Open range cattle grazing at foothills of Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado, summer scenery

Dusty Trails: The Erosion of Grazing in the American West

Outdoor Retailer should avoid ultimatums on lands policy

Today, some leaders from the outdoor retail industry are making demands and issuing ultimatums to Utah’s elected officials, threatening to pull the Outdoor Retailer trade shows from the state.

Their aggressive actions highlight how the discussion around public land management has been absolutely degraded. So, while questioning our state’s values and love for public lands, their ultimatums are actually restricting and undermining real collaboration and constructive dialogue on this critical issue. So, those who care about our public lands need to move beyond the bluster and bombast and get to principled compromise and viable land management solutions.

Clearly, tourism and outdoor recreation play a vital role in Utah’s economy today and will for generations to come. Utah’s unparalleled beauty and recreational opportunities draw visitors from around the world, driving small businesses, providing tax revenue, and making our state a great place to work, live and play.

To claim that the only appropriate use of our public lands is outdoor recreation is to ignore the needs of real Utahns – especially those who live in our rural communities. And despite the false claims often depicted on the internet and in the media, responsible land management is not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers.

The type of bullying rhetoric currently coming from some in the outdoor retail industry is creating the kind of fake fight and false choices we often see in Washington, D.C. That is not how we do it here in Utah.

We understand that stewardship of natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. We know public lands can and ought to be put to multiple – often complementary – uses, which expands the economic pie to everyone’s benefit. We must remember that ultimatums kill collaboration and compromise.

We call on Utah’s elected officials, the outdoor retail industry, and other key voices to engage in an inclusive, elevated dialogue that will lead to land management policy that will foster a healthy environment, abundant recreational opportunities, and a diverse thriving economy for all Utahns now and for many generations to come. That is the Utah way.

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Testimony in support of HCR 12 (Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument)

Testimony given by Matthew Anderson on Feb. 2, 2017, in support of HCR 12 (Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument) before the Senate Business and Labor Committee of the Utah Legislature.

Good afternoon, senators. My name is Matt Anderson. I represent the Sutherland Institute and the Coalition for Self-Government in the West.

I want to quickly talk about the ranching and grazing ramifications of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to hopefully answer some of Senator Gene Davis’ concerns. A Utah State University study conducted two years ago found that the number of AUMs, or the amount of grazing on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, has declined by almost one-third in the last 20 years since it was created. In addition to that it has had an economic effect of $9 million of economic output in the county and a loss of 81 jobs. While that may not seem big for us living here in Salt Lake, for Kane and Garfield counties – which have a combined population of 15,000 people – that is significant. Eighty-one families is a big hit to the economy and a large reason why we have a large economic and a scholastic state of emergency declared in Garfield County. Thank you.

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Testimony in support of HCR 11 (Concurrent Resolution Urging the President to Rescind the Bears Ears National Monument Designation)

Testimony given by Matthew Anderson on Feb. 2, 2017, in support of HCR 11 (Concurrent Resolution Urging the President to Rescind the Bears Ears National Monument Designation) before the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee of the Utah Legislature. 

Senators, good to be here with you today. My name is Matt Anderson, and I represent the Sutherland Institute.

Senators, I have spent the last year of my life meeting with the people of San Juan county – with ranchers, Native American tribes, schoolteachers and many others. And I can tell you, without question, that the people of San Juan County do not want a national monument. Polls show the people of Utah do not want a national monument.

I think it’s important for us to remember that the promises that are made for national monuments simply aren’t kept. When the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was created, President Bill Clinton promised that grazing would remain “at historical levels.” Today, grazing has declined by almost one-third. So these promises that Native Americans will be able to cut wood and do their traditional practices and that ATV trails and many other things will be open are simply false. Utah has seen that firsthand. Also important for us to remember is that the federal government has been managing this land since Utah statehood, and now it wants to manage it more. The federal government is already not protecting the land the way it needs to be.

Secretary Sally Jewell came to Utah last summer and she said that she was shocked, shocked at the lack of protections. It is her job to protect antiquities in the area. She’s not doing it, and now we’re giving more responsibility to her agency, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. With that, thank you.

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San Juan County residents bring civil opposition to S.L. Bears Ears celebration

Twelve hours on the road, 600 miles, and day-old gas-station food – that’s what a group of San Juan County residents willingly went through so they could have their voices heard at Monday’s Bears Ears celebration hosted by groups who supported the monument designation.

