Ranchers and stockmen alarmed by implications of the Great American Outdoors Act

UPDATE: The Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law by President Trump on July 23, 2020

July 23, 2020

For Immediate Release

Ranchers and stockmen alarmed by implications of the Great American Outdoors Act

Maintenance backlogs, decayed infrastructure and environmental destruction in America’s national parks, monuments, and other federal land designations inspired the creation of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). S. 3422 passed the U.S. Senate on June 17 with overwhelmingly bipartisan support. The bill promises to improve maintenance at federally controlled visitor attractions, recreation areas and wilderness areas, and bring infrastructure up to date.

The GAOA has received praise and support from diverse groups, including hunters’ and sportsmen’s groups, conservation organizations, and many local governments. But despite its vaunted title and ideals, the GAOA is not without complications, especially for some private property owners, western ranchers and other enterprises which depend on access to public lands.

The GAOA permanently encodes yearly spending for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at nearly a billion dollars. This fund is used primarily to purchase private lands and transfer them into government control in the form of conservation easements or land trusts.

On June 23, the National Association of Counties (NACo) reported in a blog post:

“Additionally, S. 3422 will make the LWCF program a mandatory spending program at approximately $900 million annually. Established in 1964, the LWCF is funded by royalty payments from offshore oil and gas development in federal waters. Last year, Congress permanently reauthorized LWCF but the program is still subject to the annual congressional appropriations cycle, where it is rarely fully funded. Additionally, at least 40 percent of LWCF funds are directed to state and local governments for local parks and other conservation projects.”

The fact that LWCF spending would become “mandatory” has troubling implications since congressional oversight would no longer be required for the fund to be reauthorized in perpetuity. Unfortunately, this exposes LWCF funds to the kind of fraud and abuse the Trump administration has been tackling with its “Drain the Swamp” agenda.

Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) sounded the alarm about the processes under which the GAOA was written and passed through Congress. In a fiery speech on June 11, prior to the act’s passage, he says:

“It is telling that the bill we’re considering this week, called the Great American Outdoors Act, was written behind closed doors and is now being hermetically sealed, walled off from amendments by the American people’s elected representatives.

“Forget the theatrics in Seattle—this bill is the real ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.’

“In its current form, it enables the federal government to purchase new lands in perpetuity – without accountability, oversight, or any measures to make sure it can actually care for the land that it owns…perpetuating, and worsening, our already problematic federal lands policy.

“This policy will have one overarching impact: to make life easier for politicians and bureaucrats, and harder for the Americans they ostensibly serve….

“The point of this body is to take imperfect bills to the floor, and come together so that we can hone and fine-tune them. The Senate is supposed to have an open debate and amendment process, precisely so that we can raise concerns, find solutions, and arrive at compromise and consensus.” (emphasis added)

Sen. Mike Lee represents one of the few states, Utah, that has made serious efforts to transfer control of its federally controlled public lands into the hands of state land-use agencies. This is reflected in the amendments—which were ultimately rejected—offered by Sen. Lee. His speech continues:

“One of my amendments would require state legislative approval for any land acquisition proposed in that state, so that land acquisition would be something Washington does with the states rather than to the states.

“Another of my amendments would require the federal government to dispose of current federal lands before acquiring any new ones— forcing land agencies to exercise fiscal responsibility and prioritize which lands they keep under their control.


“I’ve also got a number of amendments that would reform the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]  process to help address the maintenance backlog on neglected land Washington already owns.

“And, finally, I have an amendment to support Utah’s interests under the Antiquities Act. Right now, other states are protected from unilateral land grabs by the federal government for designation of national monuments, and because 28 percent of the national monument acreage designated in the 50 states over the last 25 years has been in Utah, my state is due the same kind of protections that Wyoming and Alaska already enjoy. (emphasis added)

Calling the act a “shortsighted mistake,” Sen. Lee exposed another problematic element of the GAOA in the fact that it has been pushed through Congress largely as a “feel-good” bill, without proper scrutiny from the public and lawmakers, or discussion and debate about its provisions, some of which appear to be hidden from the very senators who voted on the bill.

