Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Property rights guru fathered unlikely wilderness bill

Supporters of Sen. Mike Crapo's Owyhee Initiative Bill are going to have to wait at least another few months before the brainchild of Fred Grant finally comes to fruition.

Grant, an adviser to Owyhee County, had worked alongside the late Rep. Helen Chenoweth fighting federal control over public land ranchers. He worked with her husband, the late Wayne Hage, in pushing federal courts to recognize private property rights on public lands like water, fences and other improvements.

Owyhee County dodged a bullet in 2001 when President Clinton decided not to turn more than a million acres of the county's breathtaking canyonlands and valuable sagebrush steppe habitat into a national monument. but Grant knew the issue wouldn't go away.

The Western Watersheds Project headed by Jon Marvel was successfully forcing ranchers to cut back their grazing to protect endangered species and water quality in court. Even with Republicans in control of the White House and nearly in control of Congress, Grant was doubtful they could protect Owyhee County's ranchers and keep them in business.

So he persuaded Owyhee County commissioners to convene talks between willing environmental groups, cattlemen, local officials, outfitters, motorized recreationists, the Air Force and eventually the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe. He took his idea to the Idaho Congressional delegation. Only Sen. Mike Crapo answered.

Grant's plan, to bring a group together toward a land plan for the Owyhees, was exactly what Crapo wanted. To Crapo, collaborative decision-making for federal land issues is a core value.

The initiative group itself reached a basic agreement back in 2004 as Grant and environmentalists went from ranch to ranch to work out individual deals that allowed them to increase the wilderness acres and miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers that could be protected. Ranchers realized quickly that wilderness protection gave them some of what they wanted in the desolate, expansive rangelands of Owyhee County - to be left alone.

But Crapo and his staff spent countless hours trying to get the language right, so that a Republican-dominated Congress and private property and ranching lobbyists wouldn't kill the bill when it got to Washington, D.C. Sen. Larry Craig stalled the bill and it didn't pass in 2006.

Then the Democrats took over Congress. The very language Crapo had painstakingly negotiated with the Initiative partners had to be rewritten to satisfy the Democratic Energy and Natural Resources Committee leaders and staff.

Once again, Grant went back to the ranchers and, working with the committee staff, hammered out a deal they all could support.

The bill will result in a net gain of 29,000 acres of private property to the Owyhee County tax base. It also provides for range expert review of BLM decisions and release of over 300,000 acres to full multiple use.

Environmental backers get 500,000 acres as wilderness, and designation of 315 miles of Wild and Scenic rivers. The bill also would authorize a cultural site protection plan prepared by the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes to pay for tribal rangers to patrol and protect one of the largest unprotected acreages of cultural and religious sites in the lower 48 states.

But environmentalists had their critics, too, especially about the public land transfers.

The sweeping lands bill that included the Owyhees' bill was delayed until January but is expected to move quickly. When this is done, Crapo will rightfully get credit for carrying the bill to the finish line. But its father will always be Fred Grant, who turned his defense of private rights into a quest for public responsibility for a place people from both sides of a heated debate love equally if not differently.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Young Boy Recovers From Mountain Lion Attack
Family Hopes State Game Commission Will Take Action

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A young boy was dragged away and clawed by a mountain lion. Six months later, he has recovered and his parents said they couldn't be more grateful.

The scars on Jose Salazar's head are still visible. A mountain lion dragged him by the head down a trail in the Sandia Mountains on May 17.

Jose's dad chased and caught up with the mountain lion and the big cat eventually let go and took off.

After surgeries and a stay in the hospital, Salazar's family said he is happy and healthy.

While Salazar is focusing on sports and school now, he said he still has some memories of the attack.

"I just heard a growl. I just looked back and saw it and I tried to run away, but it was too late. It just pounced on me," Salazar said.

The Salazar family went to Alamogordo in October to tell Jose's story before the State Game Commission. They said they hope it will lead to action in addressing the number of mountain lions in the Sandias.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

EPA Proposes "Cow Tax"

The Environmental Protection Agency issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public comment on whether it is appropriate to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from automobiles under the Clean Air Act. In order to regulate automobile emissions, the EPA would first have to make a finding that all greenhouse gases endanger public health and safety and should be classified as a "pollutant."

Essentially, the EPA is ruling on whether or not GHG emissions should be classified as endangering public safety. If that finding is made, all GHGs including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide would have to be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The problem with this approach is that once an endangerment finding is made, other provisions of the Clean Air Act are automatically triggered, creating much broader, costly regulation of other sectors of the economy, including agriculture.


Once an endangerment finding is made, Title V of the Clean Air Act requires that any entity with the potential to emit more than 100 tons per year of a regulated pollutant must obtain a permit in order to continue to operate.

For previously regulated pollutants, a threshold of 100 tons meant that only the largest of emitters were required to be permitted. For greenhouse gases, the situation is much different. Not only would power plants and factories, but also many office and apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, large churches and even large homes would be regulated. Literally hundreds of thousands of entities would be required to obtain permits.

The vast majority of livestock operations would easily meet the 100 ton threshold and fall under regulation. In fact, USDA has stated that any operation with more than 25 dairy cows, or 50 beef cattle would have to obtain permits. According to USDA statistics, this would cover about 99 percent of dairy production and over 90 percent of beef production in the United States.

As the proposal stands today, the permit fees would equate to a "tax" of $175 per dairy cow and $87.50 per beef cow.

Greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act would not only adversely impact livestock producers but all farmers. Crop production emits nitrous oxide from fertilizer and methane from rice production, and fields that emit 100 tons of carbon would also be subject to permitting requirements as well. Any Florida farm with 500 acres of corn, 250 acres of soybeans, 350 acres of potatoes or only 35 acres of rice would be forced to obtain Clean Air Act permits.

Emissions from farm machinery and energy used in production might also be added. Regulation of other economic sectors will result in increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs for all farmers and ranchers.

Source: Florida Farm Bureau
Ranchers brace for change in Washington

The outcome of the Nov. 4 election hung like an ominous storm cloud this week as members of the Idaho Cattle Association gathered in Sun Valley for their annual convention.

Convention speakers on Monday afternoon predicted that Democrats' riding to a more powerful majority in Washington, D.C., will mean more regulation, additional listings under the federal Endangered Species Act and expansion of national monuments and wilderness areas.

For ranchers in Idaho and elsewhere in the West, the specter of change seems most tied to efforts to protect wildlife that conservationists and some federal biologists consider imperiled, such as gray wolves and greater sage grouse.

Andy Groseta, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, predicted that the Bush administration will hand off a court-ordered review of whether to list sage grouse as threatened or endangered under the ESA to the incoming Obama administration. Such a listing, which the federal government earlier rejected, could extend across Idaho and 10 other Western states.

