate access for recreational use of the land, such as hunting, camping, and bicycling, as well as unrestricted access for law enforcement and public safety officials. It also will benefit the economies of surrounding communities by allowing a local advisory board to participate in and provide input into the existing land disposal process managed by the Bureau of Land Management. A portion of the proceeds from sale of federal lands would be directed back into the local community. It should be noted that the Act deals only with disposal lands already identified by BLM in its 1993 Mimbres Area Resource Management Plan. The Act does not identify additional lands for disposal, and sets no timetable for disposals. Disposals will be based on the needs of the community, with input from a seven-member advisory committee consisting of a representative from the BLM, Dona Ana County, City of Las Cruces, conservationists, Elephant Butte Irrigation District, ranching, and the business community.

The legislation will provide protection and preservation of the federal lands with a model which tailors the level of protection and access based on the specific requirements for the areas and the needs of the community. The existing temporary Wilderness Study Areas can be released because appropriate protection measures will be in place.

Congressman Pearces legislation is an innovative approach blending sensible and appropriate levels of protection for our natural resources, balanced with protection of property rights, appropriate levels of access for the public and law enforcement, and continued beneficial use of these areas.


Additional Reference material:

A 2004 US General Accounting Office (GAO) Report titled "Border Security - Agencies Need to Better Coordinate Their Strategies and Operations on Federal Lands", states: "Congress has designated areas within some federal lands as wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964 and subsequent legislation, while the Fish and Wildlife Service has designated certain areas as critical habitat for endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Federal law enforcement officers told us that these designations can hinder their efforts. For example, motorized vehicles must generally remain on designated roads in wilderness areas, and the Wilderness Act generally prohibits construction of permanent structures such as communications towers in wilderness areas."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Forest may examine cattle fence in detail
Forest Service says more analysis might be needed for fence, corrals in pronghorn path.

Bridger-Teton National Forest officials say they will likely take a closer look at the environmental consequences of building fences and a corral proposed at a grazing allotment in the Gros Ventre River drainage.

Jackson District Ranger Dale Deiter said Monday he will consider a more stringent analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act for proposal to construct a corral and two sections of fence in the pronghorn migration corridor in the Gros Ventre. Officials had previously recommended a “categorical exclusion,” a level of analysis reserved for activities that do not have a significant effect on the environment.

Deiter said the fences and the corral would likely necessitate an “environmental assessment,” a more in-depth look at the possible environmental consequences. Deiter stopped short of committing to such a study.

Deiter called grazing on the Upper Gros Ventre a “valid use.”

“It’s really just about the management we are going to employ on the land,” he said. Protecting the pronghorn migration corridor and keeping cattle on the allotment are two goals for the Forest Service, he said.

“What we’re trying to deal with is distribution on the allotment.”

The proposal comes after 550 cow-calf pairs cattle owned by ranchers Shane Christian, of Pavillion, and Jack and Amy Robinson of Jackson, repeatedly wandered off the Upper Gros Ventre allotment last summer and onto the 178,000-acre Bacon-Fish reserve. Conservation groups purchased the Bacon-Fish allotment in January 2007 to provide additional grazing opportunities for big game such as elk, and to provide options for managing large carnivores. Part of the 178,000 acres is a forage reserve where infrequent grazing could be allowed.

One new extension would link to an existing fence near Soda Creek, part of which was recently removed by conservation groups to benefit wildlife. The other, located northwest of Lake Creek, is new and would intersect a pronghorn migration corridor from the Upper Green River Valley to Grand Teton National Park.

The corral, which has already been constructed, is located near Slate Creek. The corral is necessary as a drop-off point because the upper portion of the Gros Ventre Road isn’t passable by tractor trailers hauling cattle, according to Forest Service officials and the ranchers.

Environmentalists have said the fencing and the corral could impede wildlife movement.

Conservation groups have also suggested that trailing the cattle from Slate Creek to the allotment could damage resources. Deiter agreed the land between the corral and the allotment is crucial winter range.