Alarmed by its hasty passage and lack of public input, on June 8, a group of 48 cattle and stockmen’s organizations penned a letter to the Senate condemning the Great American Outdoors Act’s spending provisions, lack of representative oversight, and potential for creating vast new regions of poorly maintained federal lands. The letter states, in part:

“Federal agencies currently have more assets than they can afford to maintain. The GAO Act simultaneously recognizes and attempts to address this while also providing hundreds of millions of dollars each year for the government to buy more land through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This approach is counterproductive and will result in a larger federal estate that will require increasing maintenance over time. It’s also worth noting that the bill does nothing to change the way federal agencies prioritize maintenance of assets so that history does not repeat itself.Simply providing funding without action to prevent future maintenance backlogs will only result in compounding maintenance challenges.

“Section 2 of the bill provides funding for maintenance on the assets the government already owns and cannot afford to fund, while immediately allowing for hundreds of millions of dollars allotted to new acquisitions in Section 3. When Congress permanently authorized LWCF in 2019, there was the recognition that Congress still had a responsibility to safeguard the American landscape and the American taxpayer against irresponsible spending. This responsibility was to be carried out through the annual appropriations process, during which Congress would evaluate proposed land acquisitions and determine the appropriate level of funding. Now, the Senate is poised to willingly abdicate [its] oversight of federal land acquisition, while providing the maximum amount of funding allowable into perpetuity.

“The GAO Act provides for $900 million in mandatory funding for LWCF as a whole, meaning that at least 40 percent, or $360 million, each year will be eligible to buy land resources across the country. The federal government already owns more than 640 million acres, controlling a vast majority of the American West. More federal ownership is irresponsible, and in some places it will soon be impossible. In Nevada, federal agencies currently own more than 85 percent of the landscape, leaving precious little to support private enterprise.

“To be clear, this bill radically increases the burden on the American taxpayer for years to come. Congress will still be required to confront federal maintenance needs, including mounting deferred maintenance costs, through the annual appropriations process. There will be fewer maintenance dollars to go around, meaning fewer dollars will be directed to parks in Maine, refuges in Wisconsin, and forests in Florida. If passed, the GAO Act sentences hundreds of millions of acres of American land and water to a poorly managed future. We understand some of the historic benefits that have resulted from LWCF funding in local communities through the use of stateside funding. We also acknowledge that sometimes acquisition can provide continuity for discrete landscape. We do not, however, believe that acquisition on this scale would be anything but an utter failure by Congress to perform its oversight role.” (emphasis added)

RANGE magazine holds with the principle that the best stewardship of lands and natural resources is performed by those whose lives and livelihoods depend directly upon those lands and natural resources. The hastily passed and perhaps ironically named Great American Outdoors Act is popular with politicians in D.C. and groups which benefit from federal acquisition of lands for purposes of protection and conservation, but ranchers and other agricultural operators, especially those in the West where more than two-thirds of lands are already under federal control, vehemently oppose it. Decades of federal control have not improved our nation’s historic landmarks and natural wonders, but have instead led to their destruction through overuse, misappropriation of funds, and neglect. Written “behind closed doors,” the GAOA in its current form will likely lead to a perpetuation of the degraded environmental conditions and crumbling infrastructure now burdening the National Park System. The last thing America needs are more poorly managed federal lands.

Today the GAOA awaits only the president’s signature to become law. You can read the act by going to https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/3422. To submit comments to President Trump regarding the act, please visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/.

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For more info, check these GAO stories by Dave Skinner—“Wrong, Wrong Ago” and “Where Did the Wild Lands Go?”—at http://rangemagazine.com/features/spring-12/range-sp12-wrong_ago.pdf.

Source: Ranchers and stockmen alarmed by implications of the Great American Outdoors Act

Editorial: BLM proposes firebreaks to reduce size of wildfires

The Bureau of Land Management is currently conducting a series of public hearings across the West to get input on an audacious proposal to limit the unchecked spread of rangeland wildfires.