"This administration is not going to have this review done on their watch," Groseta said.

A December 2007 ruling by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill prompted the current review. Winmill ruled that Fish and Wildlife Service officials ignored the "best science" in rejecting petitions to list the sage grouse. The decision was appealed by Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project, one of numerous conservation groups that filed a petition for ESA listing in 2003.

Though Groseta said he was "hoping during the Bush administration we'd get some things worked out" in terms of regulatory relief, he said the Obama team has indicated a willingness to provide public lands ranchers a seat at the table when decisions are made. He said his group will continue to fight for ranchers who are getting "regulated out of business."

Prior to the election, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association sat down with both the Obama and McCain campaigns and "spoon-fed" them information pertinent to the nation's ranching industry, Groseta said. He said the association had endorsed George W. Bush for president, but decided against doing the same for either candidate this time.

"We didn't want to go down that road again," he said without elaborating.

He predicted that the Obama administration will place more emphasis on food safety and public lands issues.

"They're up in the forefront with the Obama administration," he said. "There's going to be more regulations coming down the pike."...

Ranchers should also fear an increasingly powerful animal rights lobby, Groseta said. Well-financed, these activists' primary mission is to destroy the country's cattle industry, he claimed.

"They want to take cattle off the land and beef off the plate," he said. "These folks are for real. They want to put us out of business."

Groseta extolled his fellow ranchers to join their local and national cattle associations. He said fewer than 10 percent of ranchers belong to such organizations, leaving them far outgunned on the financial front by groups like the National Humane Society.

"We need the firepower. We need to fight these people."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Environmentalists' hysteria loses

David Stirling and Steven Gieseler

Last Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court overturned a 9th U.S. Circuit injunction prohibiting certain Navy training exercises in the Pacific Ocean. The decision was a big win for the Navy and for America´s national security interests.

The court's ruling was an ever bigger victory for the role of common sense in the realm of environmental regulation. After 30 years of the federal courts acting as a rubber stamp for the fear mongering of environmentalist groups, the high court has finally restore a modicum of balance to the law.

As Chief Justice John Roberts explained in the court's opinion, enemies of the United States possess hundreds of nearly silent diesel-electric submarines. These subs are capable - it is their reason for being - of getting deadly weapons within striking distance of their targets without those targets seeing or hearing them.

Cognizant of this threat, the president ordered the military to train to detect these stealth submarines using high-tech sonar. These exercises were going according to plan until a lawsuit filed by several environmentalist groups sought to stop them, alleging that the sonar might harm whales and dolphins in the Pacific. These groups showed no evidence of such harm, but only that it might occur if the sonar training continued.

Amazingly, a federal judge agreed and issued an injunction prohibiting the Navy from continuing to train as it had for some 40 years. The exercises were constrained in scope and duration. In the face of a known and dire threat, a crucial part of national security policy was, for practical purposes until last week, being written by radical environmental interest groups.

This travesty had its roots at the intersection of environmental law and the legal rules governing injunctions. Those rules are old and generally uniform; a party seeking to enjoin some activity must show that the harm from not stopping the activity would be greater than the harm of stopping it. Those asking for injunctions also must show a court that the injunction is in the public's interest.

But in 1978, the Supreme Court tilted the playing field in environmental cases. Where certain threatened species were potentially at risk, the court said in the infamous TVA vs. Hill, protection of these species must take precedence "above all else." Thus, federal courts were given license to issue injunctions regardless of the social or economic value of the activity being prohibited.

For the next three decades, the Endangered Species Act was a virtual super-statute, lording over all other federal and state laws. Using the language of the TVA case, the federal courts would forgo the traditional balancing and public interest tests in injunction cases, signing off on injunctions at the mere invocation of the words "endangered species."

This policy has resulted in several situations rightly called disasters. When the federal government, fearing the catastrophic effects of storm surge from a major hurricane, sought to fortify Louisiana's coastline in the 1970s, environmentalists quickly shut down the project. Claiming the coastal barriers would alter the habitat of local marine life, a group called Save Our Wetlands got a federal court to stop the project. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina exposed the folly of this decision.

Similarly, firefighters in the Pacific Northwest for years have been prohibited from using effective flame retardants to combat deadly forest fires. Environmentalists asked for, and a federal court granted, an injunction against the use of these chemicals, using the "species above all else" ethos to deny the firefighters tools that could save not just property threatened by wildfires, but also the firefighters' very lives.

These cases are vivid examples of an environmental law system entirely out of whack. Tens of thousands of property owners unable to build a home on their own land due to trumped-up environmental concerns, for example, have suffered from this bias toward extreme environmentalism.

With the Supreme Court's sonar decision, a long overdue balance has been restored. The justices signaled an end to the automatic-environmental-injunction mindset that has prevailed for 30 years.

The court treated the case like it would any other involving an injunction, carefully weighing the competing interests without placing a heavy thumb on the scale on the side of the environmentalists.

And with the playing field finally leveled, the Navy won. So, too, did common sense.

M. David Stirling is vice president and Steven Geoffrey Gieseler is a lawyer at the Pacific Legal Foundation, the nation's oldest public interest law group focused on fighting overzealous environmental regulation The foundation filed a brief in the sonar case in support of the Navy. Mr. Stirling is also the author of the new book, "Green Gone Wild: Elevating Nature Above Human Rights" (Merrill Press).

From: Fred Kelly Grant, Chairman Owyhee Initiative Work Group
[mailto: fredkellygrant@msn.com]
Jerry Hoagland, Chairman Owyhee County, Idaho Commissioners
Sent: Monday, 11/17/08 6:13 pm
To: Fred Kelly Grant (fredkellygrant@msn.com)

It appears clear that the Owyhee Initiative Bill will not be voted on in the lame duck session of Congress, but will be re-introduced by Senator Crapo in January in the new Congress. Since being recommended for passage by a unanimous vote in the Energy-Natural Resources committee, the committee and Senate leadership packaged it into the Omnibus Public Lands Bill with 149 other bills.

Just prior to the pre-election recess of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that the lands package would be called to the floor for a vote during the lame duck session which began today. Last Friday, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the press that the Omnibus Lands Bill will not be voted on during this session.

Today, Owyhee County Commissioners and the Chairman of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group have confirmed with several sources in DC that the bill will not be voted on during the lame duck session. The sources, Eastern, Mid-Western and Western Senators-key staff members-and special interest representatives on the Hill have relayed their belief that the bill will not be brought forward for vote. They also confirm that Senator Reid has assured the sponsors of the 150 bills that the delay does not diminish in any way his commitment to lead the bill to a vote when the new Congress convenes in January, 2009.

