Opinion: ‘Lone rancher’ not in spirit of Western public lands grazing

By Bill Eikenberry Former Wyoming BLM Director

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned “Wild West” yarn for selling newspapers and luring TV advertisers.

To hear some of the reports about the illegal cattle grazing on Bureau of Land Management lands in Nevada, the showdown might as well be happening at the OK Corral. But it is important to note that this “lone rancher” doesn’t represent how thousands of responsible ranchers run cattle every day on public lands.

As a lifelong, multi-generation rancher and farmer who has also worked as a BLM state director, you could say that I see on both sides of the fence when it comes to this issue.

For more than eight decades, ranchers have worked closely with federal agencies such as the Forest Service and BLM as “rangeland conservationists,” ensuring grazing on public lands is done much the same as on private land: responsibly and sustainably.

When I served as a BLM state director in Wyoming, I had to work collaboratively with ranchers as well as hunters, industry and conservationists to uphold the BLM’s multiple-use mission.

Collaborative being the operative word.

Given the many demands on public lands, which include wildlife management, hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation like mountain biking, mineral extraction and grazing, most ranchers would agree the BLM for the most part has been doing a fair job of balancing these considerations.

In my experience in Wyoming, most ranchers have respectful and agreeable relationships with agency staff and do their best to follow both the letter and spirit of the law.

In sharp contrast is the decades-long conflict in Nevada between a lone rancher and the BLM.

Cliven Bundy has been illegally grazing in sensitive desert tortoise habitat on BLM lands for more than 20 years — ignoring the necessary permits, back-due fines, and court orders otherwise.

The tension flared up this past weekend and put lives at risk.

This is entirely unnecessary and should be settled without the TV cameras and militia men now surrounding Bundy and amplifying his illogical claims that the U.S. government doesn’t even exist.

Americans should know that this one rancher does not reflect the totality of those now grazing on their public lands. Most ranchers have equitable partnerships with the BLM.

Most ranchers are responsible in their use of public lands and our shared natural resources.

In my experience, most ranchers appreciate the opportunity to graze responsibly on public lands and understand the daily challenges that public land mangers face in balancing multiple uses with healthy ecosystems.

Thoughtful, balanced public land management is critical in the West not only for the long-term benefit we all receive from abundant wildlife, recreation and responsible energy development – but for the safety and welfare of all who use our public lands. ❖