Range tenants: Cattle and wildlife could benefit from program
Salt Lake Tribune
State Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, wants to take a number of trophy game tags away from the public and give them to groups of ranchers who have had grazing permits partially suspended, reducing the number of cattle they can run on public lands.
The grazing associations would then auction the hunting permits to wealthy hunters and use the proceeds to grow forage and develop water sources with a goal of improving the carrying capacity so their grazing permits can be restored in full.
At first glance, Stowell's proposed legislation sounds like a terrible idea. It seems like the little guy, the wildlife and Utah's arid, fragile public lands would be the losers. It sounds like the ranchers and the rich hunters would win again.
But what if Stowell's plan would benefit wildlife as well as cattle; Joe Hunter as well as Joe Rancher? What if it resulted in better habitat, more game animals and more permits to hunt them?
A similar program conducted by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in cooperation with public land management agencies already exists. Permits are given to sportsmen and conservation organizations for auction, and the groups use the money for habitat improvement projects under the watchful eye of DWR.
But could projects be developed that would benefit both livestock and wildlife? State wildlife officials and federal land managers say yes.
And would the public accept more cattle on public lands? That's the great unknown.
Grazing on Utah's public lands is a touchy topic. They're marginal cattle range at best, easily damaged by plodding, four-footed plant processors. If wildlife and the environment were the sole considerations, you'd remove all livestock from the scene. But that's not going to happen.
Ranching is a Utah tradition, and in some locales an economic engine. And federal Bureau of Land Management property, by law, is managed for multiple uses, which puts cattlemen and conservationists at odds.
Stowell's proposal could bridge that gap. If he clones the existing state permit auction program, and requires habitat restoration projects that benefit livestock and wildlife equally, it could work.
For hunters, it would mean fewer permits now, with the potential for a lot more later. For grazing groups, it would mean the restoration of suspended grazing rights. And for the rest of us, a healthier economy, and healthier public lands to enjoy.
The senator should proceed, with caution. His proposal could be a winner . . . as long as there are no losers.