July 18, 2009

Range War In the West

There is a range war in the West. Why should you care? Because wherever you live in America sooner or later it will affect you.

By Patrick Dorinson
New West

There is a range war out West. And unless you live in Idaho or Nevada or any other Western state you probably have no idea what is happening or why you should care. But wherever you live in America you should care because sooner or later it will affect you.

This range war is between ranchers who have worked the land raising cattle and sheep for over a century and environmental outlaws whose stated goal is driving them off the very land they need to survive and prosper. Today’s weapon of choice is not a Colt .45 or a Winchester rifle, but something much more deadly—the lawsuit.

So what’s the issue?

There are more than a quarter of a billion acres of public lands in the West. For over century a system has been in place to allow livestock ranchers and resource entities controlled access to portions of public land.

Over the years there have been bitter disputes between ranchers and environmentalists over whether this practice should continue. For the ranchers this is about their very survival and the survival of the livestock industries that contribute so much to the economies of many Western states—1 ranch job creates 7 jobs to support the industry.

Recently, reasonable mainstream environmental and conservation groups like the Nature Conservancy have worked closely with the public lands stakeholders to find common ground that can address both the needs of the land while preserving a way of life essential to the West. Working together, ranchers and conservationists listened to each other and came up with plans to ensure the survival of both.

But some fringe environmentalists like the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) have no interest in compromise and consistently use and abuse our legal system to deny ranchers and other interests their rights to use public lands, especially for grazing.

WWP and its leader Jon Marvel, a transplanted Easterner that has designed huge homes for the rich and famous in Hailey, Idaho, continue to wage war against the ranching industry by pushing to let the land return to a pristine state with no cattle. I have news for Mr. Marvel, before the cattle came to the West, huge herds of elk and buffalo roamed the plains and valleys for centuries and I’ll bet they ate grass and tramped through streams.

WWP regularly sues the federal government, challenging rancher’s permits on technicalities and burying officials in a flood of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. It is estimated that just to fill the current requests it would take one person 6 years, working full time. This means that trained range managers and scientists who should be out working with the ranchers and other users of public lands are instead filling out paperwork. If you are a taxpayer you should be outraged.

I said earlier that even if you didn’t live in the West this would affect you in some way. Eventually the price of beef will rise as there will be fewer cattle merging into the food supply. And these activities might also put a severe crimp in the Obama administration’s desire to upgrade the electricity grid, build new pipelines to carry the West’s abundant natural gas to the rest of the nation, take advantage of the wind corridors that dot the West and build solar farms in the region’s deserts.

It’s already happening. Interior Secretary Salazar recently came to California to talk up building solar farms on public land near the Mojave Desert. But California Senator Dianne Feinstein is dead set against it, as are radical environmentalists. They’ve been complaining about lack of renewable energy for years and now that it might happen they suddenly develop a bad case of NIMBYism.

Why? Because these hypocrites don’t want any of that on public land either and you cannot achieve the president’s energy goals unless you use the West’s vast public lands.

Finally you should care because this type of bullying and intimidation is just plain wrong. And it’s hard to deal with folks whose goal is to drive ranchers out of business and destroy a way of life that has survived for over a hundred years despite the hardships inflicted by man and Mother Nature.

Patrick Dorinson is a communications strategist specializing in media relations, public affairs, political communications, crisis communications and government relations. During the Clinton Administration, he received Presidential appointments in communications to the General Services Administration, NASA and the Department of Energy. During California’s historic recall election of 2003, Dorinson served on press staff for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign and transition teams. After the election he was tapped by Governor Schwarzenegger to be Deputy Secretary for Communications for the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. Mr. Dorinson graduated from the University of Oregon, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in History.