John Carter: Idaho should shift funding, stop indulging livestock industry

GUEST OPINION GRAZING ON PUBLIC LAND

February 17, 2014 

Idaho Rep. Labrador’s effort to extend public land livestock grazing permit renewals from 10 to 20 years would also require those who sue on grazing issues on public lands to compensate the livestock producers for their costs. The Idaho Legislature is considering a bill that would include criminal and civil penalties for anyone photographing agricultural operations, including those on public lands. The idea is to prevent citizens who wish to protect our public lands, watersheds and wildlife from acting.

Idaho and Utah legislators and governors are attempting to get our public lands turned over to the states. In the 1940s, the woolgrowers and cattlemen’s associations, in concert with a U.S. senator, met in Salt Lake City to coordinate an attempt to have the public lands turned over to the states, then sold off to ranchers for 10 cents an acre. This was exposed in the eastern press and caused the effort to fail. We continue to see this minority attempting to take our public lands and privatize them.

In 2011, all agricultural commodities in Idaho contributed $7.4 billion to the state’s economy, of which livestock contributed $3.9 billion. The livestock category includes cattle, sheep, milk, poultry, honey, aquaculture and other. Cattle and calves cash receipts were $1.4 billion. Idaho’s gross state product was $58.2 billion in 2011, so agriculture was 12.6 percent, and cattle, 2.6 percent of state GDP. Fishing, hunting and wildlife-watching-related expenditures in Idaho were $1.3 billion in 2011, about equal to livestock, while tourism adds a similar amount. Yet, as we look across Idaho, agriculture interests appear to dominate the administration, legislature, county governments and wildlife management.

Livestock are devastating our watersheds, reducing their ability to store badly needed water for domestic water supplies, irrigation, and fish and wildlife habitat. Our streams are degraded, losing flows, and many are unable to support native fish. They are badly polluted by livestock wastes and the soils eroding from our grazed watersheds.

Wolves, coyotes, bobcats, beavers and other animals are hunted, trapped, poisoned and chased by hound hunters on snowmobiles, with no apparent regard for their role in the ecosystem. Elk and deer are removed for depredation as they dare to graze in their historic range. It appears there are few limits or safe areas for wildlife in Idaho. Idaho Fish and Game, with many concerned and qualified people, appears to be under the thumb of agriculture; it has limited funds, so habitat work and monitoring of wildlife populations are minimal. The focus appears to be on killing, with the governor requesting $2 million for his wolf extermination program, money that Fish and Game could use for restoration of habitats and monitoring wildlife populations.

At every turn, the ag industry is subsidized by taxpayers. It pays almost nothing to graze livestock on our public lands. It doesn’t manage sustainably, so productivity and habitats suffer. It complains that BLM and the Forest Service are too strict. Yet, these agencies are not enforcing adequate standards, are allowing livestock to graze public lands during drought and allowing severe overuse of the forage on these lands, while their monitoring programs appear inadequate to detect these impacts. In this loose and livestock-friendly environment, the ag folks still complain. They want disaster relief on top of their other subsidies and at every turn want to prevent any oversight. They would have you put in jail for raising your voice to prevent their abuse of our public lands.

It’s time for the voters in Idaho to support objective, fact-based management, intelligence and balance, not ignorance and self-serving political domination by a single industry.

John Carter, of Paris, Idaho, is manager of Yellowstone to Uintas Connection.

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