The Big Picture by J.T. Korkow: Beef or elk?
June 4, 2015
Recently, I was contacted by one of our readers on the subject of increasing elk population in the national forest areas. I asked for more information on the particular area of concern and promised to comment on it. Upon receiving an abundance of information, I determined I should take more time to review the facts before specifically commenting. However, I felt inclined to comment from, the "big picture" in this issue, as his concern is that of many in the western states.
Obviously, the concern of many livestock operations in the west is the competition for use of public lands. Whether managed by BLM or Forest Service, from a rancher's view, the sage grouse being placed on the endangered species list or an increase of elk population only means one thing….the loss of more grazing due to those agencies cutting back permits to allow these new agendas being pushed. As we discuss this issue which continually raises its ugly head in the West, I wanted to first explain the difference in public land management by our two agencies.
In my past experiences, I learned most of the public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is predominantly governed by the Taylor Grazing Act. This act states in part the primary use of these lands will be for domestic grazing. Much of this land was originally governed by local grazing associations, but due to various issues, the BLM took over primary management as recent as the 1970's. Grazing districts still provide management in some areas of the west, and even collect grazing fees from its members to be forwarded to the BLM in a lump sum. But BLM now has the ultimate authority on carry capacity, improvements, etc.
In contrast, the Forest Service does not administer their forest management plans accordingly. The Organic Act of 1897 states in part that the mission of the Forest Service is to manage the forests to protect and provide for a healthy source of lumber for the settlers and to manage the watersheds. Domestic livestock grazing is to be used as a management tool to control the undergrowth, etc, and is not required! Now as a rancher who relies on a Forest Service permit for summer grazing, that is a going concern.
So to summarize, ranchers should have and usually do have a bigger say in grazing issues on lands managed by the BLM. But when it comes to Forest Service land, the same is not so. It is because of these differences I believe we are going to eventually see an even greater push to eliminate livestock grazing on Forest Service land. As I alluded to in my previous writings, the ag community is dealing with much ignorance in this country when it comes to raising livestock due to the shift of population now living in urban and metro areas. We are fighting the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who boldly confess their agenda to eliminate livestock grazing for the sake of wildlife preservation and recreational use, under the guise of "conservation" or "no use" at all! And the last time I visited with representatives from some of these groups, I found they were quite ignorant on what livestock production, range management and forest management involved…all they were concerned with was their own agenda mostly based on propaganda that sells memberships… whether that was saving all the trees, the wolf, or creating habitat for elk.
Unfortunately, the ag community has a smaller voice in as far as paid lobbyists or membership dollars to counter-act many of these attacks. But organizations like Farmers Union, state cattleman's associations, R-CALF USA, Public Lands Councils, and other similar ag organizations do make a difference. The Congressional delegation from states depending on agricultural economies do listen to these organizations and will respond, as we witnessed recently coming out of Utah with the sage grouse issue. The educational component that should be driven home with government officials is that overgrazing is not good for either party and somewhere there needs to be a balance struck. Cattle are not a wild animal. The numbers CAN be controlled and boundaries CAN be determined…(well mostly, with exception of the neighbor's bull). Wild elk do not respect a fence, and hunting does not necessarily control numbers. That can be evidenced by the success rates of permits issued. Unless you tie them up within a hundred yards of a forest service road, elk are seldom seen by a hunter, let alone harvested. Most landowners and hunters alike, will tell you that more elk are harvested on adjoining private deeded hay fields in the early morning than on the Forest Service land, anyway. In my next article, I will discuss the influence of the Federal Fish Wildlife Service on our public lands regarding these and other issues. Stay tuned!
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