The BLM says wildfires have increased dramatically in size and frequency in the past decade in six Western states — Nevada, Utah, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. During that time, 21 fires have exceed 100,000 acres. A total of 13.5 million acres have burned. Efforts to suppress wildfires by the BLM alone have cost $373 million over the past decade

“These wildfires result in increased destruction of private property, degradation and loss of rangelands, loss of recreational opportunities, and habitat loss for a variety of species, including the conversion of native habitats to invasive annual grasses,” the BLM reports. “The conversion of rangeland habitats to invasive annual grasslands further impedes rangeland health and productivity by slowing or preventing recovery of sagebrush communities.”

To counter this, the federal land agency is proposing to create up to 11,000 miles of firebreaks as a way to keep the fires from spreading into mammoth infernos, like the Martin Fire in northern Nevada this past year, which consumed nearly half a million acres of rangeland.

The draft proposal calls for fuel breaks being created along roads and rights-of-way by mowing, grazing, mechanical and chemical clearing, as well as prescribed burns. Some of the breaks could be brown strips — areas where all vegetation has been removed. Others could be green strips — areas where vegetation that is more flammable has been replaced with less flammable vegetation.

In some areas invasive cheatgrass — a perennial that grows knee high in the spring but dries out in the summer — would be replaced with native plants less susceptible to fire. Also, grazing permits could be adjusted to allow for spring time clearing of cheatgrass.

Cheatgrass and wildfires create a vicious cycle. Cheatgrass recovers more quickly than native species after a fire. Thus the more fires, the more cheatgrass. The more cheatgrass, the more fires.

John Ruhs, once the head of the BLM in Nevada and now the head of BLM operations in Idaho, was quoted in an agency press release as saying, “Fuel breaks have proven to be very effective in slowing rangeland wildfires, making them easier and safer for wildland firefighters to control. We believe that creating a system of fuel breaks will help us enhance and improve our working landscapes.”

The BLM’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, Casey Hammond, was quoted as saying, “Wildfires devastate forests, rangeland and communities across Idaho and throughout the West, and without strategic planning they’re likely to continue in the years ahead. With this initiative and others like it, we’re working proactively to curb wildfires’ destruction and make it safer and more effective for firefighters to protect people and property.”

Environmentalists have expressed concerns that firebreaks may fragment wildlife habitats, including that of the threatened greater sage grouse, but the fragmentation should be less threatening than a wall of flames threatening the animals’ very lives and food source.

Brian Rutledge, a vice president of the National Audubon Society, notes, “The safety of a sage-grouse is utterly dependent on its cryptic coloring and cover from overhead predators. If the birds didn’t get burned up in the fire, there’s nowhere to hide eggs in cheatgrass.” Additionally, unlike soft sage leaves, cheatgrass provides little nutrition for the species.

The BLM is accepting comments on the proposal through Aug. 5.

Scoping meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. on July 16 at the Red Lion Inn in Elko and July 17 at the Bristlecone Convention Center in Ely.

Firebreaks would be a valuable tool in the effort to cut down the size of rangeland wildfires.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.
BLM proposes firebreaks along 11,000 miles of roads and rights-of-way.

Source: Editorial: BLM proposes firebreaks to reduce size of wildfires


With towns in Northern Nevada growing, the BLM reports more unauthorized uses of federal public land

It’s common to hear about property disputes among neighbors. But what happens when your neighbor is the federal government?

This is a question that occupies an increasing amount of time for Victoria Wilkins, an acting field manager for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Sierra Front division. From a BLM district office tucked away in Carson City, Wilkins says the agency is seeing more issues in the region — from Reno to Gardnerville — over where the federal domain begins and private land ends.

The BLM is charged with managing vast stretches of public land — about 67 percent of Nevada — for a variety of activities, including grazing, recreation, mining, wild horses and conservation. Although much of the agency’s landholdings are expansive ranges located in faraway valleys, many BLM parcels encircle private land or sit adjacent to it. As towns around the region grow, Wilkins said her office has seen more unauthorized uses of BLM land. The intrusions into the federal domain are often accidental (BLM land is not always marked), but they are still illegal.

