The Multiple Use Land Management Policy in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest: Evolution, Efficacy, and Evaluation for the Future
Since 1976, the prevailing doctrine for managing public lands has been the Multiple Use policy, defined as “…The management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people....” (Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976). Working in the scope of this project, we examine the present and future land use concerns of land users in the American West.
A Brief Overview of Multiple Use Policy
Since 1976, the defining doctrine for managing public lands has been the Multiple Use policy. Multiple Use is defined as “…The management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people....” by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. America’s public lands include, but are not limited to, U.S. Forest Service Land, state land, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. In light of changing demands on the land in the Sawtooth National Forest of Central Idaho, our research and work examines the history of the multiple use policy, synthesizes the current pros and cons of the policy, and considers future implications.
There are many uses to public land. Working in the scope of this project, we examine the present and future land use concerns of land users in the American West. We analyze the history of Multiple Use starting from the time of the first Forest Service Commissioner, Gifford Pinchot, and compare this to Multiple Use policy today. We use a dynamic triangle to illustrate our impression of the forces and conflicts that define and shape contemporary public lands’ Multiple Use policy. Public land represents the shared resource among three major interests: grazing, conservation, and recreation. While we have chosen to divide land users into these three major groups, we acknowledge that we are painting a broad-brush stroke and that a single group may have overlapping interests.
Our report examines the diverse perspectives of these three major interest groups, and uses historical and graphical analysis to identify potential conflicts. For example, to evaluate the conflict between the ranching and conservation interest groups, we first examine historical data from 1996. That year, federal grazing only generated 0.30% of total state employment and 0.23% of total state income, despite using a vast area of Idaho federal lands (Power, T.M. 1996. Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies: The Search for the Value of a Place. Island Press, Washington, DC: 183). We then use ArcGIS graphical analysis to illustrate the large tracts of grazing land on public lands. Lastly, to examine the dangers of recreation from the perspective of the conservation interest group, we investigate damage on Redfish and Stanley Lake (both in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area), where we learned that it is possible to literally “love a place to death.”
Our group concludes by attempting to reconcile the often-harsh conflicts that pervade today’s Multiple Use policy. In the three-week span of this seminar, we heard from diverse interest groups, each with a different understanding of Multiple Use and different claims to the land. We evaluate appropriate methods and techniques for making effective social compromise. Grassroots negotiation, we found, is a more effective tool for such change than legislation, advocacy, or government intervention could ever hope to be. In the following presentation, we try to offer a pragmatic, sensible policy that is a realistic compromise for all parties involved. In the words of Merrill Beyeler, a 4th generation rancher who compromised for a grassroots negotiation: “You have to have a willingness to explore and to change your position…we cannot always be dictated by personal self-interest.” The first step is acknowledging the multiplicity of perspectives and interests.
Annotated Presentation Slides
This definition of Multiple Use comes from the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. This is the definition we will use to analyze the Multiple Use policy today, especially in light of changing demands on the land in the Sawtooth National Forest. The present and future use concerns of the American people today are mainly recreation, grazing, and conservation.
The U.S. Forest Service was established in 1905, with Gifford Pinchot as the first commissioner. Pinchot believed that a Multiple Use policy should “always be decided from the standpoint of the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run….” He also stated that “There may be just as much waste in neglecting the development and use of certain natural resources as there is in their destruction.” In other words, Pinchot’s vision for the National Forest was a “working forest,” focused on natural resource industry.
When the Bureau of Land Management was established in 1946, it still very much catered to such interests in natural resource extraction.
Overall, the policy defining Multiple Use from 1905 until the passage of the Federal Land Management and Policy Act (FLMPA) was one that exclusively prioritized resource extraction and industry.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLMPA) of 1976 marks a paradigm shift in the fundamental purpose of Multiple Use. The FLPMA mandates “…harmonious and coordinated management of the various resources.” It adapts Multiple Use doctrine to include recreation and “natural scenic, scientific and historical values.”