“I haven’t seen anything that suggests we are having impacts trailing to the allotment,” he said. “I think, for a lot of reasons, Slate Creek would be the best option” for the corral.

Gros Ventre rancher Glenn Taylor, who spoke at a meeting Monday, agreed.

“You have to have a site where you can deal with those trucks, and that’s the best site,” he said.

Greater Yellowstone Coalition representative Lloyd Dorsey urged a more comprehensive look at the fencing and the corrals.

“Isn’t the Forest Service concerned about foreclosing on options that could be looked at in a more comprehensive analysis?” he asked Deiter. “I would hope [Bridger-Teton] moves slowly when they make decisions up there that can impact public resources.”

Louise Lasley, public lands director with the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said that the Forest Service should take a better look at how unloading cattle at the corral in the spring coincides with the pronghorn migration near the corral “right at a critical bottleneck.”

When Kniffy Hamilton, forest supervisor with Bridger-Teton, asked about a removable fence on one part of the corral, Taylor objected.

“I would like to see that proposal as labor friendly as possible,” he said. “Why burden these fellas with more work than they need to do? These people aren’t trust babies; they’re trying to make a dollar out of this.”

Jack Robinson agreed. “I don’t want to be building this and taking it down every year,” he said.

Robinson also said he doesn’t expect the cattle to figure out how to stay on the Upper Gros Ventre allotment on their own.

Deiter said that the fencing might not be necessary if people would be more tolerant about cattle leaving the allotment.

After the meeting, another conservationist took issue with Deiter’s suggestion that the public tolerate some leakage of cattle onto Bacon-Fish reserve.

“The logic that permittees should somehow be exempt from their contractual obligations, that kind of attitude just doesn’t cut it with me at all,” said Jonathan Ratner, Western Watersheds Project Wyoming office director. “You need to control your livestock.”

Ratner said he’s seen tractor trailer trucks negotiate Gros Ventre road numerous times and said the corral and an associated 12-acre holding pasture belongs on private land. Further, he said calling the proposed fences “wildlife friendly” is a misnomer.

“There is no such thing as wildlife friendly fences,” he said. “All fences impact wildlife.”

Ratner also took issue with the fact that taxpayers, not the cattle owners, would pay for the fencing and corral.

“For some reason, in the livestock industry, the players have this sense of entitlement that this is just their do,” he said.

Friday, June 20, 2008

U.S. Forest Service cuts grazing on National Grasslands

...This year, Forest Service district ranger Ron Jablonski, who manages the Medora district in southwestern North Dakota, decided the drought had significantly affected grass growth in the district. He decided grazing needed to be cut 30 percent across the board in National Grasslands in Slope and Billings counties.

Jerry Lambourn, a cow-calf operator 18 miles north of Rhame, said he was “surprised” when the Little Missouri Grazing Association received a fax telling them about the 30 percent cuts.

His federal grassland pastures are in a region that received good moisture from the spring snowstorm in South Dakota.

In fact, his pastures had received “just short of 5 inches” and were green when he attended the annual meeting at the grazing association.

The fax arrived at the meeting during a break when no one was in the office. The ranchers returned and found the fax. “I was surprised because we have had a lot of moisture this spring,” Lambourn said.

That region of the southwest has been out of the extreme drought category and is currently rated in the abnormally dry category by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Pope said ranchers have always taken steps to manage the drought conditions and have been able to work with the U.S. Forest Service in the past.

He said there were 109 permittees (ranchers) in the association and 7,000 animal units. “Livestock producers were upset by the cuts because they weren't individualized

Pope thought the timing of the fax was unusual because U.S. Forest Service personnel were coming in person that afternoon to give a talk at the meeting anyway.

“The Forest Service did not come out and check the allotments with us before they decided on this 30 percent across-the-board cut,” Pope said. “With 5 inches of rain, it's not needed.”

