From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 16 - 12/14/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Ranchers Refuse to Participate in Planning Process for Bench Corral
They cite extreme positions taken by environmental groups
by Rob Shaul

In a December 8 letter to Pinedale BLM Field Manager Prill Mecham, six Big Piney ranchers with grazing leases area refused to participate in a collaborative planning effort for the Bench Corral area which began this Tuesday.

Cotton Guio, Tagg and Nancy Guio, Kenny Fear, Gordon and Beth Bray, Clarence and Wilma Davis, and Gordon and Margaret Mickelson take issue with the BLM decision to invite individuals and groups who have opposed renewing their grazing permits on several of the allotments and thus threaten their economic livlihood.

"Some of these positions are extreme and uncompromising, and we are not convinced that such a committee will be willing or able to agree to a plan that recommends a balanced multiple use management strategy that includes keeping our ranches economically viable," the ranchers write. "We are not suggesting that the public should not have a role in this process. Public participation is appropriate and we realize that the Bureau may feel the need to consult with people and organizations that do not support multiple use on federal lands. But we are under no such obligation."

The Bench Corrall allotments have been controversial ever since 1995 when the G&F attempted to close down the North Piney elk feedground and trail the elk to the Bench Corrall feedground. Since that time, the G&F has unsuccessfully tried to keep the elk at North Piney, but they have moved to Bench Corral on their own.

This has created forage concerns on the allotments, as there is a question whether or not there is enough forage available for the rancher's livestock and the increased number of elk wintering at Bench Corral.

"Stay" on Livestock Grazing

In written protests to grazing permit renewals for allotments in the Bench Corral area, two of the major environmental organizations in Wyoming, the Wyoming Outdoor Council (WOC) and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), recommend the BLM end livestock grazing until certain environmental studies and management plans can be completed.

"GYC requests a stay on this decision and future livestock use to renew the LBCC (Lower Bench Corral Common) allotment pending completion of the AMP (Allotment Management Plan) and HMP (Habitat Management Plan) ..." wrote GYC Field Representative Meredith Taylor in her protest to the BLM decision to renew the grazing permit for the LBCC.

In a joint letter protesting permit renewals for the Upper Bench Corral and Red Canyon Common Allotments, the GYC and WOC at one point call for a "drastic reduction" of allotted livestock AUMs to leave forage for wintering elk. At another point in their protest letter, the two groups call for an immediate stay on all livestock grazing "in order to begin quantitative and qualitative water and range monitoring and evaluation programs immediately to determine the effects of this use on the resource."

WOC Comments

"If they [the permittees] have problems with our wording [in the protest letters] they should have at least showed up at today's meeting and asked us if we would back off," said Wyoming Outdoor Council Staff Attorney and Director of Public Lands and Resources Tom Darin.

Mr. Darin said WOC does not oppose public lands grazing. The group's current position is to educate the public on grazing's possible impacts to riparian areas, and to focus on those allotments which are in the worst shape. Mr. Darin signed the joint protest letter for WOC and says he's been to the Lower Bench Corral Allotment. "As it currently stands, the rangeland conditions are poor," he says.

Concerning WOC's call for a "drastic reduction" in AUMs on the LBCC allotment to make room for wintering elk, Mr. Darin stands by that language. He says "drastic" can mean different things to different groups. Ranchers may consider a 10% reduction in AUMs drastic, he explains, while others may consider anything over a 20-30% reduction drastic. "No one's come to us and asked us how flexible we would be," he says of the permittees. "For them to assume that we wouldn't change, I think is an unfair assumption and indicative that they didn't want to compromise in the first place."

"I don't think the point of the protest letter was to kill the ranchers economically," said Mr. Darin. He said he believes there's room to run the rancher's businesses and allow for other uses on the allotments, but in the end, "I don't think it should be my concern about the profit margins of other businesses."

Mr. Darin said WOC "knows that people's livelihoods are at stake," but said the Supreme Court recently ruled that livestock grazing on federal lands "is a privilege, not a right." He continued that the permittees are paying grazing fees that are one-tenth the market value, and that it is the BLM's job to first protect the resource, not the economic interests of the ranchers.

GYC Backs Down

"The GYC is not anti-grazing," said Program Director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Michael Scott, in an interview Tuesday. "Our position is not to force cows off public lands."

Conservation groups and ranchers have a common interest in maintaining open spaces, added Mr. Scott. Conservation groups want the open spaces for wildlife, while ranchers need them to run livestock. "If there's an appropriate balance between livestock and wildlife, then everybody benefits," he said.

Mr. Scott said he wasn't familiar with the details of the Bench Corral issues or the language in the GYC letters of protest over possible renewal of the grazing permits. When told the GYC advocated stopping livestock grazing pending completion of several environmental studies, Mr. Scott said he could understand how this would be a severe economic threat to the permittees.

"It sounds to me like we've got to come down and revisit some of these questions," said Mr. Scott. "That's not to say that we're not going to have differences, but we've got to be able to get down and talk these through."

Concerning the collaborative planning process, "We can't do it without the permittees," concluded Mr. Scott.

BLM: Planning to Continue

"We would like them to participate. We certainly can't force them to participate," said BLM Pinedale Field Manager Prill Mecham, concerning the permittees' letter. Ms. Mecham said the collaborative planning effort will continue, but that the BLM will have to solicit the permittees' input in a different way.

"I hope that they will come to the meetings," continued Ms. Mecham. "And I hope they realize that the best people to represent their viewpoint is them."

In their December 8 letter, the Bench Corral permittees also express frustration and a hint of suspicion that the BLM has delayed releasing the final decision to renew several of the Bench Corral grazing permits. Nancy Guio said the BLM originally promised to release the final decision on two of the permit renewals in August, but has delayed the release for several months. Currently, the BLM promises to release the final decisions in January.

Ms. Mecham says the decisions have been delayed because the BLM has had to address each issue raised in the protest letters. Once the final decision is released, it can be appealed, said Ms. Mecham. If the BLM takes the time to respond to each point raised in the protest letters before the final decision is published, the agency "will be in a good position" to defend the decision on in court.

The ranchers' letter is to the BLM is printed in its entirety on page 4. <

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