Carol Ryan Dumas/Capital Press
Fifth-generation rancher Jared Brackett has taken over the reins as president of the Idaho Cattle Association and said the association has a lot on its plate in the year ahead.
Idaho’s beef industry is fraught with pressures from environmental groups and the natural resources agencies influenced by those groups, he said.
Top of the list is the Owyhee 68 litigation, which has cut up to half of rancher’s Bureau of Land Management grazing permits on more than 1 million acres in the Owyhee Resource Area in southwestern Idaho.
The issue involves BLM permit renewals and dates back to 1997 when Western Watersheds challenged BLM’s issuance of grazing permits for 68 allotments in the region. The court granted the group’s request for a permanent injunction and ordered BLM to conduct, within a set time frame, environmental assessments and permit renewal work.
Due to a backlog of BLM lawsuits and lack of manpower, those assessments are not being done properly. Instead, Brackett said, BLM is placating the federal judge who ordered the assessments and the environmental group to keep from being sued again.
“BLM’s solution is to remove livestock even though that’s not the issue,” he said.
BLM’s final decision has the potential to be precedent setting, and Idaho Cattle Association sued the federal government over the issue this summer. A hearing is scheduled for June 2014.
“We feel confident in our position. At the same time, it’s not cheap to sue the federal government,” he said.
Sage grouse management is another issue for ICA this year. BLM must finalize its updated sage grouse management plan this year ahead of a determination by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether to list the bird as an endangered species.
A lot of work by many groups, including ranchers, has already gone into the process to come up with a preferred alternative to the current management plan. That work has been led by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s sage grouse task force to develop a plan that is good for the species and keep it off the ESA list. But there is still much to be done, he said.
Elk management is another issue on ICA’s plate. Cattlemen feel there are larger-than-normal populations of elk on their private property, which feed on their irrigated pasture, threaten their cattle with brucellosis exposure and draw hunters onto private property, he said.
Wolves have changed elk patterns and behavior, driving them out of the hills and forests onto private property. The elk need to be managed and a solution has to be found. That requires working with Idaho Fish and Game, whose only management seems to be the landowner’s tolerance, he said.
Evolving pressures haven’t changed ranchers’ passion for what they do, but it does require a lot more cooperation, within the industry and with wildlife groups and natural resources agencies, Brackett said.
Most ranchers are members of multiple wildlife organizations and are also very involved in their community, and that’s why threats to grazing and their way of life is so upsetting, he said.
Loss of grazing would not only crush Idaho’s livestock industry, it would also crush Idaho’s economy, he said.
Ranching is an industry that most people don’t fully understand and never will, but most would trade places with a rancher in a heartbeat, he said.
Ranching gives beef producers the ability to work side by side with their grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren while feeding millions of people every day, he said.
“We’ll never get rich, but we’ll have a good living. At the end of the day, you can’t buy happiness,” he said.
Home: Three Creek, near Rogerson, Idaho
Operation: cow/calf, stocker on 50,000 acres of state, federal and private land
Roots: fifth-generation family ranch begun in the mid to late 1800s
Affiliations: eight years in ICA leadership, past chairman of Idaho Beef Quality Assurance, Jarbidge local sage grouse working group, Mule Deer Foundation, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, National Wild Turkey Federation.