Senate sources say that the bill is being delayed because of Senator Coburn’s (R-OK) threatened filibuster of the bill, which could tie the Senate up for a good full three days. With all the funding problems facing the Senate during the economic crisis, leadership does not believe that the three days can be wasted in the short lame duck session. Senate Coburn has opposed the bills in the package because of expenditures of $4 billion over a period of years, and because so many acres of public land will be removed from energy. 60 Senators would be needed to stop the filibuster. Senator Reid said that with the new Democrats coming in for the January session, there will be far less trouble getting the 60 necessary votes for cloture.

So, the Owyhee Initiative Bill will have to wait also until the new Congress convenes. The Owyhee Work Group, a broad base coalition, has worked on the Owyhee Agreement and the implementing bill for nearly 8 years. The sponsor, Senator Mike Crapo, has praised the efforts of ranchers, county officials, conservation groups and recreation groups to put together a local solution to local land use problems.

The bill will result in a net gain of 29,000 acres of private property to the Owyhee County tax base. It also provides for range expert review of BLM decisions, release of over 300,000 acres to full multiple use, reservation of about 500,000 acres as wilderness, and designation of wild and scenic rivers---all in an attempt to resolve land use disputes raging for three decades. The bill also provides for a travel management plan to implement challenging trail systems for use by recreational vehicles and to protect private property.

The Owyhee Bill features authorization to fund a cultural site protection plan prepared by the Shoshone Paiute Tribes of Nevada and Idaho. Tribal rangers to patrol and protect one of the largest unprotected acreages of cultural and religious sites in the lower 48 states will be authorized by the bill. The Tribes joined with Owyhee County Commissioners in presenting the Owyhee Initiative Agreement to Senator Crapo for legislative action.

Dr. Chad Gibson, representative of the Owyhee Cattleman’s Association on the Owyhee Work Group, said today that “we haven’t given up on the Owyhee bill. The agreement we crafted is historic, and we must keep after it until the bill gets passed.”

Tim Lowry, president and representative of the Owyhee County Farm Bureau on the Work Group agreed with Gibson, “Our bill is critical for protection of the economic stability of our ranchers.”

Grant Simonds, executive director of the Outfitters and Guides Association, looks forward to the January session and “finally getting to a vote the product of our long years of work to craft a bill that serves all multiple users of the public lands in Owyhee County.”

Jerry Hoagland, Chairman of the Owyhee County Board of Commissioners thanked Senator Crapo and his staff for the strong effort they have made to gain passage of the bill which represents solutions fashioned by local citizens and interests. “We know that Senator Crapo will move strongly for passage early in the new Congress, and he will be working with the support of the full Idaho delegation. We have been assured that Senator Risch (newly elected R-Id), and Representatives Simpson (R-Id) and Minnick (newly elected D-Id) will support the bill and Senator Crapo’s efforts for passage.”

Fred Kelly Grant, chairman of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group, thanked the American Land Rights Association, Stewards of the Range and the American Land Foundation for their statements favorable to the Owyhee bill.

Grant said “Chuck Cushman, a long time friend of Owyhee County, has lead a strong fight against the Omnibus lands package, but has said that the Owyhee bill is an example of a good bill which should be supported if it were by itself.”

He also pointed out that Stewards of the Range and American Land Foundation “also friends of Owyhee County citizens, opposed the lands package in a letter to each Senator, but singled out the Owyhee bill as a private property bill which deserved passage if standing alone.” Grant said “the County Commissioners and I appreciate the positive statements about our specific bill. We have worked hard to gain confidence of all interest groups in the value of our bill.”

For further comment or information, CONTACT Fred Kelly Grant, Chairman of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group--- fredkellygrant@msn.com; or Staci Grant---yipikiya@msn.com.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Threat of filibuster endangers lands bill
Legislators say time wasted could hamper priorities of auto bailout, economic crisis

By Staff and wire reports

November 15, 2008

A massive lands bill that would have created two new wilderness areas in southwest Oregon appears to be dead for the year, a victim of a filibuster threat and the need to focus on the nation's growing economic woes.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Nevada Democrat strongly supports the lands package, but his first priorities in a lame-duck session next week are a planned rescue for the auto industry and extension of unemployment insurance benefits.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has threatened to filibuster the lands bill over what he calls its excessive spending — nearly $4 billion over five years — and the removal of millions of acres of federal property from oil and gas development.

"The outlook for this legislation does not look real good," said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "The two big problems right now are the clock and the economy."

Coburn's threat meant the Senate could have spent up to three days debating the lands package — time that Reid and other Senate leaders say should be devoted to the auto bailout and other legislation responding to the country's economic crisis.

However, 20 Senators from both sides of the aisle, including Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Republican Gordon Smith, signed a letter sent to Reid on Friday, urging him to pass the measure.

The bill includes creation of the roughly 23,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in the mountains east of Ashland and the 13,700-acre Copper Salmon Wilderness in the Elk River drainage near Port Orford.

The Soda Mountain Wilderness would be on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District. The proposed Copper Salmon Wilderness area is on the western edge of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The bill would also expand wilderness areas around Oregon's Mount Hood and created a vast new wilderness in Idaho's Owyhee canyons as well as carve out areas in California, Colorado and New Mexico.

The Mount Hood bill, which includes the Copper Salmon and the Soda Mountain proposals, was co-sponsored by Wyden and Smith.

Wyden's chief of staff, Josh Kardon, said Friday that Wyden was among many senators in both parties frustrated by Coburn's refusal to allow the lands package to move though the Senate.

"These are bills that moved unanimously through committee with Republican and Democratic support," Kardon said, adding that Wyden was particularly disappointed "that Senator Smith won't be allowed the honor he deserves in enacting a Wyden-Smith Mount Hood wilderness legislation."

Smith was defeated in his bid for re-election earlier this month.

The bill includes creation of the roughly 23,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in the mountains east of Ashland and the 13,700-acre Copper Salmon Wilderness in the Elk River drainage near Port Orford.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Property Rights Group Asks Members to Fight Crapo's Owyhee Bill

A national private property rights group is urging its members to "deluge" Republican Sen. Mike Crapo's office with calls and e-mails asking him to back off of the Senate bill that would protect wilderness and public land ranchers in Owyhee County.

But Fred Grant, president of another national private property group and one of the leaders of the collaborative group that negotiated Crapo's bill, says the American Land Rights Association's claims that Crapo has sold out private property rights "is not right or truthful."

The association sent out an alert Monday urging its members to target Crapo for his efforts to gain votes for the Omnibus Public Lands Bill, a collection of 150 bills, including more than a half-dozen wilderness measures to protect more than 900,000 acres of wild land in Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Virginia and West Virginia.

