Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation Recent months have seen a continuation of some real insanity on the part of those who lease federal lands but continue to think that gives them ownership, even when combined with private holdings. The rancher in question sued because hunters crossed the corner of his private property to gain access to public lands. A federal judge in May ruled that hunters or hikers who travel from one corner of public land to another did not trespass on adjacent private lands. The ruling was concrete to the BLM and Director Tracy-Stone Manning. Her response was to make clear to state directors that such crossing is legal. This issue had been in limbo for some time at the agency. This ruling was important because ranch owner Fredric Eshelman’s lawsuit sought more than $7 million in damages from four hunters who climbed over fences at a corner of his property in Wyoming in 2021 to hunt on public lands. Hunting is not our world; in fact, hunters that kill predators remain our mortal enemy, but the reality is this is part of what ranchers have been doing to keep people off our public lands. By saying the crossing was illegal, he claimed exclusive access to some 6,000 acres of land for his private hunting grounds, which is disgraceful. This attitude is part of a pattern of livestock interests on the federal dole while trying to keep the people from recreating on these public lands that belong to all Americans. It also allows them to kill predators at will with little for the public to see or report. From my years of experience, this is why so many ranchers oppose wilderness or other federal land protections. First, in the case of National Monuments, it requires one extra page of paperwork. But mostly, they are driven to keep people away and control these lands as though they are private. The passing of SB-295, the bill to delist grizzly bears, would allow cattlemen to kill grizzlies on remote portions of Forest Service lands, lands that many could be utilized for recreation, but gives livestock priority protection, the cover for grizzly slaughter. Again and again, we see the results of grazing on public lands, much like oil drilling on these same public lands. The oil industry leases these lands, contaminates groundwater, and then sells off assets to avoid spending the money for cleanup, which will one day allow the federal government to clean up their mess at great expense to taxpayers. The federal government is subsidizing those who graze on public lands and often degrade the public lands that are grazed, leading to erosion, senseless wildlife killing, and the trashing of rivers and other waterways. The time has come to make part of any lease agreement that the lessee cannot kill wildlife to protect its herd. They can use non-lethal methods, but like any business, accept the fact that losses are part of the risk of this business. Similarly, many people are beginning to understand this with homeowners’ insurance as climate change wreaks havoc across the country, and their coverage evaporates. But the cattlemen and their protectors in Congress—spelled Republican Party—must realize that they lease these lands, accept responsibility for their actions, and should be fined if the lands is degraded or the public is prohibited. They should also face the prospect of losing their lease if they kill valuable wildlife such as wolves or grizzly bears. At Bold Visions Conservation, we are working to protect our federal public lands and wildlife. Being Bold means demanding change from the status quo that has allowed our lands to be controlled, not by citizens but by the livestock industry, and the time has come to enact fundamental changes to land management plans devoid of special interests. We need to remove livestock owners from our Game and Fish commissions and clarify the price for leasing lands demands co-existence with all wildlife; it should also include insurance that will pay for the degrading of our natural resources by grazers. We cannot continue down this road of ignorance; the time has come for real change. We will clarify that wildlife on our public lands is worth far more than the price of beef and cattle across our arid western lands. If we are to create lands for wildlife to thrive, such change must begin now.
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