Prairie County Grazing District Chairman Ron Devlin introduces speakers.
By Kay Braddock
It’s all about water and wildlife.
That was the message Kathleen Jachowski shared with about 40 area farmers and ranchers during last week’s speaking event hosted by the Prairie County Grazing District.
Public policy decisions governing those two issues will continue to affect agriculture industries, Jachowski told the gathering and the impacts will be negative unless farmers and ranchers get involved.
“It seems like a big battle out there, but I want to tell you it’s one that we can win,” Jachowski said.
Jachowski serves as executive director of the Guardians on the Range, a group based out of Cody, Wyo., dedicated to safe guarding cattle grazing practices on public lands.
She encouraged the older generation to teach younger farmers and ranchers how to fight for policies that will protect their industry.
“This is ongoing,” Jachowski said of the policy battles for use of public lands. “Incremental is how the extreme environmentalists come after stuff.”
The message resonated with area ranchers and farmers gathered at the Thursday evening event in Terry, as many await an announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife on whether or not to list sage grouse as an endangered species. An endangered listing would likely affect working conditions on public lands. While others are carefully eyeing lawsuits filed by environmental groups that would either halt or limit cattle grazing on public lands in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Most ranchers agree both issues will have future impacts on those in the agriculture industry.
“That is why you all can not be anything but vigilant on these public polices,” Jachowski said pointing to several current issues facing Westerners who lease federal lands for ranching and farming operations.
Jachowski identified Western Watersheds Project as one environmental group determined to drive off Western ranching entirely.
“He’s real,” Jachowski said of Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho-based environmental group that first entered Montana in 2008.
Describing an over hour-long conversation Jachowski had with Marvel, she recalled asking Marvel ‘Why do you hate ranchers?’
It’s groups like Marvel’s that have convinced Jachowski that the ranching lifestyle is at risk.
“Right now rural America is under siege,” Jachowski said, stressing that the east-west paradigm has been replaced with the rural-urban paradigm.
Jon Marvel responds
Citing scattered and small Bureau of Land Management allotments, Marvel dismissed the idea that Western Watersheds Project is moving into eastern Montana public lands policies.
“It’s unlikely that our group will be involved in eastern Montana, east of the Charles Russell National Wildlife Refuge,” Marvel said in a Friday afternoon telephone interview.
The group, initially founded in 1993, is dedicated to protecting and restoring western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation, according to its Web site.
But although the group may not be directly contacting the Miles City BLM office, there is little doubt that the policy changes Western Watersheds Project is fighting for would impact eastern Montana BLM lands and those who lease them.
That’s a fact Marvel readily acknowledges.
Pointing to what he sees as a cozy relationship between the BLM and ranching industry, Marvel says his group wants to see changes in the way the BLM favors ranchers over protecting the environment.
“Ranchers have developed, over the years, very strong political connections,” Marvel said, pointing to the BLM’s low grazing fees as one example.
The $1.35 per head monthly fees on BLM lands, has drawn the ire of many conservation groups who claim it’s too low. They point to private grazing leases well above that amount. Ranchers point to the responsible care, use and improvement they provide on federal lands leased.
Besides increasing grazing fees, Marvel says Western Watersheds Project would like to see annual measurable terms and conditions in all grazing permits implemented and better protection of wildlife habitat.
Simply put, the group’s goal is to improve water conditions and the habitat of wildlife and fisheries, Marvel explained, adding, “Ranching stands in the way of that, in many respects.”
He’s in favor of leases on public lands being voluntarily relinquished with compensation.
“We’re trying to create the situation where ranchers will think that that might be a good outcome for them,” Marvel said.
Although little else may be agreed upon between the two groups, it’s likely both ranchers and environmental groups like Western Watersheds Project would agree on one point – it all boils down to water and wildlife.
Published Mar. 3, 2010