The bill includes Crapo's Owyhees legislation, which has finally come to the floor after six years of talks by the coalition of ranchers and environmentalists. The legislation would protect 517,000 acres as wilderness, another 315 miles of rivers as wild and scenic, and help ranchers with a series of land transfers, buyouts and the establishment of a science center.

The lands group calls the omnibus bill a land grab and focused its opposition on the provision codifying the National Landscape Conservation System, 26 million acres of lands with special protection, including national monuments, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

"It will add dozens of new National Heritage Areas and Wilderness Areas that will eventually be a land-use control noose around the necks of local people and rural America," the lands group said in its alert.

Grant, president of Stewards of the Range, which has fought for private property rights in and around federal lands in court, was the man who first proposed talks between ranchers and environmentalists as a way to keep ranchers on the land in Owyhee County. The Owyhees bill is the first bill that specifically protects private property rights to make it to the floor in 16 years, Grant said.

"For eight years, the ranchers and land owners in Owyhee County, many of whom have fought a lonely fight through the years, without noticeable support from the private property organizations now attacking Sen. Crapo, have worked to craft a bill that will add private land to the tax base of the county, protect their ranching rights and gain the largest comparable release of wilderness study area acres ever seen in any bill to reach a vote," Grant said.

The lands group targeted Crapo because he is working with Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid to gather the 60 votes needed to allow the bill to go to a vote in the lame duck session scheduled next week.

"It appears you cannot trust Sen. Mike Crapo's heart to protect your private property and access and use of Federal lands," the group said in its alert.

Grant said he wasn't challenging the lands group's right to oppose the bill.

"But it is not right, or truthful, to claim that Sen. Crapo has sold out private property interests," Grant said. "He has sponsored and supported the interests of, and the bill crafted by, landowners in Owyhee County."

Passing omnibus land bills is a bad way to legislate, said Charles Cushman, executive director of the lands association. If the bill passes, then more will come and the public will pay more in costs and in unwanted regulations.

"If we allow these omnibus federal land bills to go forward, every senator will get one project and the result is we'll get lots of bad bills," Cushman said.

Cushman has worked with Grant in the past and talked to him after they exchanged e-mails. But he didn't comment on what they said.

"I support the Owyhee legislation, but that doesn't change things or let Crapo off the hook," Cushman said. "We won't ever stop hammering him if this bill passes."

The American Land Rights Association, one of the largest grass-roots property rights groups in the country, was one of few groups that stood by U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, after his conviction on charges related to his arrest in a Minneapolis Airport bathroom. The group urged its members to boycott the Minneapolis Airport in response.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484
Dorgan says Forest Service to scrub grassbank plan

Sen. Byron Dorgan says the chief of the U.S. Forest Service has assured him the agency will scrub plans to manage a scenic badlands ranch in western North Dakota as a forage reserve without traditional grazing.

Dorgan said Wednesday that he spoke with Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell, who told him that grazing rights on the Billings County land would continue.

The Forest Service proposed last month that the 5,200-acre ranch and 18,000 acres of nearby federal grasslands be managed as a "grassbank" for area ranchers to use during times of drought, grass fires or when their own ranch lands need a rest.

The Forest Service's Dakota Prairie Grasslands supervisor, Dave Pieper, said Wednesday that the agency will continue to take public comment on its grassbank plan until Nov. 24. He said he had not been ordered by agency bosses to halt the plan.

"We're going to follow the law," Pieper said. "We are moving forward with the public process. It's just a proposal at this stage."

Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club, said that under Dorgan's plan, the management of the badlands ranch would deviate from how other public-owned grasslands are managed in the U.S.

"It's unprecedented that the public will not be a part of the management decision in this one area, and that ranchers themselves will decide how much grazing there will be and when," Schafer said.

Rancher Jim Arthaud, a county commissioner and member of the Medora Grazing Association, said it was clear in the negotiations over the purchase of the ranch that the grazing rights involved would be divided among area ranchers.

The Forest Service purchased the ranch, next to Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site, from brothers Kenneth, Allan and Dennis Eberts and their families last year. It cost $5.3 million, with $4.8 million coming from the federal government and $500,000 from conservation groups.

As part of the deal, the Forest Service promised to sell an equal number of acres in North Dakota to balance the acquisition of the former Blacktail Creek Ranch, and to continue grazing and other activities, including oil and gas development.

Dorgan said the purchase agreement allows the grazing association to allocate leases as it has traditionally done and he said using the land as a grassbank would violate that agreement. He has accused Pieper of acting as a "one-man band."

"We've got some folks in the Forest Service who want to try and skirt the law," Dorgan said. "They did not follow the agreement we made."

Pieper called it a complex situation. Dorgan found it fairly straightforward.

"It's not complicated at all — the law is the law, and federal agencies are not above the law," Dorgan said. "I do expect the Forest Service to follow the law, and if they don't, there will be consequences."

Schafer said the Forest Service manages millions of acres of grasslands in the U.S., including 1.2 million acres in North Dakota.

"Of all the grasslands in the U.S., none would be set up the way Sen. Dorgan wants this to be managed," Schafer said.

The Sierra Club strongly supports the idea of a grassbank, which Schafer called "an insurance policy" for ranchers.

"It would benefit all ranchers in need, rather than just two or three who would be able to increase their cattle herds," Schafer said.

Arthaud said locals always have been critical of the federal government's purchase of the ranch, fearing the valuable grasslands would be off limits to ranchers. He said about half a dozen area ranchers would benefit by allocating leases in the traditional way, and he hopes the Forest Service will back off its grassbank proposal now that Dorgan has intervened.

"The deal was made, they agreed to it, and then they lied to us," Arthaud said of the Forest Service. "The issue here is that they want to take 23,000 acres out of production."

Those acres are enough to support about 500 cows, he said.

"The Forest Service doesn't know how to manage cows and the Sierra Club doesn't like cows, period," Arthaud said.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Like their cattle on BLM land, family of ranchers stands firm

Don’t let the 1,000-pound weight difference fool you — burrowing desert tortoise and plodding cattle are both big grazers.

They both eat tender new shoots of wildflowers and grasses.

That’s why advocates for the tortoise say keeping cattle out of officially designated critical tortoise habitat, including parts of the proposed Gold Butte National Conservation Area, is so important.

Try telling that to the Bundy family, organic-melon farmers and cattle ranchers who have been grazing herds on federal land in the area since the late 1800s. The Bundys, led by family patriarch Cliven Bundy, have been back and forth – and in and out of court – with the Bureau of Land Management over their cattle for a decade and a half, according to records obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Bundy admits he has cattle roaming free on federal land. But he claims to have forage and access rights to land in the Gold Butte area and own range improvements there.

According to BLM records that were part of the request, however, all of Bundy’s rights have been terminated.