The 1976 shift changed the purpose of these public lands from a one-dimensional focus on resource extraction to a multi-dimensional picture, featuring recreation and conservation as valid uses alongside traditional resource extraction. With this came a fundamental shift in meaning of the term “resource.” Now, resources are not only seen as material—they also include land to use for recreation, aesthetic pleasure, or even conserving the land and doing nothing at all.
We want to present, in the most unbiased way possible, our impression of the forces and conflicts that define and shape public lands’ Multiple Use policy today.
In the center of this triangle we depict the shared resource: public lands. We have chosen to divide land users into three major groups, and we must acknowledge that we are painting with a broad brush for the sake of our presentation. We realize that ranchers are a diverse group with differing practices and values. Recreationalists could be further divided into motorized and non-motorized, for example. But for the time being, however, we will treat these groups as three separate entities.
The arrows in the diagram below represent different arguments that each user group makes against another group in response to their claim to public land. We use the Sawtooth National Forest as a case study. We will examine the arguments that form this triangle, keeping in mind the policy of Multiple Use that we just defined.
We will begin with the various and arguments presented by conservationists against ranchers and members of the grazing interest group. On the one hand, we have perspectives and opinions like the following: “Ranching is one of the primary causes of native species endangerment in the American West; it is also the most significant cause of non-point water pollution and desertification” (Western Watersheds Project). Organizations and advocacy lobbies have sprung up to represent these two groups, and the Western Watershed group represents members of the conservation interest group. Other literature creates and intensifies these interest-group conflicts: “In the Intermountain West and Great Basin, about 85% of native animal species are dependent on riparian zones…given that riparian areas make up only 0.5 to 2 percent of the landscape, their value in terms of biological diversity is incomparable…as much as 81% of the forage removed by livestock within a grazing allotment can come from the 2 percent of the land area occupied by the riparian zone…through time, the direct effects of livestock can…dramatically change the structure, function, and composition of the riparian zone.”(J. Boone Kauffman, Ph.D, Lifeblood of the West: Riparian Zones, Biodiversity, and Degradation by Livestock). In the following slide, we show Carlson Creek. This is an example of such a riparian zone being subject to intense grazing.
These arguments, however, only represent one half of the story. What would a rancher or grazing interest group member say about the conservation interest group? They would probably begin by noting the heritage and tradition from which Western ranchers originate. Western cattle and sheep ranchers have ranged their livestock on public lands since the settling of the frontier a century and a half ago. In fact, over the course of our travels in Idaho, we met 4th- and 5th-generation ranchers who take pride in and depend on the work their family has done for decades.
In addition, the ranching interest group argues that laborers know the land best. According to Stanford historian Richard White: “Mainstream environmentalism…often harshly condemns all work in nature” while other environmentalists “sentimentalize certain kinds of farming and argue that work on the land creates a connection to place that will protect nature itself” (White, 171).
The grazing interest group makes similar arguments against recreationists and their use of the land. The concepts of heritage and tradition, and also of “knowing the land best,” are employed frequently.
Recreationists make arguments and accusations about the ranching interest group’s use of public lands. Those on the side of recreation argue that the economic benefits generated by recreational activities – from visiting fees paid at campsites to hotel rooms rented during ski season – equal or outweigh those generated by grazing on federal land. For example, those whose primary interest is ranching argue that their livestock products (beef, lamb) not only contribute to the state economy but also to the national food supply. Both grazing and recreation contribute to the state economy, however, and so it is hard to make an unbiased, direct comparison between the two interests. We attempted to compare the number of people benefitting from each activity, and found the following results: In 2011, grazing on the Sawtooth National Forest directly served the interests of 145 permittees, occupying 83% of the total area of the SNF. That same year, recreation in the SNF directly served the interests of 1.25 million individuals. We also learned from anecdotes that recreationists simply do not want to encounter livestock and their potentially destructive affects on the land.
All in all, both ranching and recreation have economic impacts on the state of Idaho. The question is how best to balance these interests in accordance with the Multiple Use policy.
