Public Lands Multiple Use Doctrine Threatened by Ranchers

In the wake of the fiasco created by public lands rancher Cliven Bundy in Nevada, some ranchers are making excuses for him by claiming the problem was caused by the way the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service are managing our public lands.

These federal agencies are forcing ranchers off public lands, they claim, because the multiple use doctrine has been distorted by the courts in response to frivolous lawsuits filed by environmentalists. But in order for this complaint to be true, the concept of multiple use would have to mean that all uses should be allowed on all public lands – and that’s not the law. The multiple use doctrine these agencies are supposed to follow when managing our public lands was established by the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960. This law only applied to Forest Service lands, but the doctrine was also applied to BLM lands with the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. Multiple is defined as the, “harmonious and coordinated management of the various resources without permanent impairment of the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment with consideration being given to the relative values of the resources and not necessarily to the combination of uses that will give the greatest economic return or the greatest unit output.”

In other words, all activities shouldn’t be permitted on all public lands and the objective of public lands management isn’t necessarily the maximization of commodity production – it’s to establish the appropriate mix of uses in the best interests of the general public. That’s just common sense.

The successes environmentalists have enjoyed in the federal courts occurred because these agencies weren’t following the law. In the bad old days, there was scarcely a piece of public land in the West that didn’t have a cow on it. The lawsuits forced the agencies to end or reduce livestock grazing where it was an inappropriate use – places like hot deserts, sensitive endangered species habitat, fragile alpine meadows, and stream side riparian areas. It’s ironic that so many of the stories about Mr. Bundy have shown his cattle standing in the middle of the Virgin River. It’s a good example of his poor land stewardship, and why the federal government needs to continue to regulate public lands ranchers.

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