The Bundy family is one of a handful of Nevada ranching families whose cattle might still trespass on federal land. They’re throwbacks to the Sagebrush Rebellion, whose members wanted state and local governments to take control of federal lands in several Western states.

“These cases, some of them, have been going on for decades,” said JoLynn Worley, BLM spokeswoman. Although most of the cases have been resolved over time, she said, Bundy’s has not.

As Rob Mrowka, public lands conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, sees it, the law is clear and the cattle should have been cleared out of Gold Butte long ago. Because they compete with the tortoise for food in an unforgiving desert, “the tortoises are being put at risk when the law ... says they shouldn’t.”

The cattle aren’t just a problem for the tortoises, though. They’re also setting back efforts to restore and replant areas of Gold Butte scorched by 2005 wildfires, said Angie Lara, the BLM’s Las Vegas Field Office manager. The cows trample and feed on the tender young plants the BLM has planted in the fire-ravaged areas.

That, in turn, sets the area up for future wildfires, by priming the ground for highly flammable, nonnative grasses, Kirsten Cannon, a spokeswoman for the BLM, said.

“The concern is that as native plants are reestablishing themselves, the soil is especially delicate,” she said. “The crust is rebroken and it offers an opportunity for invasive species to come back in.”

Nevada ranchers hold about 700 legal livestock grazing permits with the BLM in the state.

But the Bundys lost the right to graze cattle in the area in the early ’90s after they stopped paying grazing permit fees, according to records. About the same time, Clark County bought up the rest of the grazing rights in the area to create a safe home for the tortoise. But since then, the BLM has documented cattle there bearing the Bundy brand on numerous occasions.

Many of the cattle grazing today have no brands, which makes it impossible to prove they’re Bundy cattle, according to the BLM.

Officials might just want to ask Bundy, however. He told the Sun about two dozen of his cattle are roaming free in the adjacent Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where they are also prohibited from grazing.

But no matter who owns the cattle tromping around Gold Butte or how they got there, they need to be removed from Gold Butte, various federal agencies and conservation groups agree.

But the BLM’s Las Vegas Field Office manager said it isn’t as simple as just rounding up the cattle and auctioning them off. The BLM is working with several state and federal agencies, including the National Park Service, which oversees the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, to figure out how to get the cattle out of tortoise territory.

Bundy said that if the BLM attempts to remove the cattle he will contact the sheriff, and we could have an old-fashioned range war stand-off on our hands.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Environment & Energy Daily
November 10, 2008

BLM employees, advocacy groups worked together on lands bill, docs show

Bureau of Land Management employees and environmental lobbyists coordinated to promote legislation that would recognize the National Landscape Conservation System as a permanent federal entity, documents obtained by E&E Daily show.

Environmentalists and BLM officials worked together on special events, exchanged draft policy memoranda and discussed job openings and candidates, according to e-mails, calendars and other documents related to the NLCS.

The Interior Department's inspector general is investigating links between BLM and the environmental groups on several fronts, including the lands bill, which is expected to reach the Senate floor during the lame-duck session next week. Investigators are trying to determine whether BLM employees violated the 1939 Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from lobbying Congress, a source familiar with the probe said.

IG spokesman Roy Kime acknowledged the investigation "into the way BLM employees have administered the National Landscape Conservation System," but he declined to elaborate.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), whose request for NLCS documents helped launch the investigation, says the bill should be sidelined until the investigation is complete. But environmentalists say the probe is a politically motivated attempt to sink the widely supported legislation.

"They have to go to a mud-ball," said Jim Lyon, senior vice president of conservation at the National Wildlife Federation.

At issue is assistance that environmentalists provided to BLM in the run-up to the House vote on the lands bill last spring, providing the agency with regular updates on the bill's cosponsors and committee and floor action, according to documents provided by a House Republican aide.

Established by the Clinton administration, NLCS oversees 27 million acres of wilderness areas and Western public lands, but the system is not on the same legal plane as the National Park Service, Forest Service and other federal agencies. The bill would simply codify NLCS.

For example, Denise Ryan of the National Wildlife Federation wrote in a March e-mail to four BLM officials that the National Rifle Association had decided to remove its support from the bill and asked for information on hunting and recreational shooting on NLCS land. "Can we pull together the brightest in the Bureau to help me with this?" she asked. "Make it a joint fact sheet?"

Ryan served as special assistant to the BLM director when Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt created the NLCS in 2000. In a follow-up e-mail, Ryan thanked BLM's Jeff Jarvis for "whipping a team together yesterday for the fact sheet."

"It seemed like old times -- and that is a good thing!" she wrote.

Jarvis' reply: "Making progress, I look forward to seeing improvement this evening, and yes that was fun."

Last year, John Garder of the Wilderness Society wrote Jarvis and another BLM official about details of his meeting with House appropriators on fiscal 2008 spending bills. In June, Gardner wrote Jarvis: "I'm looking for a few things from you all, foremost a summary of managers' wish lists of any kind of summary on NLCS $ needs, as I intend to soon put something together." Jarvis replied that they could talk soon.

Last year, BLM's Mala Malhotra wrote NLCS officials Jarvis, Elena Daly and Dave Hunsaker to set up regular meetings with conservation groups. "They have adopted our approach to the NLCS name which is great. ... I am sure that the more we communicate with them, the more consistent our messages will be," she wrote. "The more our messages trickle to them, versus their messages trickling to us, the better."

After hearing a short list of the types of activities the environmental groups engaged in, government-ethics lawyer Jan Witold Baran said they did not set off alarm bells. "Without commenting on any of the specifics, to my knowledge it's hardly unique for organizational representatives to meet with government officials all over town every day on a widespread basis," said Baran, a partner at Wiley Rein LLP.

"It sounds to me like you've described a very active organization that is interacting with a part of the government that affects them and their supporters," Baran added.

Even Bishop acknowledged, "There's a whole lot of difference between inappropriate behavior, which is a political matter, and actual malfeasance."

The National Wildlife Federation's Lyon said his group's employees complied with lobbying laws. As is the case with other advocacy organizations, the federation talks frequently with government employees on issues in the public domain.

"There's nothing wrong with it and frankly there should be a lot more of it," Lyon said.

The group is cooperating with the Interior investigation, Lyon said. "The IG investigators have made it very clear to us that the NWF is not the target of this investigation," he added.

Kevin Mack, NLCS campaign director with the Wilderness Society, said he has not been contacted by investigators. He declined to comment further on the investigation or on his group's activities except to say that any probe "is not an investigation of folks in the conservation community."

Daly, the NLCS director, is planning to retire in January, but a source familiar with her decision said the retirement was long-planned and unrelated to the investigation.

