The issue of the environment had a great impact on the outcome of the 2000 elections. Roper Starch Worldwide (RSW) reported environmental concern in 2000 was the highest since the company began measuring this concern in 1982.

In the 2000 elections, many who view the environment as an important reason to pick a leader cast their votes for Ralph Nader. It happened in enough states with close elections to cost Al Gore the election. But is it a bellwether issue for ranching? Will it be an issue in the next few years in Washington, D.C.?

With a Congress closely divided among Republicans and Democrats, and a president elected without the clear mandate of a popular vote, it's unlikely much will come out of Washington. America is so weary of the political process that, other than cutting taxes, no one is asking Washington to fix much.

With President Bush hailing from a state that places tremendous emphasis on private land ownership and ranching — and Vice President Dick Cheney coming from Wyoming, a state dependent on public lands ranching — it's unlikely the White House will propose anything detrimental to ranching. Furthermore, Cheney now has the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

Despite high levels of environmental concern, the majority of Americans (62%) believe ranching should be protected by allowing grazing on federal lands. These findings are documented in an RSW “Green Gauge 2000” study on environmental attitudes and behaviors.

Public support for ranching may relate to concern about open space. The study found that seven in 10 Americans view the loss of farms and ranches to the development of subdivisions and malls as a serious personal issue. Only 25% don't agree. Fifty-five percent of Americans disagree that “reducing grazing on public lands to improve environmental conditions, even if it may cause ranchers to go out of business” is appropriate.

But while the new administration and Congress do not appear to be a strong threat to the ranching industry, it will remain critical to the industry to have lots of friends in many places.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed throughout the West by groups trying to reduce (or end) cattle grazing on federal lands. Looking further ahead, the federal mid-term elections loom in 2002. The U.S. House and Senate could swing to the Democrats, which isn't usually advantageous to ranching interests.

Like good business people, cattlemen should use the good times to build and maintain coalitions. We'll need it for the bad times that always seem to lurk around the corner.

As senior vice president and global director of the Reputation Laboratory at Ketchum Public Relations in New York, David Rockland analyzes public opinion and corporate image for a number of agricultural clients.