Ranchers losing ground in government land grab

February 22, 2016

5 Min Read
Ranchers losing ground in government land grab

I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, the 2016 presidential election can’t come soon enough.

For the 22nd time during his nearly eight years in office, President Obama has taken advantage of the Antiquities Act of 1906, locking up millions of acres of land in the western states.

Obama’s designations total 265 million acres, and his most recent designation of the Sand to Snow National Monument, Mojave Trails National Monument and Castle Mountains National Monument totals 1.8 million acres.

READ: Study shows benefits to cattle grazing on wildlife land

With several months left in office, Obama is expected to designate another 10 million acres of land in Oregon, Arizona and Utah. What’s worse, Obama will more than likely continue to use his executive power when making these designations without any public comment period or economic studies.

Locking out this land under the guise of protecting it negates the fact that ranchers with grazing permits pay to run the ground and also are responsible for the management of those leases. Somehow I have my doubts about the federal government’s abilities to manage this expansive amount of land, and with our nation’s multi-trillion dollar debt, I don’t see how there is enough funding available to make improvements, control weeds, manage bison and elk herds, and fight fires on this land.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ranchers fighting the government against a powerful land grab. In fact, an entire session at the 2016 Cattle Industry Convention was dedicated to offering advice on how to navigate the stressful world of grazing permits on public lands and how best to deal with litigation, should things escalate that far. 

READ: 6 pieces of practical advice for resolving grazing issues on public land.

While the media has been somewhat mum on the real issues facing real ranchers who live in areas heavy with federal land, there have been several stories in recent months that should have piqued your interest.

The first, and most dramatic by far, was the imprisonment of Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who got in a legal battle with the Federal government over a backfire that they set (with permission) to protect their ranch, which ended up burning 137 acres of federal land. The Hammonds ended up paying $400,000 in fines, and a protest on their behalf ended with the death of Robert LaVoy Finicum and the arrest of nearly a dozen others.

This story has been swept under the rug by many, the parties involved have been painted as terrorists, and today, the Hammonds still sit in prison for simply trying to protect their ranch and help prevent the spread of a major wildfire. You may not agree with the tactics those involved in the standoff took to stand up for what they believe in, but it’s hard to deny the fact that there is trouble brewing in the West, and the bully is the Federal government.

By the way, the Hammonds are currently seeking a presidential pardon, which I think will be highly unlikely until a new president takes office. The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association is circulating a petition to grant the Hammonds clemency. View that petition here.

READ: Western lands dilemma

Then, there’s the case of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suing a California farmer for plowing his privately-owned land. Claiming that he violated the Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS), tree, vine and wheat grower John Duarte is being sued by the EPA, which he claims is a way to chase farmers like him off his own land to turn it into habitat preservation.

READ: EPA Sues California farmer for plowing his own land

Most recently, 20 dairy and beef operations in the federally-owned Point Reyes National Seashore in the Bay Area of California are facing a lawsuit from three environmental groups, which are claiming the government is renewing ranching leases without making the preservation of the park a top priority. The suit calls for halting the leases and will be settled in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

READ: Backlash over cattle grazing on public land hits Point Reyes

These are just a few key examples of how the rancher is now at odds with the government, with environmentalists and with public’s perception of the impacts of cattle grazing on public land. Of course, this battle has been going on for decades, and has been fought by ranchers, as well as the timber and energy industries, all across the nation. We’ve got ranchers dealing with violence on the southern border.

We’ve got farmers fearing government reproach because of the ridiculous regulations listed in the WOTUS rule. We’ve dealt with an Administration that seems to lack an understanding that the nation’s food security is directly tied to how well America’s farmers and ranchers can do.

So as the presidential election season heats up, ask yourself who will repeal WOTUS, who will get control of an overreaching EPA and who will set the tone for the next four years to allow ranchers to get back to work without the stress of strict rules and regulations that are becoming harder and harder to follow. These issues should be of concern to any rancher, whether you live in the West or not. Once the battle is won in the West, where will the government turn next? And do you stand a fighting chance if the next target is your ranch?

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.


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