Calls to BLM officials in the NLCS division were referred to the agency communications officials. Spokeswoman Celia Boddington noted the Bush administration supports the legislation but declined to comment on the investigation or employees' interactions with environmental groups other than to say they are cooperating fully with the inspector general.

'Red herring'

The chairman of the House National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the bill's sponsor, called the investigation a "red herring" designed to derail codifying the system. "If there is a corrective action that should be taken, it should be taken, but that shouldn't punish the legislation," Grijalva said.

Because it was created by administrative fiat: NLCS is not a permanent part of the Interior Department and a later administration could dissolve it. NLCS includes areas already designated as national monuments, wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers, and national historic and scenic trails.

Grijalva said codifying the system would help address the decline of some sites.

Lyon said the bill is a needed final step of ensuring the protections are backed by law, especially given what he described as the Bush administration's poor record of protecting public lands. "Everything's in danger right now," he said.

But Bishop, who concedes the bill is likely to pass, said the system is redundant, especially given protections provided by other Interior agencies.

"It doesn't do anything, it doesn't appoint, it doesn't administer," Bishop said. "It's almost as if you're looking for something to do."

If Congress does not pass the bill, Bishop said Interior could fold NLCS and its lands into other Interior agencies, a move that would become impossible if the bill became law.

Western oil and gas interests are also concerned about the bill. "[It] in our view is a backdoor attempt at locking up by our estimates some 13 million acres of land that is now characterized as wilderness study areas," said Greg Schnacke, president and CEO of Americans for American Energy. "That will then become de facto wilderness, be managed as such, and essentially takes it away from any responsible multiple use management program and that's it for that acreage."

For its part, NWF suspects the bill's critics of coordinating their efforts against the measure. Last month, NWF filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records of communication between Bishop or Rep. Bill Sali (R-Idaho) and the IG's office, BLM employees and Interior's congressional affairs office, and between BLM employees and several Western energy industry groups, regarding NLCS or oil shale development. NWF officials noted that Bishop put out a press release revealing the IG investigation two days after the House passed a bill to remove a ban on commercial oil shale leasing on public lands in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the NLCS bill as part of a 150-bill public lands and resources omnibus measure this month.

Removing the NLCS proposal could put the entire omnibus in jeopardy. Already facing opposition from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who claims the package continues frivolous government spending, the bill contains other controversial proposals, including one to allow construction of a road through Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. If the Democratic leadership pulls the NLCS proposal, it could prompt environmentalists against the Izembek proposal to also have it removed from the package.

A spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said removing the NLCS bill is not a consideration. "This is a very carefully balanced package, and we don't have any intention to drop any bills," said Bill Wicker.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Public lands management of particular concern to Cowboy State

A U.S. president can often have a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of Cowboy State residents. And a president's cabinet has more direct sway in Wyoming, in some respects, than in most other states.

Nearly half of Wyoming -- about 47,000 square miles of it -- is owned and managed by the federal government. Only four states in the nation, all of them in the West, have a higher percentage of their landmasses owned by Uncle Sam.

The way that national parks, forests and other public lands are managed here has implications for individual residents, groups and industries. Among those who can be directly affected by a president's land management policies are ranchers, oil and gas drillers, miners, hunters, fishers, outdoors enthusiasts, loggers, sawmill operators and conservationists.

So, what does an incoming Barack Obama administration signal about the way Wyoming's public lands will be managed?

All interested parties seem to agree there will be a shift -- and perhaps a big one -- from the approach of the Bush administration. But fewer agree on what the ultimate effects of that shift will be.

During his campaign for the presidency, Obama pledged to govern from the "middle," and he emphasized the importance of local influence over decisions made on federal lands. He pledged to do more to protect national parks, forests and the environment, and at the same time to encourage domestic energy development.

Judging from the outcome of the Cowboy State's vote, residents here are skeptical.

Not a repeat of Clinton

In a state where 65 percent of voters filled in the bubble for Republican Sen. John McCain, many Wyomingites are viewing president-elect Barack Obama, a Democrat, with trepidation.

But some prominent Western leaders, both Republicans and Democrats, say those fears might be unfounded.

Former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, of Cody, said Wyoming residents can expect something quite different than they experienced under Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president.

"The last one, with Clinton and (Al) Gore -- they really just didn't understand," Simpson said. "One was from Arkansas and the other was from Tennessee, and they had no public lands of any significance in their states. They didn't know the issues, they didn't know about abandoned mines, didn't know about coal."

This time around, Western Democrats will have more influence with the president, and Obama has shown more of a propensity to be sensitive to Western concerns, Simpson said.

If nothing else, sheer politics will force this administration to be more receptive to the interests of Western states, he said.

Obama visited with Wyoming's Democratic governor, Dave Freudenthal, before the state's primary election, and Freudenthal asked Obama tough questions about how he would handle public lands and other Western issues, Simpson said.

Obama eventually won Gov. Freudenthal's support, and the governor recently campaigned for him in Pennsylvania.

"Obama comes from a state that produces a hell of a lot of coal," Simpson said. "He talked about coal research, gasification. There are things going on with oil and gas in Illinois. If they get his ear, he'll be listening. I'm not fearful at all."

This time around, as opposed to during the Clinton years, the West also has several "thoughtful" and forceful Democrats, including Freudenthal, who already have garnered the president-elect's attention.

Montana has Democratic Sens. John Tester and Max Baucus, for example, and "Tester is a guy who is trying to do outreach and collaboration," Simpson said.

Colorado's two U.S. senators are now Democrats, and the state's senior senator, Ken Salazar, is "very able," and "he knows the game," Simpson said. Colorado's new senator, Mark Udall, is "thoughtful about the West," he said. And New Mexico has two Democratic senators now, as well, Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman.

"I'm not concerned that we're going to be left in the cold," Simpson said. "Our pleas will be heeded, and we will have a voice."

For his part, the popular Democratic governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, said fears about Obama putting a crimp on energy development are unfounded. Instead, Obama has a "visionary" approach to energy in line with that of the Western Governors Association, Schweitzer said.

"He understands, like we do in the West, that we will also be producing domestic oil and gas; that's good," Schweitzer said. "He understands that we'd like to develop that oil, gas and coal on our own terms and not have Washington, D.C., determine how much sacrifice we should make. He understands what the western governors, including your visionary governor Dave Freudenthal understands, that the most important energy corridor on the planet is not the Persian Gulf, it's the American West."

Schweitzer, who, like Freudenthal, supported Obama, said the incoming president will collaborate with Western states to create a sound energy policy that will lead to energy independence.

Freudenthal, who declined to be interviewed for this story, said in his official endorsement of Obama: "Senator Obama has demonstrated an understanding of energy and environment issues both in person and in his public statements."

