Tuesday, June 06, 2017

In Montana, land transfer threatens the American rancher's way of life

This could have been an important article, but by the second paragraph he was already identifying this as a Republican agenda which has the ranchers "unnerved"and would "mean a radical restructuring of the foundations of the economy and the culture of the west."

In the third paragraph he tells us there is an element in the land transfer movement "represented most garishly by the Bundy clan from the Mormon stronghold of Bunkerville, Nevada" with their "militant, extremist position." 

And finally, in the fourth paragraph, he mentions the American Lands Council, but dismisses them saying "it has been established that substantial funding comes from the billionaire Koch brothers, who are heavily involved in the petrochemical industry and openly committed to destroying the environmental regulatory apparatus." 

 In other words, supporters are either militants, extremists, Mormons or tools of the evil Koch brothers. 

 He then cozies up to the ranching community as another potential opponent of land transfers: 

There are about 22,000 public land ranchers in the west who hold grazing leases on about 250m acres of federal rangeland. They occupy a tenuous space in a livestock market dominated by huge corporate outfits in Texas, Oklahoma, and the midwestern states, and they often survive in challenging environments where short growing seasons, scarce water, and extreme temperatures and terrain are the norm. With all the variables at play – from increasingly unpredictable weather to fluctuating beef prices – there isn’t much margin for error in their financial planning. According to Jim Hagenbarth, 68, who owns a ranch with his brother Dave that spans the Montana-Idaho border and which has been in his family since the 1930s, land transfer advocates have not adequately addressed how state agencies would avoid destroying the grazing lease fee structure, which has been a bedrock of stability for western ranchers since the Great Depression. Under federal lease programs established in the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, stockgrowers pay a monthly fee of less than $2 for each animal that they turn out on to leased ground during the summer and autumn months. Grazing fees on state land are as much as 20 times higher, and they vary from year to year based on several factors, including the market cost of beef. If ranchers with large federal leases were suddenly forced to pay state fees, Hagenbarth said, many of them would go under, and the resources and the wildlife they support would suffer in their absence...

Vicki Olson, 63, owns a ranch with her sister, Nancy Ereaux, 54, and their husbands, near the Canadian border in north-central Montana, on ground her Basque sheepherder ancestors homesteaded over a hundred years ago. She shares Hagenbarth’s concerns. Like most ranches in the semi-arid Missouri River Breaks region of north-central Montana, the Olson-Ereaux operation depends on large public grazing leases. Olson worries about what state ownership would mean for the cost of goods, determined by the expenses that go into delivering a full-grown animal to market. “Right now … you can’t lose that lease unless you abuse it or don’t pay, so we have a kind of guarantee there,” Olson explained. The promise of multi-generational leases gives ranching families everywhere the incentive to treat public pasture as their own...

Grazing fees and the terms of the grazing permit are issues raised, under the assumption these lands would have the same status and management as existing state lands. Not mentioned is that legislative proposals to transfer these lands limits them to only those lands that are applied for by each state. Each state would then have to conform to whatever terms or conditions are attached to those lands, and the grazing fee and permit terms could be addressed at that point. In other words, lands transferred under this legislation would be in a separate category from those lands granted under a different authority earlier in the state's history.

Ethan Lane, the executive director of the Public Lands Council, a project of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which represents stockgrowers who hold public land grazing permits, told me, “Wholesale transfer of public lands could have a tremendously destabilizing effect on the western cattle industry.” If state land were ever to go up for auction, Lane said, it’s unlikely ranchers in areas with high scenic and recreational values would be able to compete with real estate developers. Subdivisions and trophy homes would replace production agriculture in places like the Big Hole Valley, where Hagenbarth lives, which boast the sort of mountain views and that millionaires drool over.

This whole bugaboo about the selloff or lack of access to these lands I've addressed many times, for example here.

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