July 25, 2018
…they are employing the same knowledge and processes used by federal agencies to oppress, in the defense of western ranching and property rights.
By Marjorie Haun
A new organization consisting of rangeland and policy experts has coalesced to advocate for the rights of ranchers and other property owners in western states. Rangeland Strategies is a small operation run out of New Harmony in western Utah, and is currently serving clients in western Colorado, Nevada and Utah. Ben Burr, a former staffer for Utah Senator Mike Lee who gained broad policy knowledge and experience during his years in Washington D.C., spoke with Free Range Report about what inspired him to start Rangeland Strategies. He explained that during a visit to Vernal, Utah with Senator Lee, he met with Van Elsbernd who said he was serving as a “consultant” to the ranchers in the area. Elsbernd retired from the Forest Service (USFS) after 20 years with the agency and wanted to lend his knowledge of internal government processes to ranchers and landowners dealing with agencies such as the USFS and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Ben says his immediate reaction upon learning of Elsbernd’s mission was to say, “We need fifty of you.”
Referring to the kinds of regulatory barriers and limitations encountered by ranchers in the west, especially those whom graze cattle on BLM and Forest allotments, Ben says, “This kind of trouble is everywhere, it’s not just Vernal, where the BLM and the Forest Service are doing what they can to cancel those grazing permits and allotments and kick the ranchers off the land.” He goes on, “Van told me how he was helping those ranchers keep their permits by beating the federal agencies at their own game. As a result, he had a successful business that was growing rapidly, primarily by word-of-mouth.” Ben continues, “Then he told me, ‘But I can’t get anyone else out there to do this with me.’ He’d been targeted by his agency. They would try to come after you for your retirement benefits because they don’t like you to go and work against them in the private sector.”
Ben then suggested to Elsbernd that an enterprise such as his would benefit from having people with congressional staff experience because of what he calls “institutional cover.” He goes on to explain, “Because these agencies don’t want to indirectly create problems with Senators, which tends to be the case.”
It’s worth noting that Senator Lee has been at the forefront of states’ and private property rights during his terms. He has introduced numerous pieces of legislation designed to decrease the overreach common to land management agencies, and devolve all police powers back to local law enforcement.
At the time of their initial meeting in the spring of 2017, Ben Burr was still working in the public sector and was unable to bring his expertise to the business. But shortly thereafter he left Senator Lee’s office and reconnected with Van Elsbernd to formulate Rangeland Strategies. Donna Sackett, another former Lee staffer, came on board as well. “There are others helping us who have worked in the federal agencies who don’t want their names out there yet,” Ben explains.
Describing the organization not as a “company,” but as a collection of independent consultants pooling their resources to help ranchers and others who use public lands, Ben says, “We would do some marketing and get our name out there. As ranchers and others who use public lands come to us with specific problems we would evaluate them as a team and decide which one of us has the best capability to help them. Our hope is that we will attract people who need the kind of help we have to offer.”
The truth is, however, that if they had their preference, there would be no need for an organization such as Rangeland Strategies. As Ben states on their website:
“…on some level, I wish this business opportunity didn’t even exist. Ranchers provide meat, leather, wool, and other products that most of us value and use. When they follow responsible practices on public land, they provide valuable ecosystem services such as reducing fire fuel loads, protecting watersheds, and improving wildlife habitat. Their demand for other agricultural products and services keeps many rural communities in the West alive.
I would like to think that the default relationship between ranchers and public land managers would be a strong mutually beneficial partnership. Sometimes this relationship exists, but our experience tells us that more often than not agencies are staffed by those who want to eliminate grazing on public land completely. Public land managers have extensive resources and significant political power to accomplish their goals. Ranchers don’t. We think we can help level the playing field. We hope you will help us get the word out.”
Although Rangeland Strategies is not a law firm and does not offer legal help, the kinds of consultation it does offer can help clients navigate regulations and legal processes in a way that will help them solve problems outside of the courtroom, or give them the best chance of winning if that’s where their case ends up. Insider knowledge can be handy when livelihoods are sometimes determined by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen.
Rangeland Strategies is playing a quiet role in several ongoing cases which, for strategic reasons, they have not publicized. They do, however, want everyone who uses the range for livestock grazing, agriculture and other activities, to know they are employing the same knowledge and processes used by federal agencies to oppress, in the defense of western ranching and property rights.
You can help by sharing this information with everyone you know who might be able to use it to defend their rights.