Freudenthal said in his endorsement that he does not necessarily agree with every position taken by Obama, "But I am comfortable that he will be open to reason and discussion." He added: "This openness is incredibly important since the exact nature of the particular Western issues over the next four years remains unknown."

Cabinet to be crucial

All those interviewed for this story agreed Obama's picks for cabinet-level and undersecretary posts will offer a great deal more insight into what the president-elect's public lands policies will be like.

In the U.S. president's cabinet, the secretary of the interior oversees the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management among other agencies. And the secretary of agriculture oversees the U.S. Forest Service.

Kemmerer rancher Truman Julian said the choices for those two posts will be "critical" for Wyoming residents and its ranchers.

"I guess my main concern is about whoever he appoints for secretary of interior or agriculture," Julian said. "It's important that he have an understanding of our lifestyle, cultural history, our heritage. I would hope it'd be somebody from the West, especially for secretary of the interior. Somebody who represents the West and Western issues, our lifestyle. Somebody who understands we can govern ourselves out here."

Ranchers tend to survive, Julian said, no matter who the president is, provided the rules and regulations remain "reasonable."

"The problem I have is with the Eastern establishment telling us how to live out here in the West," Julian said. "We don't need any more government, and that's what I am afraid we're going to get."

Julian said he'd feel a lot better if somebody such as Freudenthal were appointed secretary of the interior because Freudenthal understands how rules made in Washington, D.C., can affect the West and, he added, "He's pretty moderate."

Bill Taliaferro, a rancher in Sweetwater County, said he agreed the cabinet-level officials and their undersecretaries are critical appointments, but he said he's fairly sure the Obama administration will not get it right when it comes to managing public lands.

Too much emphasis on environmental regulations and rule-making, dating back to the Nixon administration, has put the United States on a dangerous path, Taliaferro said, and he doesn't expect anything different from Obama. Agricultural producers will likely continue to be put out of business during an Obama administration, Taliaferro said.

"I think we're going to head into a food crisis and I don't think Obama and city folks and the Chicagoans have a clue," he said. "I don't think McCain had a clue either."

Conservationists, logging groups optimistic

During his campaign, Obama released a position paper in which he pledged to "aggressively" pursue fire prevention on public lands and to address a long-standing funding issue that annually forces the U.S. Forest Service to dip into its general operating money to pay for ever-increasing wildfire management costs.

"Barack Obama will work with governors, Congress and local officials on a bipartisan basis to develop and enact reliable, dedicated funding sources to fight the most catastrophic fires so that public lands may continue to be managed for public access, fish, wildlife, recreation, forestry and other multiple uses," his Web site states.

Tom Troxel is director of the Rocky Mountain Division of the Intermountain Forest Association, an organization that advocates for the logging industry.

For Troxel, Obama's recognition that fire funding is broken is of critical importance. A broad coalition of "strange bedfellows," including loggers and conservationists, has long pushed for the agency's fire budget to be separated from its general operating budget.

Under the current system, national forests throughout the U.S. have been forced, annually, forgo or delay forest management projects and during the summer, shift funds into the firefighting kitty.

Obama has pledged to change that.

"That's not something that the administration can do by itself," Troxel said. "It would have to work with Congress to do that. I think it would be tremendously helpful if they could take the lead in advocating for that kind of a funding strategy."

Leaving the Forest Service's operating budget intact would help "virtually every national forest program and virtually every user group or advocacy group," he said.

It will also be essential that Obama follow through on his pledge to emphasize local input on forest management decisions, Troxel said.

"To me it's so important to recognize the input of states, counties and local communities in how the national forests are managed, and not have all the management strategies revolve around D.C.," he said.

Conservation groups seem to universally anticipate that an Obama administration will be more conservation-minded than the Bush administration was.

Bruce Pendery is the program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, a conservation organization. He said, "it seems likely the overwhelming emphasis on drilling will ease somewhat."

While Obama has made it clear that domestic energy production should be increased, "it seems likely" Pendery said, that his policies will include a greater degree of environmental protection than those of the Bush administration.

"During the last eight years we have seen a policy of drill at any cost," Pendery said. "Hopefully during the next four years we will see a policy of greater balance. Wyoming air, water, wildlife and open spaces need this."

However, Pendery said he doubts that public land management "has been on (Obama's) radar screen" of late, as he's been gearing up to deal with his higher-priority issues, such as the besieged economy and the prosecution of two wars.

Jared White, with the Wilderness Society, said if the Obama administration lives up to its pledge to govern from the center, it'll only help different "user" groups on public lands come together to form "lasting solutions."

"Regardless of the presidential administration, these coalitions will still be the way forward," White said. "The middle ground achieved by these coalitions -- they really are going to lead to lasting solutions, and I think the Obama administration will realize that, and we certainly realize that."

White said he also expects decisions about public lands to once again be based on science rather than politics.

Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Laramie, said:

"The Bush administration will be doing more for wildlife by simply going away than anything else they could do. We expect the Obama administration will feature a lot more balance between industrial development and conservation. And do more than simply give lip service to wildlife protections and public lands conservation."

Contact environment reporter Chris Merrill at chris.merrill@trib.com or (307) 267-6722

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama will protect public lands, pursue green energy
Environmentalists will have more influence, but Western Democrats hope for a collaborative approach

Western Democrats and environmentalists will have more influence on federal land decisions in Idaho and the West under President Barack Obama.

Decision-makers will defer more to scientists on resource issues and spending priorities will shift toward protecting land, fish and wildlife, Democrats said Tuesday night.

But there is a tension between environmentalists who want him to reverse decisions made by the Bush administration and Western Democrats who hope Obama's pledge to govern in a "post-partisan" manner means he will bring a collaborative approach to public land issues.

"He's not going to make some of the mistakes of the past," said Cecil Andrus, former Idaho governor and Jimmy Carter's interior secretary. "He knows his history."

Issues like climate change and alternative energy - along with the economy - are going to get more attention in the new administration than public lands grazing, logging and motorized recreation. And the skyrocketing federal deficit could force a reorganization of land, water and wildlife agencies now spread out under three different Cabinet departments.

More than 63 percent of Idaho's land is owned by the federal government and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies. How these lands are managed is critical to the economies and quality of life in Idaho and all western states.

Several federal jobs in Idaho, including U.S. attorney, Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency state director and BLM state director are political jobs that can shift with the new administration. But the most important job to the West is interior secretary, now held by former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who controls more than 507 million acres of national parks, rangeland and wildlife refuges, along with 600 dams. The head of Interior is responsible for 68 percent of the nation's oil and gas reserves and millions of acres of federal mining lands.

Obama will choose Kempthorne's successor and that choice will be the first sign of how he will balance the political pressures from national environmentalists and Western Democrats.

