Unfortunately, the author then goes on to say AMPs would have resolved all this:
Some BLM districts write “allotment management plans” with grazing permittees for precisely this purpose—to develop sustainable grazing systems and clarify standards so ranchers can be knowledgeable participants in the management of the range. But not at the BLM’s Battle Mountain District. Not only has staff there never bothered to develop an allotment management plan for Argenta and North Buffalo, they have categorically failed to form a working partnership with ranchers. Instead they chose to leave ranchers to muddle along without a sustainable grazing system or necessary range improvements, and then shut them down when (surprise) unmanaged grazing affects delicate stream banks. This BLM district was effectively setting the ranchers up to fail, instead of helping them to succeed.
Can't help but notice the condescending attitude towards ranchers. They can't be "knowledgeable participants" without an AMP and are just left to "muddle along" without a government plan aimed at "helping them to succeed." Ranchers are apparently incapable of designing a "sustainable grazing system" without direction from the government.
Do you think its just a miracle that over 528 million acres of private land are successfully grazed by livestock? Of course not. We need less gov't planning, not more.
I then received this interesting reply from Ms. Rieber:
Sorry Frank, you are miles off base. There is nothing in this piece that is remotely "condescending" to ranchers. I have basically devoted my career to working for this industry for a reason—namely the deep respect I have for the people in it and for the agricultural endeavor of raising cattle on the western ranges. If I thought ranchers were idiots, I would not be contracting with the Public Lands Council, State Cattlemen's affiliate organizations, and individual ranchers to keep them out on the public land. Nor, as you imply, do I anywhere state that AMPs are the be-all-end-all solution to the problems ranchers face with the BLM. In many ways, the BLM is a profoundly broken agency. It has come adrift from its mission as a "multiple use" agency, and is now largely staffed with wildlife biologists and ecologists who know nothing (and care nothing) for range management. Much must be done to bring this agency back into line with the mission that it was originally intended to serve. That said, cooperatively writing effective AMPs is one small but critical piece of this process. Why? Several reasons. First, AMPS (when done correctly) empower ranchers to work together with the agency to develop a plan that works equally well for land and cattle. Since ranchers are leasing from the federal government, it is inevitable that the government will have requirements and standards. So, either the ranchers can be locked out of the management process (as they were in Battle Mountain), or, as it should be, they can jointly develop a plan with the BLM that accommodates all needs. Both sides have important information to bring to the table. But if the ranchers don't know what the BLM's ecological goals and objectives are, they are powerless to apply the most effective management practices. Then they get kicked off. That's what we're trying to avoid here.
Of course, you claim that "we need less government planning, not more," I suppose implying that if the BLM just leaves ranchers alone, all will be well. There are two problems with you view. First, it is wildly unrealistic. Public lands ranchers lease from the federal government. Barring a highly unlikely victory for the states seeking transfer of federal lands to state ownership, this situation will not change. As you well know, FLPMA and other laws require the BLM to set rangeland health standards and to manage the land for ecological health as well as natural resource use. Do you honestly think that by wishing this away, it will be so? Hardly. We must work within the existing laws, or, if you like, seek to change those laws. (If you begin a campaign to repeal FLPMA, let me know how that goes.) One of the most disturbing problems is that the laws and regulations in place often support fair, cooperative management between the BLM and permittees, but the agency has made a practice of ignoring the law. If Battle Mountain had been following the grazing regs, they would never had been able to steamroll the ranchers. What we should be doing, therefore, is to insist that the agencies follow the laws that govern them (by litigating, if necessary), and make sure that they write regulations that do not overstep the agencies' authority. By contrast, demanding "less government planning" will do nothing to help ranchers. Worse, in the end, such vague and unrealistic demands will make the very valid complaints of ranchers cease to be taken seriously.
Second, you need to do a reality check with your implied claim that all ranchers are great stewards, and therefore don't need to change or improve what they're doing. Look, I work with a lot of ranchers that are outstanding stewards. These ranchers understand deferred rest-rotation, monitoring, riparian grazing, and many other grazing techniques that have developed over that last several decades. The land they manage, both public and private, is showcase material. I have also seen some allotments that are pretty well hammered (not just my opinion, but the opinion of other ranchers). I strongly believe that many ranchers are, or would like to be, good stewards. But if we're going to be honest with ourselves, Frank, we're going to have to acknowledge that some ranchers need some help improving. Hiding from this fact is a gross disservice to ranchers—the ones who know least about good stewardship practices are going to be the first ones to be driven out of business. I want these people to stay in business. Now, if the system weren't broken, the BLM would be able to collaborate with ranchers to help develop grazing systems that would serve both the agency and the ranchers. But of course, they're not doing this, at least not without first precipitating a crisis like the one the Battle Mountain ranchers went through. One of the points of my Op-Ed was to bring to light the fact that the BLM is abrogating this very important duty.
It may be interesting for you to note that this Op-Ed was hugely appreciated throughout the public lands ranching community: from the Battle Mountain ranch families, to the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, to the Public Lands Council, to the Humboldt County Commission. No one remotely detected the "condescension" you found. Through fighting many battles with the public agencies, these people and organizations also understand that being effective requires making realistic, legally defensible demands, not vague fist-shaking. While I sincerely appreciate your passion for defending ranchers and the industry, as well as your frustration with the BLM, I am convinced that your prescription is not the way forward.
First, anyone who reads this blog knows my preference is for private property and free markets, not federal property and a command-and-control regulatory structure. My comments on gov't planning were aimed in that sense and had nothing to do with individual producers. I would encourage everyone to read The Best Laid Plans by Randal O'Toole for a tour de force of government planning.
The WSJ described Ms. Rieber as a "writer in Oregon" so I was unaware of her involvement with industry, which clarifies a lot for me, plus she raises some really interesting issues that are worth pondering by the federal lands livestock industry.
I understand and appreciate where Ms. Rieber is coming from because I spent many years (30+) in the exact same position she is in: right in the middle between the federal alltoment owners and the federal agencies, trying to maintain credibility in both camps and working within the existing statutes and regs to bring about reasonable solutions.
And Ms. Rieber is correct that she did not say AMPs would have resolved all this, although it was the first and primary solution she brought forward.