Shakey Jacobson, a rancher northwest of Amidon who also has pastures in the federal grasslands, said the cool-season grasses were late this spring.

“We're getting good rain now,” Jacobson said. “The wheatgrass is coming up nicely.”

Jacobson, who was the past president of the association, felt the 30 percent across-the-board cut was unjustified. While some pastures in the grazing association were poor, especially on the eastern edge, others were in good condition.

Pastures in parts of the Little Missouri had gotten 4 to 5 inches, and even the drier regions in the northeastern part of the association were finally getting rain. Some regions in the far south had received more than 6 inches this spring.

“Some of the permittees are stocking lighter already, depending on the conditions of the pastures. Others are using other pastures, or taking cows to auction barns,” Pope said. “I just feel our permittees can manage the resources without having to be told they need a mandatory cut.”

Jablonski said the reason for the across-the-board cut was because livestock producers in the association had not all responded back about what they planned to do to deal with the drought this year.

“With little response, I felt compelled to make a decision and that's what I did (make a 30 percent across-the-board cut),” Jablonski said. “If we don't get more moisture, there will be additional cuts.”

He said some of the ways the U.S. Forest determines grazing cutbacks is by using various drought monitors, local forecast, hearing from producers who put in fences about how deep the subsoil moisture goes, monitoring sales at the auction barns, and trying to “keep an eye on the ground conditions.”

“We've just gone through the worst six-month drought in North Dakota,” Jablonski said. “The grass just isn't growing, and it's my responsibility to maintain those grassland resources.”

He said the Forest Service was concerned because there was little fall moisture, no winter snow and only light spring rains this year.

Jack Dahl, range specialist at the U.S. Forest Service, said he was concerned about livestock producers “starting out in a hole.” Most of the grass species have not had adequate production yet. If the grass gets behind this year, it will be even worse next year, he said.

Pope said the federal grasslands has a built-in drought management tool for producers. The tools are there that say what needs to be done in a drought situation.

If the U.S. Forest Service felt there was a drought situation, he said it would have been more appropriate to give more notice to the ranchers. That way they could “find other grass or reduce herds for sales and wouldn't be at the mercy of the markets,” he said.

Pope said the grazing association is in its 69th year, and has not encountered problems with the U.S. Forest Service before. In 2003, the association took a voluntary 25 percent cut and in 1998, it took a 20 percent cut.

Randy Gaebe, a conservationist with the Little Missouri Grazing Association, said the association went out and checked soil conditions in the allotments to see how far down the subsoil moisture was. That ranged from 4 feet to 13 inches in areas checked the week of June 9.

“We have had above average rainfall throughout most of the association,” he said.

Types of grasses that are typical in the Little Missouri are western wheatgrass, crested wheatgrass, prairie junegrass, needle and thread, threadleaf sedge, and big and little blue stem, Gaebe said. The introduced grasses were reseeded in the 30s after farmland was reclaimed.

After hearing from the grazing association that some pastures were in good condition, Forest Service personnel decided that some areas needed to be checked out.

“We're hoping it looks better,” he said.

While cattle were out grazing on the green pastures that are filled with native and introduced grasses last week, Forest Service personnel drove down to view the pastures in person. Little Missouri Grazing Association personnel went with them and showed them the pastures.

Lambourn said his neighbor did hear back from the Forest Service by last week and was told to go ahead with his original grazing plans.

Others were to be notified this week of their decisions.

Up in northwestern North Dakota in the McKenzie District, Gary Petik, U.S. Forest Service range supervisor, said he is working with the McKenzie Grazing Association on voluntary cutbacks.

“It didn't fit our situation for a flat cut,” he said. “We evaluated each pasture on its own merits.”

Most of the region lost six to seven weeks of cool season grass growth due to the lack of moisture. Livestock producers are concerned about a shorter grazing season and some have already made adjustments, he said.

“We adopted the philosophy here of take half, leave half,” Petik said, adding it's an old rule that seems to work well. Voluntary grazing cuts in his region ranged from 15 to 30 percent. One producer volunteered a 40 percent cut.