Environmental groups want Obama to restore Clinton's rule that banned logging and road-building in most of 58 million acres of national forest; phase snowmobiles out of Yellowstone National Park; and reduce the number of wolves that can be killed in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

But five of eight interior West states now sport Democratic governors - and they have some different values from the environmentalists back East.

Daniel Kemmis, director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana and an influential Democrat, said Obama should listen to Democratic elected officials who gained their offices by working with both environmentalists and industry and governing from the middle. Historically, Democrats wrote off the West and Republicans took it for granted. But this time wins in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico were crucial to Obama's victory.

"I think it would be foolish for a new Democratic administration to treat the West in the same way it has been treated in the past," Kemmis said.

Kemmis and Chris Wood, chief operating officer of Trout Unlimited, hope the Obama administration works with Western states, loggers, sportsmen and other land users to craft compromises like Idaho's own compromise on its 9 million acres of roadless national forest lands.

"The lesson of the last eight years is that when you listen to local people, you can still gain significant conservation benefits," Wood said.

Craig Gehrke, Idaho representative of the Wilderness Society, knows about working with local groups. He helped craft a bill to protect 500,000 acres of wilderness and ranching in Owyhee County by working with ranchers, motorized recreation groups and local officials. But he said he and other environmentalists are drawing a line in the sand with the roadless rule.

"We think there shouldn't be any more roads built in national forests," Gehrke said.

With budgets getting tighter, some Democrats are suggesting the Forest Service, the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and other land and water agencies be pulled under one Cabinet official with one overall mission.

"It's time for a federal policy that moves beyond the current fragmented approach," said John Kitzhaber, former Oregon governor and one of a dozen Democrats whose names have emerged for Interior. "Now, more than ever, we need strong and unified leadership around a common objective - healthy, functioning ecosystems."

"Alternative energy and climate change are totally going to be the dominant issues," said Don Barry, a former assistant interior secretary in the Clinton Administration. "You'll see some real leadership and creative thinking in these areas."

Obama's initiative on alternative energy offers Idaho, especially rural Idaho, great opportunity for economic development, said Rich Rayhill, a wind energy entrepreneur from Boise. Climate change legislation is going to make coal power, now imported into the state, more expensive.

"Clean tech and green tech are going to be the new dot-com," Rayhill said.

When Jimmy Carter took office in 1976, environmentalists pushed his administration to try eliminating 19 water projects that angered Western Democratic governors and senators. It also helped spawn what was called the "Sagebrush Rebellion" by ranchers, loggers and miners who were angry about decisions made in Washington. Clinton's efforts to reform grazing and mining rules without consultation with Congress triggered Republican's successful "War on the West" rhetoric and helped them take over Congress in 1994.

The Bush administration's aggressive oil and gas leasing program, which ignored concerns by ranchers, sportsmen and Western political leaders, helped Democrats rebuild state Democratic parties across the region. Barry said the people Obama will tap for the new administration, some involved in the past mistakes, have learned their lessons.

"They are not going to forget," Barry said. "They've got long memories."

The people placed not only at the secretary level but at jobs like Forest Service chief and BLM director will signal how well Western Democrats are heard by Obama, said John Freemuth, a Boise State University political scientist who specializes on public land issues. Ultimately, Westerners themselves will decide.

"We'll see that the Obama administration has gone in a different direction if we don't see another Sagebrush Rebellion," Freemuth said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

Monday, November 3, 2008

Rift widens among area tribes, private landowners

GRANTS — Private landowners and businesses here have a double threat from state and federal traditional cultural property regulations. They are trying to stop the temporary designation of Mount Taylor as a traditional cultural property from becoming permanent, which they say has already violated their rights and stopped them from using their land for any commercial purposes. If made permanent, they say the Grants area economy will be destroyed.

Not only is the state Cultural Property Review Committee considering making a state-level traditional cultural property permanent, but the Forest Service has also temporarily designated Mount Taylor to be a traditional cultural property under the Historic Preservation Act and could move to make it permanent.

The land within the federal traditional cultural property is some 1,100 square miles and includes more than 200,000 acres of private land. Even though the listing is temporary, anyone using land within or nearby the boundaries of the area is required to follow regulations as if the listing were permanent. This means that if landowners wish to do anything with their land requiring a federal or state permit, they must consult with five area tribes, including the Navajo Nation and Pueblo of Acoma, before being allowed to use their land as they wish.

“They did this without public knowledge,” says Joy Burns, who owns land within the traditional cultural property boundaries.

Federal regulations do not require the public or even the landowners within a traditional cultural property boundary to be informed of any intention to designate property as a traditional cultural property. According to Forest Supervisor Nancy Rose, the main concern in creating the listing was the religious beliefs of Native American tribes.
In an op-ed in the Cibola County Beacon, Rose stated that the “determination of any particular activity on the traditional cultural property will generally be on a case-by-case basis in consultation with tribal governments.”

Rose also stated in the op-ed that the Forest Service was required by law to consult with the tribes on their religious beliefs or any other concerns, and that these considerations “extended beyond the scope of inclusion of other citizens, groups, or local governments.”

“My kids can’t have prayer in schools. Isn’t that a double standard?” says Grant resident Ronny Pynes.

The traditional cultural property will only include Forest Service land, according to Rose. But the regulations will also affect any activity on private land that could affect adjacent lands. This loophole will bring thousands of acres of private land under the traditional cultural property umbrella. But Rose says that the traditional cultural property will not prohibit any activity.

“What we’re really looking for is an agreement with a mitigating affect,” she explains.

This means that if a citizen or company is seeking a federal permit for a certain activity whether it is commercial or private, all five tribes must be notified and consulted before the permit is issued. If any one of the tribes has an objection, whatever the basis for the objection, the landowner must find a way to mitigate the concerns.

Rose says that there is no timeline on how long these discussions can last, which means that just about any activity could face so many delays that it’s no longer practical to pursue. Likewise, the traditional cultural property greatly increases the costs of certain permits.

Joe Lister, general manager of the Mount Taylor mine, says that he is required to get a permit to use a pipeline that crosses a small area of Forest Service land. In the past, the cost was $60. His costs for the permit have now increased to $600,000, most of which is because of delays from the traditional cultural property. He says that the designation will decimate the area’s economy.

“It’s beyond my comprehension why someone would shoot themselves in the foot economically,” Lister says.

The tribes had specifically sought the traditional cultural property designation in response to drilling permit applications from uranium companies. Even though the drilling is only exploratory and on private land, the tribes wanted a say in how the private land was going to be used.

Rose says that she understands that there are some questions that need to be addressed, and there were other considerations that the Forest Service did not take into account.

“If we were able to do it again, we’d do it differently. We’re learning here,” Rose says.