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Throughout the campaign to designate the Bears Ears National Monument, the most important voices – those of locals who are directly impacted by the designation – were repeatedly ignored and drowned out. Local tribes and the people of San Juan County were simply outmatched by the deep pockets, deceptive tactics and loud voices of extreme environmental groups, out-of-state tribal leaders, and the pen of President Barack Obama. Despite the uphill battle these people faced, they kept fighting for their home. That fight continued on Monday evening as they worked to inform the public of their plight and persuade the Trump administration to rescind or reduce the Bears Ears National Monument.

The group of 25 or so protesters arrived more than an hour before the festivities began – standing outside with their signs and talking of their hope to get things “back to normal.” Once the event began they quietly took their seats and listened to the presentations from out-of-state tribal leaders. Such civility has been a rarity in the Bears Ears debate. Monument supporters have made a bad habit of interrupting public meetings by shouting talking points and yelling at legislators. The courtesy displayed by this small group of San Juan County residents was a model of what the exercise of our First Amendment right should look like.

After the meeting I spoke with Devin Hancock, an organizer of the protest, and asked her why her group came all the way to Salt Lake City. “This monument designation is not about love and protection of the land. It’s about control, power, publicity and money,” Hancock said. “Money-hungry recreational and environmental NGOs (non-governmental organizations) used manipulative tactics to sway some Native Americans outside of San Juan County and others into believing this is right. Native Americans should not be used as political pawns; this is not a game to us.”

While their group at Monday’s event was small, the San Juan residents have what should be the most important voice in the Bears Ears debate. There is no denying that the lands within the monument are public and open to all Americans. However, no one is impacted more by Obama’s designation of the monument than the people of San Juan County. These public lands provide live-sustaining resources, jobs and educational funding, and they are an integral part of the residents’ culture and way of life. This area is a part of who they are and part of their children’s future.

Portrait of a pretty young woman waving an American flag with wide open arms outdoors.

Testimony in support of HCR 6 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting the Re-empowerment of the States Amendment)

Testimony by Stan Rasmussen, Sutherland Institute director of public affairs, in support of HCR 6 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting the Re-empowerment of the States Amendment) before the House Judiciary Committee of the Utah Legislature on Jan. 31, 2017.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon, representatives. Stan Rasmussen with Sutherland Institute. I am pleased to share with you a statement prepared by our office, particularly the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute.

We firmly support House Concurrent Resolution 6 because we support efforts in Congress to re-empower the states and restore the system of checks and balances instituted by our nation’s Founders.

At best, executive orders and administrative rulings can easily and blatantly disregard the opinions and rights of the American people. At worst, they allow government power to go unchecked which can ruin lives. Such actions have been taken by presidents and agency heads of both parties and fly in the face of the principles undergirding our American republic. Our families, our communities, and our state deserve better.

While the mechanism by which this resolution makes possible the repeal of executive orders, rules and regulations is important, it also gives incentives to the president and bureaucratic agencies to work with the people most impacted by their decisions. With the president and bureaucratic agencies working with individual states, laws will become more reflective of the will of the people, thereby encouraging collaboration and unity. The restoration of the states’ stronger voices will have a predictably constructive effect on participation in local governments, with citizens feeling a greater capability to contribute to and advance the cause of liberty in their homes and communities, returning the government to its constitutional origins of being of, for and by the people.

Because this is and ought to be a nonpartisan issue, we encourage you to support this resolution and efforts being pursued in Congress to re-empower the states.

Thank you.

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Testimony in favor of HCR 7 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting Ranchers Grazing Livestock on Public Lands)

Testimony given by Matthew Anderson on Jan. 31, 2017, in support of HCR 7 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting Ranchers Grazing Livestock on Public Lands) before the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee of the Utah Legislature.

Good afternoon, representatives,

My name is Matt Anderson and I am a policy analyst for the Coalition for Self-Government in the West – a project of Sutherland Institute. I stand here today to voice my support for HCR 7 and present some research I conducted on the invaluable role of ranching on our public lands.

It is no secret that grazing has declined across the West. While the BLM and USFS do not conduct annual counts of livestock grazing on the public lands they manage, they do compile information on the number of “Animal Unit Months” – the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

When averaged together, the number of AUMs in BLM grazing districts in Western states is less than half of what it was in 1949 – with some states seeing a drop of more than 70 percent. Utah is one of those states. In the last 65 years the number of operators and permittees allowed to graze in Western states dipped from 21,081 to 10,187. Such a sharp decline has not only impacts ranchers’ way of life, but has a profound and lasting effect on taxpayers, local economies, and the environment.

