Dr. Richard L. Knight, Colorado State University Professor of Wildlife Conservation, testified Wednesday before the Senate's Energy & Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests. A noted wildlife biologist, Knight called ranching "the oldest sustainable use of Western lands" and said "more than any other justification, the timeless traditions of ranching legitimizes its existence and continuation."
Chairman Larry Craig, R-Idaho, called the hearing to review the grazing programs of the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, including proposed changes to grazing regulations, and the status of grazing permit renewals, monitoring programs and allotment restocking plans.
Knight's testimony focused on scientific evidence supporting ranching's benefits to biodiversity and chastised politically-motivated attempts to end public lands grazing.
"The reciprocal demonization of ranchers and environmentalists â€“ the so-called 'rangeland conflict' â€“ has dominated public debate for too long. It has not contributed to on-the-ground solutions," says Knight. "It has divided people who might otherwise be united by common goals: the conservation of magnificent open spaces, scarce water resources, and imperiled wildlife. If it continues, both sides will lose what they purport to defend."
In separate testimony, California cattle producer and Public Lands Council President Mike Byrne pointed to specific concerns for which ranchers are seeking relief in the legislative arena:
- National Environmental Policy Act: Grazing permit administration cannot be interrupted because of the government's inability to complete NEPA paperwork.
- National Historic Preservation Act: Similarly, grazing shouldn't be interrupted or blocked due to improper use of the National Historic Preservation Act.
- Wild and Scenic Rivers Act: A better balance between ranching and river protection needs to be achieved under the Act.
- Wilderness Study Areas: Wilderness study areas should be released following the end of the study periods and limits should be placed on the length of time the areas are in the study.
- Bureau of Land Management Grazing Regulations: As the Bureau of Land Management's revised grazing regulations are nearly completed, they should be issued as expeditiously as possible.
- Endangered Species Act: The red tape associated with species protection should be minimized and greater focus should be given to conservation efforts on the ground to better facilitate species recovery.
"Today's ranchers represent some of America's last living embodiments of true environmentalism," says Byrne, who is a fourth-generation rancher. "Producer-members of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council will continue to push for sound, science-based policy to govern public land use and prove that managed grazing and environmental protection can go hand in hand."