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Grazers say outside group has too much clout

Jun 14, 2013 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- Wyoming ranchers say an Idaho-based environmental group has too much influence over how local grazing allotments are managed on public lands, but a representative of the group says it's only making sure that laws and regulations are being followed.

Ranchers complained about the Western Watersheds Project to federal land managers at last week's Wyoming Stock Growers Association annual convention.

There are about 2,400 grazing permits on Bureau of Land Management land in Wyoming, and more than 400 on land administered by the U.S. Forest Service in the state.

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Stock Growers Association, said Western Watersheds actively intervenes in many grazing permit renewals in Wyoming.

"One of the things that we find bothersome is that Western Watersheds tends to get themselves in a position as an 'interested party' so they're sitting at the table when I visit with my range professional in the agency about how I'm going to graze my livestock," Magagna said. "They're often there, and we don't believe that's an appropriate role for the public."

It's more appropriate for Western Watersheds and others to be involved when federal agencies are reviewing the overall grazing program, he said.

"If you're doing a resource plan, all the public ought to have the opportunity to engage," Magagna said. "If you're sitting now with me to determine how I'm going to graze my livestock on an allotment where I've already got a permit this year, it's been our position that ought to be a decision between the agency and the grazing permittee because we've basically got a contractual relationship based on that grazing permit."

Western Watersheds, which is based in Hailey, Idaho, states as its mission "to influence and improve public lands management in eight western states with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing." It has challenged grazing practices and permits on federal lands in the court system.

Jonathon Ratner, director of the organization's Wyoming office, said Western Watersheds gets involved at the local level to make sure laws and regulations are being followed on grazing allotments.

"What I find amusing is the irritation by the livestock industry of that public oversight because basically all I'm trying to do, and all I'm able to do, is hold the agencies to account for the laws and regulations that either they wrote or Congress wrote," Ratner said. "I don't consider forcing the federal agencies to comply with law and regulations is in any way radical. It's how business should be conducted."

Ratner contends that the livestock industry has had little oversight of its public land grazing practices for many years.

"And how the rancher feels is a proper way to manage lands is generally not a proper way to manage lands," he said.

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