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PLC partners with conservation groups to maintain open space in the West

The Public Lands Council concluded a two-day summit Feb. 27 on ranching and conservation in the West. More than 120 people attended, representing more than 40 agricultural, government, agency, and conservation organizations.

"Maintaining open spaces and keeping ranchers on public lands makes our western landscapes vibrant, healthy, and productive," says Skye Krebs, president of PLC and rancher from Ione, Ore. "In that sense, ranchers have a great deal in common with groups dedicated to conservation and environmental protection. The partnerships created at this summit will help us make progress on shared goals."

Summit participants spent the first day discussing the public perception of ranching and developed strategies to increase awareness of the environmental benefits of range management through managed grazing.

"Allowing private landowners to graze livestock on public lands not only ensures that vast tracts of land remain open for wildlife habitat and recreational use, but also provides for wildfire management and conservation efforts that might not otherwise occur," Krebs explains. "When you lose ranches, you get subdivisions in their place. That hurts all of us--rancher, sportsman, and conservationist alike."

The second day of the conference was dedicated to identifying common legislative and litigation issues. "We heard a lot of great ideas," Krebs says. "For instance, ensuring the estate tax doesn't force families to sell generations-old ranches to developers is a goal we can all support."

Jeff Eisenberg, executive director of PLC, is optimistic about the next steps. "There was a very frank discussion between the agricultural and conservation groups," he says. "We came to a consensus about our shared goals and areas for cooperation." A steering committee comprised of representatives from both agricultural and conservation organizations will be formed and will be developing both short and long range plans for action.

"This was an incredibly productive meeting," Krebs says. "When groups like the World Wildlife Foundation and livestock associations sit down at the same table, you have the potential for a really unusual, powerful, and effective cooperation."

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