The BLM and USFS have great potential to generate revenue for the public good. However, on average these federal agencies lose taxpayers nearly $2 billion each year – with grazing losses accounting for a substantial portion of this shortfall. From 2009 to 2013, the BLM and USFS spent an average of $9.41 per AUM, while state trust lands in Arizona, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico spent $2.30 per AUM. At the same time, average federal return per AUM was only $1.18 compared to the state average of $7.79. While states often charge higher prices for grazing than the federal government, their policies actually encourage public grazing opportunities. The federal government’s high management costs, inefficiencies and political entanglements are costing the American public.

Agriculture is a substantial part of Utah’s economy, but plays an even more significant role in the rural parts of our state. When grazing declines, these communities suffer the most. In a study conducted by Utah State University, it was determined that grazing has declined by almost one-third within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This corresponds with the loss of 81 jobs and a decreased economic output of over $9 million per year. For the small rural counties of Kane and Garfield, whose combined population is less than 15,000, the effects have been devastating.

Ranching also plays an invaluable role in improving Western rangelands. Like your lawn, which needs trimming and mowing, rangelands need attention or they die. Harvesting the annually renewing forage on our public lands maintains the health and vitality of these ecosystems by reducing fuel loads that can lead to catastrophic wildfires.

Ranchers are also a vital piece of the rangeland puzzle. Take volunteer firefighting, for example. Rancher-run rangeland fire protection associations mobilize as first responders – often extinguishing blazes long before federal fire crews arrive. In Idaho alone, 146 rangeland protection firefighters fought 56 wildfires in 2015. It would be almost impossible to quantify how many watersheds, how much wildlife, and how many acres of vital habitat these volunteers have saved over the years.

This environmental stewardship extends well beyond firefighting as ranchers regularly partner with environmental agencies and universities to monitor land, water and wildlife; report suspicious and illegal activity to local law enforcement; plant fire resistant species; and improve water sources. The continued decline of grazing operators and permittees has serious implications for the environment.

We in the West don’t see land use in terms of winners and losers; it is not ruled by the zero-sum economics (one person’s gain must be explained by another’s loss) that is insinuated in federal land management policy. We understand that the pie can grow to everyone’s benefit, and most public lands can be – and ought to be – put to multiple, often complementary, uses. Grazing reduces fuel loads, which helps prevent catastrophic wildfires. Recreationists hike cattle trails and utilize roads established by ranchers. Stock ponds are a year-round supply of water for wildlife.

It is time to repair decades of federal mismanagement and reinstate grazing as an essential part of what it means for public lands to be multiple-use. HCR 7 begins to move us in that direction.

Thank you.

Poster map of United States of America with state names. Print map of USA for t-shirt, poster or geographic themes. Hand-drawn colorful map with states. Vector Illustration

Federal funding: far from free

Recently, the Tax Foundation released a study showing which states rely most on federal aid and what percentage of their budgets come from these federal dollars.

States receive a significant amount of assistance from the federal government in the form of federal grants-in-aid. In fact, when averaged together state governments relied on federal money for almost one-third of their general revenue in 2014.

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This dependence diminishes local priorities in favor of national special interests, incentivizes unnecessary spending at the state and local levels, mandates burdensome regulations, and leaves states vulnerable to future federal spending crises. Simply put, these dollars aren’t free – and the economic, social and financial costs are passed along to taxpayers.

Sutherland Institute wrote an article a year ago about the negative consequences of federal aid in an op-ed in the Daily Herald titled The Myth of Free Federal Money:

“No such thing as a free lunch.”

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“You don’t get something for nothing.”

We know all this. Yet the allure of “buy one, get one free!” “no money down!” and “get 6 months free!” still draws us in.

We see this natural impulse at work when “free” federal money is offered to our elected officials. With billions of tax dollars dangling in front of state and local governments, the sales pitch of better schools, stimulated economies and improved roads usually proves too enticing to turn away.

Unfortunately, this promise is based on a misconception. Federal funding isn’t free at all. In fact, according to new research, it costs Utah taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

A new study from Economics International (EI) reports that each additional dollar of federal grant money to the states is associated with an average increase of 82 cents in new state and local taxes.

In Utah, the extra tax burden from every dollar of federal funding is 72 cents. To illustrate, a hypothetical 10 percent increase in federal grants to Utah ($560 million) would be associated with approximately $400 million more in spending from state and local government — an additional tax burden of about $140 per Utahn.

That’s slightly below the national average, but it is cause for genuine concern. It means Utah’s elected officials are being manipulated by the federal government into increasing the financial burden on Utah taxpayers in ways they wouldn’t do otherwise.

We encourage the public and policymakers to reread this op-ed and reject federal funding’s empty promises.

Bears Ears National Monument designation

From Sutherland Policy Analyst Matt Anderson:

   “We call on the President-elect and Congress to rescind this national monument designation and allow local voices to be heard and incorporated into how the Bears Ears region will be protected. Furthermore, we call on these elected officials to amend the Antiquities Act to require congressional approval for future monument designations. 

