California's 4-year-old coalition offers example

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

Organizers with the Public Lands Council hope their new coalition with conservationists will produce results similar to what a similar effort has accomplished in California.

The national organization recently announced its Coalition for Conservation through Ranching, a cooperative effort between ranching and conservation interests that builds on what is described as a new era of goodwill between the two camps.

At PLC's annual meeting in Sacramento on Tuesday, Sept. 22, organizers of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition described significant rewards from their 4-year-old effort.

"Four years ago, this wouldn't have been possible because those conversations weren't taking place," said Tracy Schohr, rangeland conservation director with the California Cattlemen's Association. "We don't agree on everything. But we can agree that keeping ranchers on (public) land is important."

The California coalition formed in 2005, and has since proven a "very powerful tool" that has brought ranching interests a new level of access to federal officials and lawmakers, said Bruce Hafenfeld, an organizer with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and past president of CCA.

"Today we have, without a doubt, the best working relationship with (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) that we've ever had," Hafenfeld said. "Today our access to that agency, all the way to the top, is excellent."

While many environmental groups oppose use of public lands for livestock grazing, those participating in the California and national coalitions see things differently, Hafenfeld said.

Rangeland offers significant wildlife habitat, and much of it borders federal forest areas. Ranching families in the coastal hills and Sierra Nevada foothills that ring the Central Valley have historically used federal grazing permits on nearby forestland.

Ranchers require those permits to maintain profitability, Hafenfeld said. Without them, many ranchers would be forced to sell out, leaving rangeland that now serves as a buffer to national forests open for development. That's an outcome that both ranchers and conservationists want to avoid, Hafenfeld says.

California's coalition has set the example nationally in the size and scope of its effort, Hafenfeld said.

"What I hope is that other states see what we're doing," Hafenfeld said.

A short while ago, ranchers cooperating with conservationists would have been accused of "abetting the enemy," Hafenfeld said. But since the effort was established with the signing of the California Rangeland Resolution, the list of signatories has grown to 100 conservation groups, local jurisdictions, state agencies and agricultural groups.

"It's been a challenge to work with groups that I've spent most of my life avoiding," Hafenfeld said. "But it's been very rewarding."

Staff writer Wes Sander is based in Sacramento. E-mail: wsander@capitalpress.com.

Recommended for you