Stoneberg: New assault on federal grazing

With all the checks and balances ingrained in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it is incomprehensible how one election is totally destroying the foundation of our very successful republic. 

Wayne Hage, in his book ‘Storm over Rangelands’, extensively documented how the eastern industrialists coveted the natural resources of the western states and since the 1880’s had been using the federal government to keep these resources out of the hands of the western settlers (i.e. forest reserves, retained mineral rights, etc.).  In recent years these eastern financial wizards merged with the so called environmentalists to continue their drive to remove federal lands from the control of the states (i.e. wilderness areas, monuments, scenic rivers, etc.).  Not long ago they successfully shut down the western timber industry while keeping the eastern and Midwestern timber harvests intact.  (Has anyone heard lately how the spotted owl is thriving in its saved habitat?).

During the dust bowl of the 1930’s the federal government tried to alleviate the overgrazing on the federal range by passing the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 (TGA).  They entered into a very successful cooperative private/federal arrangement that gave adjacent ranchers exclusive access to the forage on the Federal Grazing District allotments but maintained federal oversight by forming the Grazing Service which, within a couple of years, became the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  Since the 1970’s there has been a move by the federal government to obtain total control of all rights on the federal allotments.  The main obstacle was the state issued water rights to the allotment permittee whose livestock was the beneficial user of the water.  All the western states repelled the federal government’s efforts to take these vested water rights from the allotment permittees until they came calling in Montana.  The Montana Water Court’s Water Master and the Montana Supreme Court allowed the feds to steal the Montana permittees’ vested water rights.  I was told the purpose of obtaining all rights was so the Department of the Interior (DOI) could remove a permittee without cost or legal complications.

The non government organizations (NGOs) have long had a mission to remove all livestock from the federal range (remember, ‘cattle free in ’93’).  After the success of using the spotted owl to shut down the western timber industry, the NGOs bragged they would use the sage grouse to get the cows off the federal range.  Fortunately, they were not successful but they have managed to add layers of useless regulations and restrictions on all ranches within the sage grouse range.

The Biden Administration has shamelessly imbedded anti cow liberals within the positions of power in the Interior Department.  The Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the BLM have just demonstrated how bad this lash up is by dropping a bomb in the form of new ‘rules’ that govern management of the BLM acres.  These new ‘rules’ illegally substitute the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) for the TGA as the enabling act controlling management of the Federal Grazing District allotments.

It is obvious the ultimate goal of this terrible exercise is the removal of all livestock from the TGA allotments to help meet Biden’s 30 x30 mandate.  The problem they face in most western states is that the U.S. Court of Claims has ruled that if the federal government’s actions prevent ranchers from accessing their vested water right by their livestock it is a taking and the government has to pay just compensation. That could get pretty expensive!  However, because of the erroneous rulings of the Montana Courts and the failure of the State Legislature to try to correct the problem Montana is the only western state where the federal government will not have to pay compensation when they kick our cows off our allotments.  Not only that, in northeastern Montana we have the World Wildlife Fund’s spin off American Prairie Foundation chomping at the bit to turn this area into a 3,500,000 acre contiguous park with 10,000 wild free-ranging bison.

Add all this up and northeastern Montana ranchers are really in the cross hairs.  Hopefully, the legal and practical challenges will, at least, delay the ‘rule’s’ implementation to give Congress time to correct this travesty.  It is rather ironic the federal government is spending buckets of money identifying the need for mental health care in the rural areas while they do not seem to realize their repressive rules and regulations are a main cause of this mental stress.

Ron Stoneberg

Box 37, Hinsdale, MT 59241

(406) 367-9314

Guest Opinions