   Pleas for the president to stay his hand from Utah’s entire congressional delegation, Governor Gary Herbert, the State Legislature, local Native American groups and all of San Juan County’s commissioners and city councils fell on deaf ears. Instead, the President’s legacy and the demands of extreme environmental and corporate interests are now reflected in how more than 1 million acres of San Juan County will be managed.”

From Sutherland President Boyd Matheson:

   “The fact that the president is designating the Bears Ears National Monument at 6 p.m. Eastern on the Wednesday of Christmas vacation — and from 3,000 miles away in Hawaii no less — shows complete disrespect for the people of San Juan County. The citizens of this nation make monuments to honor true statesmen. President Obama declaring a monument unto himself with the stroke of a pen is not only unstatesman-like, it is undemocratic. The people of America should expect more and the people of San Juan County deserve better.

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Op-ed: Bears Ears Monument runs counter to American ideals

Originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Earlier this week, news broke that President Barack Obama intends to lock up wide swaths of Utah’s public lands by designating 1.4 to 1.9 million acres as the Bears Ears National Monument.

It appears that Utahns’ calls – from our entire congressional delegation, Gov. Gary Herbert, the state Legislature, local Native American groups and all of San Juan County’s commissioners and city councils – for the president to stay his hand have fallen on deaf and apathetic ears.

Unfortunately, such action is not a new phenomenon but has played out time and again as presidents across the political spectrum have imposed their will through an unjust and un-American law.

Since 1906, all but three presidents have used the Antiquities Act to bypass congressional and local opposition to designate national monuments. These presidential proclamations secure their signers’ place in history through the political speeches, bronze plaques and fanfare surrounding them. What history neglects to reflect, however, is that such unilateral designations fly in the face of the democratic process and often hurt rural communities.

The turn of the 20th century saw widespread destruction, looting and desecration of our nation’s historical sites and natural wonders. In an attempt to preserve these cultural resources, President Theodore Roosevelt and Congress acted collaboratively to pass the Antiquities Act. In addition to making the disturbance or destruction of our nation’s cultural resources illegal and punishable by a fine and imprisonment, it also gave the president authority to set aside national monuments with just the stroke of a pen. These designations were to be “confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” While the intent to preserve and protect our nation’s treasures was pure, this legislation subverted the democratic process and paved the way for presidential abuse.

In recent decades the good intentions of the Antiquities Act have been abused and exploited to promote self-interest and engage in political gamesmanship. National monument designations have become a way for presidents to leave their mark on history and gain favor with environmental groups. These accolades encourage presidents to deviate from historical norms and designate more monuments of greater and greater size. According to National Park Service data, newly designated monuments averaged 15,573 acres in 1906. National monuments designated in 2016 average 715,258 acres – more than 45 times the size of those created 110 years ago. The power that was intended to protect limited areas has turned into a mechanism for presidents to glorify their names. This mentality shows little care for the interests of the rural communities that neighbor national monuments and of the people who are most impacted by their creation.

For example, President Bill Clinton’s 1.7-million-acre designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah’s Kane and Garfield counties has economically devastated the region. A once-thriving ranching industry is becoming a shadow of its former self. Twenty years after the designation, the number of animals grazing on the monument has declined by almost a third, corresponding with lost jobs and an annual loss to the local economy of more than $9 million. For the small rural counties of Kane and Garfield, whose combined population numbers less than 15,000, this has had a profound and lasting impact.

Those ranchers still in the area face an uphill battle. They struggle to extend or move water lines within their allotments, fence riparian areas, maintain roads or take other necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of their livestock. This has slowly pushed cattle off the range and ranchers off the land their families have worked for generations. In 2015, Garfield County was forced to declare an economic and scholastic state of emergency, as many of its residents have left seeking employment elsewhere.

Such economic loss is not unique to southeastern Utah. It has played out across the West time and again alongside national monument designations. It can, however, be avoided in the future by incorporating the democratic process into monument designations through congressional oversight and local input.

The protection of our nation’s historic, cultural and natural resources is among the noblest of pursuits. However, turning our backs on the democratic process to do so undermines who we are as Americans. Despite what extreme environmental groups may preach, representation and conservation are not mutually exclusive. Checks and balances have produced principled and cooperative legislation for more than two centuries, and land policy does not have to be an exception.

Adding the voices of locals and their representatives who care for and love public lands the most will improve the monument designation process by mitigating the selfish disregard that presidents have shown for rural Americans. This is about more than just land; it is about people — and about preserving the ideals on which our nation was built.