Two Hundred Conservation & Sportsmen's Groups Join In Opposition To Grazing Bill

On the Senate Floor

(03/20/1996) - Washington, D.C. As the Senate prepares to vote on legislation to expand grazing on public lands, a diverse coalition of more than 200 hunting, fishing, hiking, and wildlife conservation organizations has sent a letter of opposition to the full Senate. The organizations criticize the bill, S.1459 sponsored by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), as an "attack on balanced, multiple-use management of our public lands."

Spokespersons from Defenders of Wildlife and the Wildlife Management Institute explain that the opposition to the "Public Rangelands Management Act" is broad because if passed, it would give livestock grazers preference over all other users of 270 million acres of Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands.

Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife, says, "The Domenici bill would essentially hand millions of acres of public lands over to the grazing industry. These lands belong to all Americans, not just to special interests. They belong to backpackers, to birders and boaters, to sportsmen and scientists, and to many others who appreciate them for their diverse values. Most important, they belong to future generations of Americans, to whom we have an obligation to conserve wildlife and wildlands that would be destroyed by this bill."

Lonnie Williamson, Vice President of Wildlife Management Institute, says, "The Domenici bill is an unfortunate piece of legislation because it is driving a wedge between the wildlife and livestock communities, which will seriously impede our ability to solve rangeland management problems in a cooperative manner."

Defenders and WMI are just two of the 219 groups on the letter. Hunting and fishing groups such as the Izaak Walton League of America and Trout Unlimited have joined with animal protection groups such as the Humane Society of the United States. In addition to Defenders of Wildlife, other conservation organizations include the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and The Wilderness Society.

The groups charge that S. 1459 would expand the rights of grazing permittees while greatly weakening the rights of the general public to participate in the management and use of public lands. It would overturn the existing regulations written by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, which went into effect on August 21, 1995, and replace them with regulations restricting the ability of the BLM and the Forest Service to manage the public lands for uses other than livestock grazing.

Opposition to the legislation has grown steadily since May 1995 when it was first introduced. Bob Ferris, Defenders' Director of Species Conservation and part of an ad hoc coalition meeting regularly on this legislation, calls these cooperative efforts "one of the strongest displays of unity yet this session. By working together, we have sent Congress a strong message that a vote for the Public Rangelands Management Act is a vote against responsible land management and continued multiple use of America's public lands. With a collective membership of millions, the coalition represents the diverse public interests that would be sacrificed if S. 1459 becomes law. It's time for Congress to start listening to the American people at large instead of the special interests."



Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)