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14.2.04

Healthy Rangelands Initiative

Colorado Luis has been following the use and abuse of our western rangelands. While I haven't had time yet to digest the whole issue, I thought I'd point out the latest story he links to:

Ranchers Applaud Grazing Proposal

The Bush administration plans to make it easier to graze livestock on 160 million acres of Western lands, cheering ranchers who want less interference from the government and environmentalists.

... "We regard ranchers as stewards of public lands," said Tom Gorey, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management. "The proposed rules are going to give us a better ability to work cooperatively" with livestock owners.

... The new rules would make BLM staffers monitor range damage before changing lease terms, reduce public participation in many decisions, and eliminate the public's ability to challenge agency findings on endangered-species issues. Ranchers would be given partial ownership of improvements, such as fences and water tanks, that they make to rangeland.


The philosophy behind this rule change reminds me a lot of the Healthy Forests Initiative. In both cases, extractive industry is propped up by subsidies drawn from federally-controlled lands*. But rather than espousing outright privatization, the change is made under the rubric of supporting communities (dependent on ranching or logging), streamlining a process bogged down with red tape (due to environmentalist meddling), and serving conservation ends (preventing environmentally destructive fires or slowing urban sprawl). In both cases public input is limited and business is enlisted as the agent of land preservation. Luis is right that this move helps to shore up Bush's support among ranchers, who were angry over what we might call the Healthy Mining and Fossil Fuel Drilling Initiative. But it also clearly follows from a definite philosophy about how government and business should support each other -- i.e., that government should claim to be seeking the help of business while giving business a big boost.

*Note to self: Check to see whether these changes apply to Native American trust lands.

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