I cannot help but wonder what the ranching landscape will look like when my grandchildren, fifth generation Idaho ranchers, take the reins.
It is my hope they, and all future generations, get to experience the same beautiful and productive western landscapes I know and love.
This month, I testified before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee on public lands grazing. I highlighted the livestock industry’s rich history of stewardship and the benefit ranchers provide to rural communities where ranching is the year-round backbone that sustains jobs, schools, health care, and other services.
Unlike government administrators, who are only there for a few years, ranchers have been on the land for generations. Ranchers are indispensable in the successful management of our public lands, but if they are regulated off, our country loses the most effective and efficient public lands managers, and the private inholdings will likely be sold for development.
As lieutenant governor, I have seen the benefits of local land management most prominently during fire season. Grazing reduces the fuel loads and prevents the catastrophic, fast-moving fires that Idaho has experienced more frequently in recent years.
Six years ago, Idaho created Rangeland Fire Protection Associations. These volunteers, totaling about 330 ranchers, extend protection to 1.8 million acres of private land and nearly 7.1 million acres of adjacent public land. The work our ranchers do in first response firefighting and fuels management is done at a mere fraction of the traditional costs to the taxpayer.
In Idaho, we’ve also had the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation since 2000 to protect and recover 33 different plant and animal species using the framework of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Despite these successes, more work is needed at the federal level to create a regulatory environment where ranchers can survive.
While well-intended when enacted in the 1970s, the ESA and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) have evolved into weapons for litigants who seek to hamstring land managers. Regulations these laws produce are as ineffective as they are burdensome. They need to be reformed.
Efforts are underway in Congress to increase state involvement in ESA implementation. Recent draft legislation, crafted after the Western Governors’ Association’s bipartisan resolution last year, would give states a greater role in species recovery and decision-making.
Through facilitating rancher participation in lands management and reducing regulatory burdens which threaten our way of life, we can perpetuate our rich, bountiful western landscapes while fostering the next generation of western ranch stewards.