“We don't try and dictate to them what to do on their individual operations. What we say is when the grass is at 50 percent, rotate the cattle,” he said.

At the Sheyenne National Grasslands in southeastern North Dakota and much of South Dakota, there was no cuts in grazing needed.

At Buffalo Gap national grasslands in South Dakota, livestock producers took a 20 percent cut in grazing. Some took a 40 percent cut depending on the condition of the pasture.

Meanwhile, the national grasslands in Kansas is not allowing any grazing.

At Cimarron National Grassland, the 101,175 acres of land that makes up the unit has only received 2 inches of rain since Jan. 1 and a total of 4 inches since last year.

“None of the grass is growing here,” said Nancy Brewer, rangeland management specialist at Cimarron. “Everything is in the dormant stage. We have no grazing going on.”

Brewer said livestock producers in Cimarron are taking huge hits, cutting their herds or buying expensive feed. Some have been able to move herds to other locations.

She said other states are taking grazing cuts, too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New supervisor at Lincoln National Forest

Southwestern Regional Forester Corbin Newman announced that Jacqueline "Jacque" Buchanan is now Forest Supervisor of the Lincoln National Forest headquartered in Alamogordo. She had served as deputy forest supervisor and has been acting forest supervisor since the retirement of former Lincoln National Forest Supervisor, S. E. "Lou" Woltering, who retired in April.
Buchanan has more than 20 years experience with several agencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture including the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, Farmers Home Administration, Farm Service Agency, as well as the U.S. Forest Service.
"Jacque has demonstrated that she works well with people from all walks of life, in addition to her skills in natural resources management," Newman said. "She did a good job as Glenwood District Ranger on the Gila National Forest before moving to the Lincoln National Forest, and she will do a good job as Lincoln Forest Supervisor."
Buchanan has worked closely with numerous collaborative groups throughout New Mexico, is active in the Society of Range Management and served as the President of the New Mexico Section of the Society.
Buchanan said, "Working with the public and maintaining good relations with communities, other agencies, and forest visitors is very important for me. I believe very strongly in our motto of 'Caring for the Land and Serving the People.' As Forest Supervisor of the Lincoln, I will continue to honor this commitment."
Buchanan received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture from Penn State University in 1988, after starting her college studies at Eastern New Mexico University, Portales. She has experience in rangeland, recreation and fire management, public affairs as well as her prior administrative positions. During her career, she has worked in North Carolina, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Congress Pushes to Keep Land Untamed
Bills Could Add Millions of Acres Of Wilderness

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 16, 2008; A01

INDEX, Wash. -- With little fanfare, Congress has embarked on a push to protect as many as a dozen pristine areas this year in places ranging from the glacier-fed streams of the Wild Sky Wilderness here to West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest. By the end of the year, conservation experts predict, this drive could place as much as 2 million acres of unspoiled land under federal control, a total that rivals the wilderness acreage set aside by Congress over the previous five years.

A confluence of factors is driving this wilderness renaissance: the shift in Congress from Republican to Democratic control; environmentalists' decision to take a more pragmatic approach in which they enlist local support for their proposals by making concessions to opposing interests; and some communities' recognition that intact ecosystems can often offer a greater economic payoff than extractive industries.

"It may not seem like it on most issues, but in this one arena Congress is getting things across the goal line," said Mike Matz, executive director of the advocacy group Campaign for America's Wilderness. "Nobody gets everything they want, but by coming together, talking with age-old adversaries and seeking common ground, wilderness protection is finding Main Street support and becoming motherhood-and-apple-pie."

Against the backdrop of Bush administration policies that have opened up millions of acres of public land to oil and gas exploration, logging and other commercial uses, environmental advocates and lawmakers argue that it makes sense to cordon off more of the country's most unspoiled places.