The following is a map of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). In dark green is the Sawtooth Wilderness Area, which is an area exclusively reserved for conservation. Here is what we can say definitively about our map: There are 23 grazing allotments, which occupy 83% of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The land used for grazing is also open to public use, although recreationists anecdotally find these areas “less ideal” for recreation. Only 17% of land in the SNRA is reserved exclusively for recreation and conservation. This land distribution differential raises questions about whether the current system meets the goal of serving the needs of the greatest number of people. When we talked to Dierdre O’Connell, a guide at Idaho Sun Valley Trekking, she noted that while mountain biking and hiking, she come across trails that have been trampled by grazing livestock. Is this policy adequately serving the interests of all groups involved?
We now consider what members of the conservation interest group would say about recreationists. Most likely, they will invoke the danger of “loving a place to death.” There are also damages and dangers associated with recreation: motorized vehicles have a significant impact. In addition, overuse of the land has been creating serious problems in the area. A recent example comes from the Sawtooth National Forestis Stanley Lake. Rehabilitated wetlands were damaged by recreational activity. Conservationists would like an acknowledgement of the negative impacts of recreation on ecological habitats.
Recreationalists would make arguments against the conservation interest group as well. Most likely, the group would begin by noting that recreation encourages stewardship of land—it inspires sense of land ethics in the local populace.
The is an image of Stanley Lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The rehabilitated wetlands were damaged by recreational activity. Over time, however, recreationists and conservationists have come together in an acknowledgement of negative impacts of recreation on ecological habitats.
We have now given you a full picture of Multiple Use. We have constructed, by presenting and analyzing today’s land use conflicts, the full triangle that makes up Multiple Use and public land conflicts today. Clearly, all of these interests seem to have valid claims to the land based on the current definition of Multiple Use, so perhaps the status quo will have to change.
To get a sense of the future of Multiple Use, we met with a variety of land users in Idaho and discussed their thoughts onchanges to come for a better Multiple Use system. We met with Brian Bean, founder of Lava Lake Land and Livestock, and he told us that we maybe need to shift from a policy of Multiple Use to one of compatible use. In other words, instead of thinking of “us versus them,” we should think about “us AND them.” We also met with Merrill Beyeler, a fourth generation rancher. In recent years, he has switched to more sustainable and compatible land use practices for the grazing of his cattle. This has actually helped him economically! His take-home message to us was: “You have to have a willingness to explore and to change your position…we cannot always be dictated by personal self-interest.“ We could not agree more. Grassroots discussions between neighbors is the pragmatic and practical solution to a complex problem like Multiple Use. If we all sit down at the table together, we can solve this in a cooperative, compatible way.
Ultimately, our goal for re-designing the Multiple Use land management policy works in the grassroots, pragmatic fashion we just described and helps to change conflict into cooperation. For this reason, we illustrate our envisioned view of Multiple Use with a Venn diagram, where we celebrate and understanding overlapping and cooperative interests.
If we approach the Multiple Use policy in this type of cooperative fashion, we can truly create a policy that is beneficial for all groups using the land.
Allen, L. R., H. R. Haler, P. T. Long, and R. R. Perdue . Rural Residents' Attitudes Toward Recreation and Tourism Development. 1993.
Bean, Brian. Personal Interview. Carey, ID. 14 September 2012.
Beyeler, Merill. Personal Interview. Pahsimeroi Valley, ID. 15 September 2012.
Butler, R. The Concept of a Tourist Area Cycle of Evolution: Implications for Management of Resources. Canadian Geographer 24:5-12. 1980.
Davidson, Mark. Personal Interview. Pahsimeroi Valley, ID. 15 September 2012.
“Grazing Allotment in Sawtooth National Recreation Area.” Esi ArcGIS Map Information. Available from Sawtooth National Recreation Area. ATTN Beth and / or Jim Rineholt. 18 September 2012.
Power, T.M. 1996. Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies: The Search for the Value of a Place. Island Press, Washington, DC.
St. Onge, Joe, and Deirdre O’Connell. Personal Interview. Stanley, ID. 16 September 2012.
U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and Office of the Solicitor (editors). 2001. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act, as amended. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Office of Public Affairs, Washington, D.C. 69 pp. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, as amended.