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Up Front

The arrogance of a fed.

By C.J. Hadley

She called mid-morning, with a request. The BLM had heard we were doing an update on the Beaverhead story about the Welborn Family and Muddy Creek in southwestern Montana.

“We are uncomfortable with your author,” the Bureau of Land Management’s public affairs lady admitted. “We will talk to someone about an article and help you with it.”

Huh? Like they helped the ranchers in the area? Was this innocence or simply continued arrogance on the part of Bruce Babbitt’s Department of Interior? Am I being cynical?

It’s hard to ignore what has been happening for years in the Northern Rockies. The Beaverhead Riparian Guidelines (written by two preservationists and cause for most of western ranchers’ grief) were supposed to be the bible for good federal management. The guidelines seem to show that ranching doesn’t work for wildlife and that cattle “have to go.”

The woman suggested that Robert John Bump is a disgruntled employee with an axe to grind (p. 52). “The story wouldn’t be accurate.” She insisted that there was plenty of good news and that Bump would not report it. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt and asked her to describe the good news.

She didn’t miss a beat. Final approved stocking rates, she said with glee, for Dean Welborn and his family “have been increased substantially, to 1,375 aum’s ” (animal unit months).

Admittedly a bit suspicious of her motives and that of the Dillon office of the BLM, and pondering the fact that in 1993 BLM cut Welborn’s permit by 72 percent, I asked, “What were the historic stocking rates for that allotment?”

The public affairs lady hesitated, then said, “I don’t know the answer to that.” I can be patient and said I’d hold until she could find the comparison figures. It took her a while but she finally admitted, “2,200 aum’s.” Actually the Muddy Creek permit was 2,500 aum’s in 1991, or 500 cows a month from June 1-November 1. BLM’s math is interesting. Would they consider an 47 percent cut in their own income good news?

Before Dean Welborn and his family bought Muddy Creek (and paid for the ranch and the 2,500-cow permit) they checked the outfit carefully. The rancher wanted the beautiful place for him and his wife, and for his son and grandchildren. He knew it was a well-run ranch, with private and permitted federal land, and that the former owner had won a “stewardship award” from the BLM in Dillon for 1989-90. With that kind of public applause for resource management from the local federal agency, Welborn believed that with hard work and dedication to the resource, both flora and fauna, and some water improvements and additional fencing, that he and his family could be successful and happy on Muddy Creek.

Unfortunately, most of what BLM has done in the area since 1992 has been suspect. Carolyn Dufurrena broke this story in RANGE (Summer 1997). A new area manager was hired to calm the turmoil in the Dillon office in 1995. There was bad blood in the neighborhood, most from within the agency, but there was also hope with the new boss.

When RANGE’s writer Bob Bump asked to interview several people for our update, he was only “allowed” to speak to the area manager and his deputy. We had encouraged Bump to talk to the range specialists from BLM who actually worked on the ground, to the employees who cut the fence on the Muddy Creek Allotment “to allow for bighorn sheep,” and to the wildlife biologists who were claiming that there were “not enough provisions to protect wildlife habitat.” The public affairs lady told me that a Gallatin wildlife group is suing the BLM and that the subject is delicate. It sure is. The head of the environmental group suing the BLM is the brother of the BLM guy who recommended harsh and almost impossible restrictions against the Welborn family. The only thing that happened to the BLM brother is that he was sent out of state for a few months for sensitivity training. Today the brothers are still working with different groups but with what we believe is the same goal–to remove cattle from federal lands.

It’s obvious from BLM’s heavy-handed tactics and unscientific management of Muddy Creek, that there is a peculiar agenda at play. The fact is, wildlife is disappearing from the area BLM says they are trying to protect because of BLM’s work, not because of Dean Welborn’s cows.

Now don’t get me wrong; I am not anti-BLM. The realistic and rational, hard-working range conservationists and biologists who spend hours out on the land, in the dirt, are good stewards of the land, too. They have huge territories to cover and work under enormous political pressures; but, unfortunately, they are not in charge. What I don’t like about leaders of the BLM is when they make serious decisions that negatively affect families and rural communities by taking lazy and unscientific “occular” surveys through the windshield of a high priced four wheel drive, that we pay for, comforted by a healthy wage and benefits package, that we also pay for.

I’m told the BLM’s good guys are forced to follow the desires of a radical green lawyer who happens to be Secretary of Interior and works in a fancy office on the Potomac. A descendant of long-time Arizona ranchers, this ingrate is screwing resource users and waving a wand over the West claiming it in the name of “conservation.” We’ve written about him before (see “Bah, Bah, Babbitt” by Tim Findley, Spring ’98). Meanwhile this above-the-law lawyer continues to take ranchers’ rights and private property and ignore our hard-fought Constitution.

But don’t panic, fed lovers, in this issue there are good news stories, too. And you’ll discover that most of these federal employees do care about the land and the people who work on it.
There has been a lot of pain on Muddy Creek, caused, again unfortunately, by the twisted workings of Bruce Babbitt’s Dept. of Interior.


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