“The more people we get concentrated in an area, the more these issues seem to be surfacing,” Wilkins said during an interview at the Carson City District before Memorial Day weekend.

Three weeks earlier, Wilkins said the district office caught someone blading a road into public land. Wilkins said the office gets a report like that at least once a month. There are other types of realty trespass too. She pointed to cases where landowners have accidentally built parts of their homes or sheds on public land, often because of faulty surveying. Or there are cases where private landowners will use a public road for private access without proper right-of-ways. A more recent form of trespass has been the construction of fuel breaks, areas of land where vegetation has been strategically removed to stunt runaway fires.

The BLM district has also seen an inexplicable uptick in abandoned vehicles. Where the local BLM officers used to see five or 10 abandoned vehicles, they have reported 47 this fiscal year.

“We don’t know [why],” Wilkins said. “We’re trying to figure that out.”

Across the Mountain West, more and more residents are purchasing homes near undeveloped land, especially as cities and even rural towns push the rural interface outward toward wildland. The trend has often placed more pressure on land managed by the agency. And in some cases, the ownership divide is unclear without a survey or map. In other cases, newcomers to the area can be unfamiliar with the rules governing public land, which can vary between regions.

Bret Birdsong, a UNLV law professor and a former deputy solicitor for the Department of Interior, said that the issues are especially prevalent in areas where human development abuts wildland.

“Part of the big picture is there are a lot of border lands where BLM land is bordering private land,” Birdsong said. “And just as with private land, it’s not all that unusual for there to be disputes or encroachments that occur because boundaries are not always clearly marked.”

The BLM deals with a variety of trespass issues that are not limited to land ownership. In fact, the concept of trespassing on public land is at the heart of the agency’s ongoing legal dispute with Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy. After Bundy stopped paying fees to graze his cattle on public land — the BLM requires ranchers to operate under 10-year grazing permits — a court order found that he was trespassing on the federal domain by illegally running his cattle.

Other cases of trespass include the unlawful removal of minerals, which are managed by the BLM. In April, the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement with a Colorado oil and gas company over drilling in a railroad right-of-way without permission from the land agency.

Those cases are different. Those trespasses were willful. The trespasses reported to the BLM’s Carson City District, which includes the growing region around Reno, are often accidental.

Boris Poff, an acting assistant field manager in the BLM’s Las Vegas Field Office, said that more people are reporting trespass because more people are using public land. But Poff, who works in the lands division, said he is not sure that’s correlated to an overall increase in trespass.

“[For] most people we deal with,” he said, “it’s an honest mistake.”

Poff said the agency tries to settle many of the land issues amicably. Still, the BLM’s Southern Nevada division opened up 13 trespass cases over the last year and has 21 ongoing cases.

On May 7, the Carson City District Office sent out a news release reminding residents to check land ownership rules before they build a road, fuel break, fence or other structure. But the news release also cautioned that trespassing could come with consequences, including fines. In some cases, such as when part of a house is built on federal land, the agency can require a property owner to pay the fair market value for the land. When a trespass is willful, the penalty can be twice or three times the market value for the land or the charges for using a public road.

One or two land trespasses might seem benign, but they can add up. Birdsong said there are several issues at stake for the BLM, especially if the trespass occurs in sensitive habitat, like riparian areas. He said the agency also has a responsibility to manage the land for the public. And if the agency does not enforce its rules, it could signal to bad actors that it’s open season.

Wilkins said that she suspects that many trespasses result from a lack of understanding around public land, access and right-of-ways. But it’s becoming such a problem that title companies are aware of the issue, she said. And the office is now considering educating real estate agents.

“[One] thing that we’ve been talking about is doing some educational workshops with real estate agents so that they can help their clients identify potential pitfalls,” Wilkins said. “A lot of people want to live next to public lands, but they don’t always think about the things that can happen on the adjacent public lands — dirt biking, hiking, the horse use, vegetation removal projects, fire.”

Source: With towns in Northern Nevada growing, the BLM reports more unauthorized uses of federal public land


THE WILDLIFE CORRIDORS CONSERVATION ACT – What You Need to Know!