The administration has offered more than 40 million acres in the Rockies for oil and gas drilling and other "extractive" uses, according to the Wilderness Society, and it has done the same with 70 million acres in the Alaskan Arctic. In addition, the Forest Service estimates that development eliminates 6,000 acres of the open space every day.

The administration has generally favored expanding wilderness acreage, letting Congress determine which areas should be protected and how. Part of this stems from the fact that nearly all of these bills have broad constituencies, which include local faith, business and hunting groups as well as GOP officeholders. And as Bush approaches the end of his second term, he is eyeing opportunities to leave his mark on the nation's landscape.

In the first wilderness designation this year, the Wild Sky Wilderness became law in May. It set aside more than 106,000 acres of low-elevation, old-growth forest and jagged mountain peaks crisscrossed by streams that feature wild salmon and steelhead runs.

The logging business has largely died out in Index, a town less than two hours from Seattle, and residents see the wilderness as a way to promote the recreational activities that now help drive the local economy.

"In the past 30 years, we've seen this town move into an entirely recreational economy," said Bill Cross, a former city council member in Index who helped lobby for the designation. "I see Wild Sky as an extension of that."

Wilderness areas, which have the strictest level of federal protection, account for just over 107 million acres nationwide -- 4.8 percent of the nation's land mass, roughly half of it in Alaska. Federal law prohibits mechanized transport in wilderness areas, but they are open to such activities as hiking and fishing.

In recent weeks the House has passed six wilderness bills, including Wild Sky, that would protect more than 500,000 acres. The Senate Energy and Resources Committee has approved another four wilderness bills and the panel could pass more, an effort that Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said was aimed at addressing "some pent-up demand for bills that had been in the works for most of the last decade."

Although several factors have spurred the flurry of legislative activity, much of it stems from the fact that former House Resources Committee chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) -- who fiercely opposed designating any new wilderness -- lost his seat in 2006. As many as a dozen bills are expected to pass this year, and another seven have been introduced recently.

Almost all 12 have bipartisan support, and many include concessions to traditional opponents such as loggers and off-road-vehicle riders. But they also show that Democrats are intent on reasserting federal authority in the realm of conservation.

"When I changed the name from Resources to Natural Resources, it wasn't just for cosmetic reasons -- it's for what I view as the real guts of the responsibility of this committee," said Pombo's successor, Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.). "To those critics who say, 'Why do we need new wilderness?' I say these areas already are wilderness. We simply want to preserve them as they are, as they have been for generations, and preserve them for future generations."

Some environmentalists say even these measures cannot compensate for the tens of thousands of drilling permits the administration has leased in recent years. Katie McKalip, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, noted that in the past decade in Wyoming, a land area equal in size to Virginia has been leased for development.

"Our public lands, and the fish and wildlife species that depend on them, are falling victim to a management policy that effectively values one land use -- oil and gas development -- above all others," McKalip said.

Some Republicans question why the federal government would add more wilderness when it is struggling to maintain the public lands it already holds.

"If you're not preserving and taking care of what you've got, why are you adding to it?" said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who has placed parliamentary "holds" that are blocking action on several bills.

In an interview, Coburn said he has no problem with states designating wilderness areas if they are prepared to finance their upkeep, noting that the Forest Service has a multibillion-dollar backlog of projects. "If you want to do it, why shouldn't the state be doing it? If Oregon wants to create new wilderness, I'm all in favor of Oregon doing it."

But supporters of congressional action say that only the federal government has the capacity to protect the most vulnerable areas. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, both Democrats from Washington state, pushed to include 30,000 acres of low-elevation areas in Wild Sky on the grounds that they were ecologically critical and close to major population centers. These areas, below 3,000 feet, have a Tolkienesque landscape, with bright green, moss-covered trees and aquamarine water that locals dub "glacier milk" because the ground-up stones from glaciers give it an ethereal color.

"We call it the cleanest, coldest, clearest river in the state," said high school science teacher Mike Town, who started pushing for wilderness protection nearly a decade ago. "If you really want to protect salmon, or even Puget Sound, the water quality of the rivers that drain into Puget Sound needs to be addressed."

