NOTE: This article appeared in the March 5, 2011 issue of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and was written by Cat Urbigkit. It features Boulder-area rancher and County Commissioner, Joel Bousman. We posed a question about the Wild Lands Order on our Facebook page and want to share the testimony of a RealRancher.
Boulder rancher Joel Bousman testified before the U.S. House Natural Resource Committee in late February, speaking in opposition to the Obama administration’s Wild Lands Order (SO 3310) and its impact on jobs and economic growth. Bousman was speaking as a Sublette County Commissioner and President of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association.
“A skeptical and calloused view might be that the Department of the Interior is attempting an end-run on Congress by repackaging what we once knew to be a Wilderness Study Area and simply calling it something different,” Bousman said. “But looking at the guidance used to implement SO 3310, it seems that an end-run is exactly what is being attempted.”
The Wild Lands Order proclaims that protection of “lands with wilderness characteristics” (LWCs) is high priority for the Bureau of Land Management, and the open and productive natural state of such lands should be protected through designation as Wild Lands. The order instructs the BLM to maintain an inventory of LWCs that are outside areas currently designated as wilderness study areas.
Bousman argued that little has changed in terms of the environmental landscape that would change the inventories completed pursuant to Congressional mandate of more than a decade ago.
“Where the environment has changed, it has most likely moved away from a wilderness condition,” Bousman said. “Simply put, Mother Nature does not ‘create’ new wilderness in the span of 20 years. She does so either very abruptly with eruptions, earthquakes and floods, or very gradually, over hundreds of years. Thus, this present-day call to arms to protect wilderness lands is merely an excuse to loop in hundreds of thousands of acres of public land into an overly prescriptive management regime, when in fact, the land in question is no more wilderness than it was in 1964 following the passage of the Wilderness Act or at the conclusion of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act inventory in 1993.”
Bousman’s written testimony noted that according to the draft policy, grazing may be consistent with wilderness characteristics.
“However, grazing management practices (range improvement projects, vegetation manipulation and motorized access) ‘could conflict with protection of wilderness characteristics.’ Reservoirs, stock water tanks, pipelines and fences have all been installed (often at permittee expense) to distribute livestock across the allotments and improve the range resources (water, wildlife, soil, vegetation). These projects and their maintenance are vital to the economic viability of the ranching unit. Treating grazing and grazing management practices differently under this policy would have significant cumulative impacts on the grazing industry,” he said.
“Restrictions on the placement, construction, or maintenance of range improvement projects would have a significant financial impact on both the individual operator and local economy, most notably tied to increased labor cost associated with potential restrictions on motorized use within LWCs,” Bousman stated. “Further, the loss of vital water sources (used heavily by wildlife as well as livestock), tied to maintenance and water development restrictions, would likely cause livestock to concentrate around remaining water sources making it difficult or impossible to achieve the Wyoming Standards for Healthy Rangelands (a permit requirement). In addition, the loss of range improvements would likely result in a reduction in stocking rates. Finally, predator control would be severely limited due to motorized use restrictions, which in turn would increase predation on livestock as well as wildlife.”
Bousman said the Obama administration should rescind its Wild Lands Order.
“It is not supported by the law and is contrary to thoughtful public policy,” Bousman said. “New wilderness designations are and should remain the province of Congress.”