On By Steve Busch

The 2019 Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act  (WCCA) is perhaps the most significant attack on private property rights in decades, perhaps ever.  A simple look at the list of sponsors of the proposed legislation provides plenty of warning about what this new law portends.

The WCCA was introduced in Congress in May 2019. In the Senate, the bill is being led by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), and was cosponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D- NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).  The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen  Don Beyer  (D-VA) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL).

REWILDING advocates and their minions in Congress are ecstatic over what this “ACT” will lead to once it is enacted.  Don’t be fooled, folks! This legislation doesn’t SAVE wildlife!  Non-endangered species such as grizzly bears and wolves don’t need your private property or more Federal land to survive.

The WCCA is NOT about building “squirrel bridges” over highways so our little furry friends can cross the road safely.  It is NOT about reducing highway collisions between motorists and moose.  It is NOT about reducing “conflicts” between large carnivores and people.

The WCCA provides for a system of “National Wildlife Corridors” which will affect all future decisions regarding Federal land and water management plans and activities.  The Act provides corridors for “existing native species habitat”  and also for “future native species habitat” as required to ensure “species resiliency”.

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The WCCA  seeks to permanently reverse the  “EXTIRPATION” of large carnivore species such as wolves and grizzly bears by ensuring population connectivity in the face of human development and/or any other human-caused factors including “climate change”.    The law will require that land where a species is “currently absent”  but once was historically occupied by a particular species, is “colonized or recolonized by the species” either through “re-introduction or restoration of habitat”.

The new law will empower the environmental lobby even further by allowing taxpayer-funded “Regional Climate Science Centers” and “Landscape Conservation Cooperative Networks” to continue operating outside the legislative process and having a disproportionate influence on land management planning and policy.

The WCCA establishes regional “Wildlife Movement Councils” which will involve multiple NGO’s and various stakeholders.  Private property owners, such as farmers and ranchers, will be allowed a seat at the table, but they will remain in the minority and are included only to add a veneer of cooperation and consensus for decisions they will be unable to successfully challenge.

The WCCA guarantees that rural communities here in the Inland Northwest will increasingly become surrounded by lands identified as “essential” to the movement of large carnivores species (grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolves, wolverines, lynx, etc.)  These movement corridors will come at the expense of other wildlife species, human safety, and private property rights.

“Grizzly bears need room to roam… Grizzly bears don’t follow human boundaries, and often, our parks are simply too small for this wide-ranging species. When they venture outside of protected areas, they are hunted, hit by cars, or come into conflict with people. But just like how people need highways to get from one place to another safely, grizzly bears, and other species, need wildlife corridors to move from protected area to protected area in search of food and mates. The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act would provide these essential paths, protect grizzlies and drivers from dangerous highway collisions, and help to reduce conflicts with people by giving grizzlies a safer route around cities and towns.”   [Wildlands Network]

Yes, highway wildlife crossings are certainly part of the sales pitch.  We all want safer roads.  Nobody in their right mind wants to collide with an animal on the highway.  But the WCCA isn’t about traffic safety!  It’s about adding yet another layer of burdensome regulations affecting thousands of square miles of America and changing how our society functions.

As private property becomes increasingly useless due to new and more restrictive land use regulations, conservation easement programs may eventually become the only viable option for bankrupt landowners.  The “Wildlife Movement Grant Program” and the “Wildlife Corridor Stewardship Fund” as outlined in the WCCA, will help ensure the continued destruction of property rights in America.

For further reading:

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/1499/text

http://conservationcorridor.org/cpb/WHCWG_2010.pdf

http://conservationcorridor.org/cpb/WHCWG_2011.pdf

https://wildlandsnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Information-Packet-2019.pdf

https://oldmanoftheski.com/2013/04/08/rewilding-the-interior-beware-the-lccs/

https://oldmanoftheski.com/2017/04/14/rewilding-america-on-youtube/

Source: THE WILDLIFE CORRIDORS CONSERVATION ACT – What You Need to Know!