Editorial Opinion: Demar Dahl and the Elko Welfare Ranchers|
June 14, 2010
The recent disaster involving BP Petroleum and the bizarre events that followed the destruction of the Deep Water Horizon illustrated to the world how our public lands and public agencies are influenced by, and to some extent controlled by, corporate interests. When an agency such as the Department of Interior allows a corporation to dictate so many elements in this tragedy, clearly the order of authority has become convoluted. However years of Congressional confusion and lax oversight have created a culture where corporate interests make use of our public lands and resources as they see fit.
Clearly any legitimate enterprises should have the opportunity to invest in and extract resources found on our public lands through processes that are fair and that reasonably represent both corporate interests and the American public's interests. However it appears that this culture has evolved to the point of marginalizing the public's interest, and therein lies the explanation for so many problems.
On Monday, June 14th, a "round table" workshop was held in Denver as sort of a sounding board for ideas that BLM described as an effort at establishing a new direction in its wild horse and burro program. The various factions present asked questions, commented on what they liked and didn't like, and offered new ideas.
To their credit, the wild horse advocacy camp brought forward a menu of concepts. Admittedly none would completely solve the problems currently facing BLM's wild horse and burro program, but many of the ideas could be components of a greater strategy that could produce success.
As expected, the opposition stuck to its old theme. Sue Wallis kept advancing her notion that we should all go around killing everything. Moderator J. Michael Harty was quick to point out that such concepts were not within the parameters of the discussion.
Livestock operators, fish and wildlife agencies and the big game hunters were advancing their own agendas. For the most part they were reasonable, given their point of view. Everyone wants to protect his or her interests.
The "tell" came, however, when Demar Dahl and the Elko contingent had their say. Dahl is the Tony Hayward of the public lands ranching community and his position clearly underscored why public lands ranching is out of control.
Prior to Dahl's comments, the question came up regarding funding of accurate range monitoring and data collection. These are processes that must take place to provide a basis for truly scientific range management. The question was accurately framed and BLM admitted that permit fees charged to public lands ranchers did not cover the costs of the monitoring required in order to issue those permits. BLM also explained that those fees were set by Congress so the agency had no control over them other than to try to collect them.
The inarguable conclusion expressed was that public lands grazing was in fact subsidized. To what degree they were subsidized was in contention and not a topic for this particular forum.
One would think that after hearing that the concerns of advocates were validated, someone on the receiving end of this handout would keep a low profile. However in the present culture where users believe that they can dictate policy, Dahl did not choose to remain silent and expressed two positions that illustrated the problems associated with the welfare ranching culture.
On the subject of establishing horse preserves, Dahl insisted that if any preserves were established in Elko County, that Elko County, not the general public, had to approve them. It was pretty evident that the immediate but murmured reaction in the room was that when the ranchers paid their fair share of costs, then they could have their fair say. However so long as the we taxpayers were subsidizing their businesses, we had a say.
On the subject of increasing placement of horses in private care (adoptions, etc.) the Elko position was to admonish BLM for competing with private horse breeders in the horse market. The private breeders shouldn't have the government as a competitor. The murmur in the room that followed was that the Elko crowd sure didn't seem to object to the government going into competition with private landowners to provide them with discounted grazing or their ability to buy cheap surplus vehicles and equipment at government auctions that are in competition with vehicle and equipment dealers.
Dahl and Company were clearly advancing a hypocritical position, however the advocates respected the rules of this meeting and did not engage in a point-counterpoint debate with them.
Clearly a fundamental element for getting BLM's wild horse and burro program back on track, as well as a host of other DOI programs, involves adequate funding. Clearly Congress has to address the issue of the Federal lease and permit system and create a formula wherein lessees and permittees pay fair market value for taxpayer owned resource. Those funds must replace what taxpayers presently cough up in defacto subsidies, and our public lands management has to be based on valid and complete data and contemporary science.
This is an issue that advocates for horses, game, wildlife, and healthy ranges need to come together to pursue. Whether it involves Gulf oil leases or our western ranges, we can no longer afford the give-away program and the mistakes that it produces.
Note: This commentary reflects the views of the writer who is solely responsible for its content.
For a related feature, please visit The Elko County Commission and Welfare Ranching Mentality.