Grazing rights are a hot topic of late, from the Grazing Improvement Act currently awaiting consideration in the House of Representatives to the protests of Wyoming ranchers on the intervention of environmental activists in their grazing permit renewal process.
There is a lot of talk from all parties involved on how livestock grazing should be managed on our nation's public lands.
The Grazing Improvement Act, if passed, would bring some beneficial changes to the public lands grazing permitting process. In addition, ranchers protesting the incessant intervention of groups like Western Watersheds into the each and every livestock grazing permit renewal process have every right to do so. How would you like it someone who has never done your job came to your place of work and started telling you how you should do things?
You wouldn't. Neither do the ranchers involved. The topic of grazing "rights" brings up uneasy feelings. Past negative experiences with activist groups have created volatile relationships between many in the ranching business and environmental groups.
In relationships of this variety, defensive and precautionary actions are the result and many times communication falls somewhere between minimal and non-existent. If you don't understand what I mean, talk to someone who grew up in or was part of an abusive relationship. Many of the psychological and societal defensive mechanisms we develop to deal with abusive personal relationships are the very similar to those that develop between parties who have regularly conflict.
The person or party being attacked soon becomes tired of the abusive treatment and lashes out. A mindset focused on survival develops. The idea that certain actions must be taken at all costs to maintain a particular state of the abused party's comfort zone becomes the norm. Considerations of how these actions affect others can oftentimes be lost and/or ignored.
I agree that improvements need to be made in the grazing permitting process and that in most cases ranchers have every right to appeal the ridiculous environmental litigation groups like Western Watersheds tries to impose upon them. What I feel needs readjusted however is our focus.
Yes, grazing rights are important. Improvements on the way things are done need to be made. There's no question. However, it seems to me that our focus many times is more on our own personal wants than what is really greater for the whole. This is why it is vital all involved remember the reason why they get to do what they do in the first place.
That reason is the land. Someone's "right to graze" livestock means nothing if they do not manage their land or their grazing livestock well. In addition, the when the land is abused, the soil, plant and animal communities which depend upon it suffer.
This is where rangeland monitoring comes in and acts as a valuable tool which ranchers can use when it comes to documenting, verifying and defending their grazing management practices. We all know you can't manage what you don't measure. By putting land monitoring programs in place land managers are able to measure the health of their land through observation of various ecological indicators and characteristics which in turn help them to understand just how their grazing management is affecting the environment.
The information collected through a good land-monitoring program would prove invaluable when the time came for grazing permitees to renew their permits, especially in cases where potential exists for interference from "environmental" activist groups.
I would like to see a greater effort from beef industry groups, state affiliates and federal agencies in encouraging ranchers to take this step and get monitoring programs started on their land. While I agree a continued focus needs to be placed on improvement of regulations regarding the grazing permitting process, I believe initiation of land monitoring programs are the most proactive and logical course of action to provide ranchers with the stability they desire in our current times.
States like Colorado and Wyoming have already taken the initial steps in starting programs focused on getting more ranchers and land managers monitoring their lands through the Colorado Resource Monitoring Initiative and Wyoming's Rangeland Health Assessment Program.
Through their example, it is my hope that more will realize the immense benefits of this management tool and empower ranchers in the West and elsewhere to not only defend their "right to graze" but pay better attention to improving the health of their land.