Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cattle group counters Interior grazing claims

The Public Lands Council is commissioning a study to determine the true economic value of public lands grazing.

The study seeks to scrutinize a Department of Interior report that claims grazing is only responsible for a miniscule amount of the jobs and economic impact created by the agency's programs.

According to the "Department of Interior's Economic Contributions" report, which was released in June, the agency's programs were responsible for 2 million jobs and $363 billion in economic activity during fiscal year 2010.

The report makes much ado about the estimated 388,000 jobs and $44 billion in economic activity generated by recreation and tourism on DOI-managed lands and the 1.3 million jobs and $246 billion in economic activity created by energy development and mining.

But it barely mentions the impact of public lands grazing, estimating it is responsible for 2,500 direct jobs and less than 5,000 indirect jobs and has an economic impact of $640 million.

The PLC, which consists of state and national cattle, sheep and grasslands associations, believes those numbers are way off and has hired an outside company to do an independent analysis of the report.

"This report talks about recreation from beginning to end," PLC Executive Director Dustin Van Liew told Idaho Cattle Association members Dec. 15 during their annual meeting in Sun Valley. "Grazing was basically an afterthought in this report."

He pointed out the BLM administers 18,000 federal grazing permits. The fact that the report credits grazing for only 2,500 direct jobs shows that ranchers themselves weren't counted as direct jobs, he said, despite the fact that most "of those jobs don't exist without access to federal forage."

He also noted that the report's 5,000 jobs total for gazing works out to less than a third of a job per permit.

"We all know common sense wise that doesn't pass the smell test," Van Liew said. "Those are grossly under-reported figures in this study."

He said the PLC will use county and state tax data and case studies "to show exactly how much economic activity is created by grazing."

ICA Executive Director Wyatt Prescott said the industry welcomes PLC's independent analysis and agrees with its criticism of the DOI report.

"As an industry, we know the economic difference we make in communities by being on rangeland," he said. "The biased nature of this report was appalling to our industry. We were extremely disappointed to see that because it was so misrepresentative of our industry."

BLM officials could not be reached for comment Nov. 15. But the report's executive summary admitted that some DOI services can't be fully counted in terms of output or jobs.

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