Murray and Larsen, whose bill made concessions to church groups, the Boy Scouts and float-plane operators in order to forge a consensus on the bill, said it took time to convince some opponents that creating wilderness would benefit the local community. The lawmakers removed a few thousand acres from the plan to placate snowmobilers, clarified that existing float-plane use could continue and ensured that church groups and the Boy Scouts could still get access to their camping grounds.

"When you say 'wilderness,' the hair goes up on the back of their necks, and they envision chains going around trees they'll never touch," Murray recalled in an interview. "It can't just be in-your-face 'We're going to protect those areas, we don't care what you think.' "

With the support of several senior Republicans, including Sen. Larry Craig (Idaho) and then-Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, the Wild Sky bill passed the Senate three times, but Pombo repeatedly blocked it in the House.

"It was a failure of American democracy, where you had one man who prevented the will of the American people from being fulfilled," said Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who battled Pombo on the Resources Committee. "What you're seeing right now is this one-man dam has broken."

Doug Scott, who has been working on wilderness bills for 30 years and is now policy director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, said he thinks that someday the United States will complete the mission envisioned in the 1964 Wilderness Act. But it hasn't gotten there yet, he said.

"There will be a last acre -- we just won't know it's the last acre," he said. "And I don't think I'll live to see it."
American Ranching Family Wins 17-Year Battle with the Federal Government - Landmark decision in Hage v U.S. Issued by Federal Court of Claims

An epic 17-year battle between an American ranching family and the federal government has ended in favor of the family. The estates of Wayne and Jean Hage can finally claim a Fifth Amendment precedent-setting property rights victory. The court ruled that the Hages owned the water rights, ditch rights of ways, and range improvements on the federal grazing allotments. The court made clear that the government has the right to authorize grazing, but does not have the right to prevent the plaintiff from accessing their water rights on federal lands. Loren A. Smith, Senior Judge for the US Court of Federal Claims said, "As government seeks to change its policies concerning the purpose and use of public lands, private landowners have a valid claim to preserve their vested rights...the notion of private property is fundamental to the existence of our Nation...if private property is taken for public use, those citizens should be justly compensated."

Tonopah, Nevada (PRWEB) June 10, 2008 -- An epic 17-year battle between an American ranching family and the federal government has ended in favor of the family. The estates of Wayne and Jean Hage can finally claim a Fifth Amendment precedent-setting property rights victory.

Loren A. Smith, Senior Judge for the United States Court of Federal Claims issued his final opinion in Hage v. United States (Case No. 91-1470L), ending the decades-long battle by deciding that the federal government indeed took the private property rights of E. Wayne and Jean Hage and awarding them deserved compensation.

The court ruled that the Hages owned the water rights, ditch rights of ways, and range improvements on the federal grazing allotments. The court made clear that the government has the right to authorize grazing, but does not have the right to prevent the plaintiff from accessing their water rights on federal lands. (Case #91-1470L, The Estate of E. Wayne Hage and the Estate of Jean N. Hage v. The United States, June 6, 2008.)

"This decision is important to every American because it reaffirms our basic right to own property, whether you live in a major US city or rural America," commented Margaret Byfield, the Hage's third daughter and executive director of the Stewards of the Range organization which has supported the case since the beginning.

Wayne and Jean Hage filed their takings case in 1991, claiming the U.S. Forest Service had denied their rights to graze their livestock on federal land and actively prevented them from accessing and maintaining their water rights.

The family has endured 17 years of court hearings and trials, and has won at every level, including the final round. "This is clearly a victory for my parents, who never gave up," commented Ruth Agee, the second of the five Hage children. Wayne and Jean are both buried on the private meadows at Pine Creek Ranch, which will remain with the family.

