Excerpted from Dennis Higman's piece:
There are two topics you don’t want to bring up with most Idaho ranchers: wolves and Jon Marvel, the white-haired, 63-year-old founder and executive director of the Western Watersheds Project. He was appalled by the activity supervised by the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the state. He saw it as the long-standing, irresponsible, wanton destruction of the land and its resources---fish, wildlife, plants and water---by cattle and sheep. He surmised this destruction was aided and abetted by complacent, complicit government agencies charged with regulation and oversight of grazing on millions of acres in the public interest.
Idaho ranchers who graze livestock on public land during the summer most emphatically do not agree with any of this. “Jon Marvel’s an environmental obstructionist,” insists Carl Elsworth, Idaho Cattle Association (ICA) President. “His goal is not to help the environment or help local economies. He holds up good projects like improvement of salmon and bull trout habitat on technicalities because all he really wants to do is get cattle off public land.”
The Forest Service, one of the primary regulatory agencies that oversee livestock grazing on public lands in Idaho and other Western States---and a constant target of Jon Marvel’s lawsuits and ire---is also gun shy. A local Idaho district ranger in that vast bureaucratic organization now needs permission from Washington, D.C., to talk to the press, and that permission was not forthcoming in time for this article.
Excluding revolution, there are basically two ways to initiate the kind of sweeping change Marvel is seeking: politics or litigation---and he has clearly opted for the latter. In a one-party state like Idaho, there’s little choice, he says. Lawsuits may not be the ultimate answer, Marvel concedes, but they are an effective way to focus public attention on an environmental problem, bring about change and, equally important, increase the cost of noncompliance for violators. “There just aren’t any significant examples of environmental laws being enforced without litigation or threat of litigation,” he says.
In the final analysis, it appears that the battle lines between Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds and the ranching community have been drawn. There is precious little room for compromise on the issues, and probably no room at all for politically bipartisan solutions on the land issues he champions.
That, and the fact that upcoming November elections will, in all likelihood, make it look even darker on Marvel’s horizon, almost guarantees there will be only more contentious lawsuits and animosity ahead. The real winners look to be only one group---lawyers---who surely must rank somewhere not far below the cowboys on Jon Marvel’s survey, among the least-admired of any profession.
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