Arizona rancher David Cook testified before the U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Wednesday, calling on Congress to remove layers of red tape and overregulation … specifically the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the Wilderness Act.
“I do not believe it was the intent of Congress to disenfranchise communities like mine when laws like FLPMA and the Wilderness Act were originally enacted, but that is certainly where we have ended up,” explained Cook. “The burden of compliance with these processes – not to mention the struggle to have our voice as a stakeholder heard and respected has become the dominant consumer of time and resources for anyone or any entity interacting with federally-managed lands.”
Cook and his wife, Diana, own and operate DC Cattle Company, as well as partner in several ranches in Gila County, Ariz. Gila spans 4,800 square miles and contains less than 5 percent private deeded land. All of the ranches Cook operates must utilize a federal grazing permit with the Tonto National forest to remain economically viable.
FLPMA was enacted in 1976 with the intent to provide direction for the management of public lands, which would emphasize and protect the mandate for multiple use and sustained yield. In his testimony, however, Cook explained that the reality was different.
“Unfortunately and unintentionally, the delegation of authority from Congress to the land management agencies and the resulting unchecked authority over land-use planning has been abused by administrators and capitalized on by radical environmental groups through relentless offensive litigation,” said Cook. “This has led to further restrictions on public lands, specifically for permitted activities, thereby eroding the intent of multiple use. The intent to consult with local governments has not been properly used and instead we have seen de-prioritization of local input in the planning process.”
One example, Cook said, was the “Salt River Six,” which was comprised of six forest service allotments along the Salt River that needed permit renewals.
“USFS consulted with several other federal agencies during a four-year process but would not consult with Gila County about potential impacts to their general plan,” said Cook. “After more than four years of meetings, time, and resources, USFS scrapped the project and started asking permittees to disregard any of the previous years. At present, the situation remains unresolved and six separate ranching operations remain in limbo about the future of their business and no certainty that they will continue to operate. The economic impacts of this uncertainty on a rural economy are devastating.”
At the same time, wilderness designations have severely limited the ability to properly maintain and enhance any ranch improvements despite the original intentions of the legislation to not interfere with these activities. Industries such as cattle grazing see a significant reduction in their ability to maintain the infrastructure in which they need to operate their ranching businesses.
“Special land designations on lands that are already federally owned and subject to management decisions by the federal government, like wilderness designations, only create more burdens for federal agencies and typically serve to erode true multiple use in favor of a ‘hands off’ approach,” said Cook. “This failure of responsible management often leads to dire consequences for our region – economically, ecologically, and culturally.”
Cook also serves as an elected Representative to the Arizona State Legislature. He wrapped up his testimony stressing that these burdensome laws extend far beyond the local businesses and communities he was representing today. In fact, he said, they impact everything in a state like Arizona, from industry, to tourism, to simply bringing necessary services like electricity to rural citizens.
“Rural America is facing on-going and detrimental overregulation, and we appreciate the leadership of Chairman Raul Labrador (R- Idaho) for bringing stakeholders to the table to address the needed reform.”