Christmas, by nature, provides a time to take account of the blessings we have enjoyed over the past year with our family, friends and the life we lead living and working on the land. I and many other ranchers are in a better place today than we were twelve months ago. Private land or public, we are all positioned better to move into a new year and beyond. Much of this success comes from work occurring in Washington D.C. with groups like the Public Lands Council (PLC).
Your PLC has seen success in 2019 from the efforts started in post-election 2016: major reforms to Endangered Species Act regulations, a critical funding increase to aid Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in curbing wild horse and burro overpopulation, a range-wide delisting rule for gray wolves, and so on. While we celebrate those successes and as we prepare to ring in a new year— and, in this case, a new decade—I would like to take count of those objectives still in process.
First and foremost is rolling back Bruce Babbitt’s Range Reform and replacing it with modern, commonsense BLM grazing regulations. We made tremendous strides toward this ultimate objective throughout the previous year, thanks largely to the countless hours volunteered by our members throughout the West. While the circus that has engulfed Washington in recent months prevented measurable progress on this front, we expect that the Department of the Interior will move swiftly and judiciously to ensure that draft rules, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and final regulations are completed before the end of the President’s first term. The best is yet to come—and it is coming sooner than many think.
The new year promises regulatory reform to NEPA’s overbearing statute. As recently as last week, PLC staff attended meetings at the White House preparing for a rollout of draft rules to update the NEPA regulations across the entire federal government. This is encouraging news for many who have had permit renewals or range improvements delayed for years by arduous and unnecessary environmental reviews. However, we are not the only interested party (no pun intended) keeping a close watch on the Council on Environmental Quality. Once draft rules are published, expect to see massive campaigns promoting opposition to what will undoubtedly be dubbed “the worst assault on the environment in history.” We, of course, know better, and will need to demonstrate that during the notice and comment period. Make sure to get your voice on the record when the time comes.
Many were disappointed, even angered as I was, by recent news out of Oregon that a federal judge has revoked the Hammond’s grazing permits. The mistreatment that this family has endured at the hands of radical environmentalists and an activist judiciary is an extreme example of the federal overreach we all know too well. Given the makeup of the court and the legal strategies at play, this result was not entirely unsurprising. The onus is now on the Department of the Interior to right the wrongs of the previous Administration and help this multi-generational ranch and well-respected family return to some semblance of a normal life. Rest assured that PLC leadership at all levels will continue holding their feet to the fire to ensure that happens.
Finally, despite our friendships and the respect we have earned on both sides of the aisle and within the federal agencies, there remain those whose sole objective is to put us out of business. Be they urban Senators hell-bent on ending animal agriculture, radical activists that seek to banish us from the range, or green decoy groups masquerading as rural westerners, PLC will continue to use every resource available to protect your ability to operate your ranch. While the coming decade promises many ups, we need to anticipate the downs and be prepared to address them head-on.
PLC has come a long way over the course of the past ten years. We are competing on an entirely new playing field, enjoying unprecedented access to key decisionmakers, and moving the needle in ways thought improbable not that long ago. This success is in no small part due to the efforts of folks like you: people who take time away from their families and ranches to serve on a working group, share your story, and support the industry and way of life we all love. As you sit down at the dinner table with loved ones this season, you can confidently say that the future in 2020 and beyond is bright—and it will remain so as long as we all work together to advance that way of life that we all hold dear.
Niels Hansen is a rancher from Rawlins, Wyo. serving as the 2019 PLC vice president.
Note: This article was originally published in the Western Livestock Journal on December 24, 2019.