Pine Creek Ranch was established in 1865, and purchased by the Hage family in 1978. The private fee lands encompass 7,000 acres, but as the court points out, "To raise cattle economically in such an arid region, Plaintiffs depend upon access to large quantities of land, including federal land, and to the limited water supply."

In 1979, one year after the family purchased the ranch trouble began with the Forest Service when the USFS allowed the release of non-indigenous elk on the Hage's Table Mountain allotment. The elk began competing with their cattle for forage and water. However, instead of controlling the elk, the Forest Service reduced and ultimately canceled the Hage's grazing permits.

Years of harassment by the federal government followed, including over 70 "visits" from the Forest Service and 40 letters charging them with various violations, which many, the court noted, were "extremely minor infractions." The court further pointed out that the Forest Service made many unreasonable requirements. "In addition, the Forest Service insisted that Plaintiffs maintain their 1866 Act ditches with nothing other than hand tools."

After the Forest Service canceled the remaining grazing permits in 1990, the family was forced to file their takings case known as Hage v. United States.

Ladd Bedford, one of the attorneys for the Hage family, who was involved in the case from its inception, noted the important precedent: "There is now a deterrent to the federal agencies. The federal government has significant exposure by way of having to pay just compensation when they deny ranchers access to their water and range improvements."

"This is an important legal victory," commented Mike Van Zandt, the other attorney who has been involved in the case since the early 1990's. "The agencies have used their regulatory power to drive ranchers out of business with no regard for their property rights, and now the court has set limits on the agency's actions."

Internationally known western artist, Jack Swanson, a long time Hage family friend said; "Two American heroes and the western rancher have been vindicated by this decision." Swanson painted the original oil painting entitled "Stewards of the Range," from which the organization took its name and raised over $100,000 for the case.

"My parents wanted resolution," commented Byfield. "They were told by the agencies that they had no property rights on the federal lands. They pursued this case so that this 60-year conflict between ranchers and agencies could be settled, and future generations of ranchers would have the security of their property rights. They succeeded."

The Court found that regulatory and physical takings occurred, and the government owes the estates of Wayne and Jean Hage $4.2 million in compensation, plus 17 years of interest and attorney's fees.

Nevada rancher wins property rights award

A federal judge has awarded more than $4.2 million to the estate of late Nevada rancher and private property rights advocate Wayne Hage, ruling that the U.S. Forest Service committed a constitutional "taking" of his water rights during a decades-long dispute over livestock grazing on federal land.

Calling the conflict a "drama worthy of a tragic opera and heroic characters," U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Loren A. Smith also ordered the government to pay back interest to the family of one of the leaders of the so-called "Sagebrush Rebellion" during the 1980s.

Hage's lawyer estimates the interest dating to 1991 to be an additional $4.4 million, which he said would make it the largest award ever in such a case.

"It sends a pretty important message to the government that if you screw with a small ranching family and put them out of business, you have to pay big bucks," said Lyman "Ladd" Bedford, a San Francisco-based lawyer who has argued the case since Hage first filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service in 1991.

Smith, based in Washington D.C., ruled that government restrictions severely reducing water flows to Hage's land "deprived them of the water they needed for irrigation, making the ranch unviable."

"The court finds the government's actions had a severe economic impact on plaintiffs and the governments' actions rose to the level of a taking," he said in Friday's ruling.

"Whereas real property ownership is defined by a right to exclude others from that property, water ownership is defined by the right to access and use that water."

Like in similar cases in the past, the judge said the cancellation of Hage's federal grazing permit as a result of overgrazing and trespassing did not in itself amount to a "taking" prohibited under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. That's because a grazing permit is "a license, not a contract or property interest," he said.

However, Smith said the taking occurred when the Forest Service -- apparently motivated by "hostility" toward Hage -- made it impossible for him to maintain the irrigation ditches.

The ditches were regulated under the 1866 Ditch Act, which was enacted one year after the Pine Creek Ranch was founded in central Nevada. They brought water to the sprawling 7,000-acre ranch in central Nevada that Hage bought in 1978 and the 700,000 acres of national forest land where he grazed his cattle -- an area equal to about two-thirds of the size of Rhode Island.

