Preservationists and environmental extremists appear to be stretching for the finish line in a mad dash to get their agendas in the hopper before the November elections. Maybe they know something the rest of us aren't quite willing to predict - that Al Gore won't be our next president, and, after eight long years, there will be a political buffer zone placed between the extremes and common sense natural resource users.
From the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse to grizzly bears, endangered species are taking center stage in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) run to fill a slate of candidate species.
* Idaho's sharp-tailed grouse population appears to be the highest in 40 years, but federal officials are sorting through the Endangered Species Act listing comments received earlier this spring. The Idaho Fish and Game Department have joined Gem State ranching groups in opposing the grouse listing.
* Idahoans aren't working alone, as the USFWS continues its plan to reintroduce grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem that straddles the Montana/Idaho border. Despite widespread opposition by state wildlife agencies, politicians and agricultural groups in both states, the first bunch of grizzlies could be released sometime later this year.
* Meanwhile, Western ranchers are watching the proposed listing of the lynx as an endangered species. But, remember, lynx habitat as specified in the listing includes all lower 48 states. The habitat issue is likely to be the subject of litigation while opponents dissect the lynx listing proposal.
* The Bureau of Land Management recently released its proposed management plan for the Soda Mountain Area in Oregon. The BLM proposes to limit grazing as the White House considers designating the Soda Mountain region as a national monument because of its rare and diverse mix of plants, topography and wildlife.
* Wyoming ranchers are wincing as the U.S Forest Service revises its management of the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. New standards in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the area, which takes a huge bite out of northwestern Wyoming, places severe restrictions on all commodity uses and would virtually strangle livestock grazing activities.
* Last but certainly not least, there's Nevada's Black Rock Desert. U.S. Senator Richard Bryan (D-NV) will introduce a bill in Congress (S. 2273) to create a 690,000-acre national conservation area for the Black Rock Desert region. The bill would designate the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. This designation would affect 13 ranchers who have grazing permits within the proposed area.
The tone of this hell-bent-for-election rush to promote preservation in a politically expedient fashion can be summed up with a look at the Wyoming Thunder Basin DEIS. Nowhere, nowhere, in thousands of pages, does it place livestock grazing in a favorable light.
Bill Laycock, a Laramie, WY, range scientist, says it best in his analysis of the plan: "The U.S. Forest Service deliberately promoted discord and contention among well-meaning Americans who may have different beliefs concerning management of these lands."
It's likely that, as the political rhetoric heats up over the next few months, these and other resource-based issues will be little more than undercurrents on a national scale.
Livestock interests can be more than innocent bystanders, though. This national election will be one of the most important in decades when it comes to the long-term, multiple use of our natural resources. We can all work to be sure word gets out on these issues - at the right times and in the right places - so enough "well-meaning Americans" will help slam the window on radical environmental agendas that threaten the ranching way of life.