Ed Monnig, supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, said Tuesday there had been no decision made yet on whether to appeal.

"We're aware of Friday's court decision and our agency is now considering the implications of this ruling and carefully weighing options," Monnig said.

Hage, who was married to the late U.S. Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage at the time of his death in 2006, first filed a claim seeking $28 million in 1991. He said in an interview in 2004 that his case "could have a dramatic impact on Western state's rights and the proper jurisdiction of federal lands in the West."

"It's the first time in nearly a century that someone has effectively challenged the government over who owns the range rights and water rights out here on these federal lands," he told The Associated Press.

Hage had argued the proliferation of willows, pinion, juniper and other vegetation in the ditches over the years resulted in a significant reduction in the flow of water to his pastures. He said that was primarily because of the Forest Service's demand that he maintain the ditches using nothing more than hand tools.

"Extensive evidence has convinced the court that but for the government actions plaintiffs would have had the water in which they had a vested right," the judge wrote.
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, Especially When Your Neighbor is an Endangered Frog

First Ever "Frog Fence" to Protect the Rare Oregon Spotted Frog

CHEMULT, Ore.— A Forest Service proposal to fence cattle out of a sensitive stretch of creek in the Klamath Basin to protect the Oregon spotted frog seems to have tentative support from both ranchers and environmentalists. Last month, conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, and the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center sued, arguing that federal environmental laws require the Forest Service to halt grazing when it “results in loss of species viability or creates a significant trend toward federal listing.” The decision to build the fence responds to this suit.

“This is welcome news for the Oregon spotted frog,” said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Once an abundant species throughout the Northwest, the frog now has so few remaining populations that every one counts.”

On Wednesday, representatives of the Center for Biological Diversity and Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics toured Jack Creek along with the Forest Service and the local rancher who runs cows on the allotment. They were there to look over the Forest Service’s solution to the problem: A three-and-a-half-mile-long fence that will exclude cattle from the frog’s breeding grounds in Jack Creek, while allowing the rancher to continue to utilize 90 percent of the allotment for cattle grazing. The Forest Service is also planning additional steps to restore frog habitat, including reintroduction of beaver, which build dams and create pools necessary for the frogs to thrive, clearing encroaching saplings from meadows, and repairing damaged stream banks. In response to the fence proposal, the conservation groups have temporarily set aside their motion for a preliminary injunction against grazing.

“I believe this is the first frog fence in the United States,” said James Johnston of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. “It is definitely the first frog fence I’ve ever inspected. I am excited to work with the Forest Service to repair streams, reintroduce beaver and more. There’s some creative work getting done by the Forest Service out here on the Chemult District.”

The Oregon spotted frog has been lost from over 90 percent of its former range in southern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and northern California. There are fewer than 50 known sites where the frog still survives. In 1996, the Forest Service identified one of these sites on a cattle allotment along Jack Creek in the Fremont-Winema National Forest. A nearby rancher is allowed to graze more than 400 cows in the creek during the summer. The number of frog egg masses in Jack Creek — a standard measure of the health of frog populations — has declined from 335 to just 21 from 1999 to 2008.

Spotted frogs have been a Priority Two candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act since 1991, meaning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges they warrant listing as an endangered species, but claims it lacks the funds to provide such protection. Under the Bush administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been notoriously slow at protecting candidate species, despite a steadily increasing budget for protecting new species. To date, the administration has listed only 60 U.S. species, compared to 522 under the Clinton administration and 231 under the first Bush administration. There are currently 281 species on the candidate species list. Since passage of the Act, at least 24 candidate species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

“The decline of the Oregon spotted frog in Jack Creek might have been prevented if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not delayed protection of the Oregon spotted frog,” said George Sexton, conservation director of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The Bush administration has delayed protection for the Oregon spotted frog and hundreds of other species for too long.”