AoR 15: Ethan Lane, Monitoring to Tell an Environmental Story

Ethan Lane, director of the national Public Lands Council, makes a compelling case for ranchers to build a record of stewardship in order to tell a positive story as well as provide protection from critics of public lands grazing. He and Tip discuss the work of the PLC, why ranchers should be doing their own monitoring, and suggestions for constructively interacting with state and federal agencies. 


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>> Welcome to 'The Art of Range' a podcasts focused on range lands and the people who manage them. I'm your host Tip Hudson, range, and livestock specialist with Washington State University extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

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>> My guest today is Ethan Lane he's the executive director of the Public Lands Council, a branch of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Center for Public Policy. Ethan, welcome to the show.

>> Thanks for having me, Tip.

>> We met, I believe for the first time at an annual utilization monitoring field day in Washington State a couple years ago that drew about 100 ranchers and quite a few agency personnel. That kind of attendance is pretty rare, especially in June. But this was in response to a conflict. Ethan and I agree that you should never waste a good crisis, but it would be nice to get beyond crisis to some stable state where ranchers are doing a good job documenting it and can tell their story to the world. And the NCBA has done a good job of promoting that goal and making it happen. It looks from your title that you wear more than one hat, is that the case?

>> I wear multiple hats, yeah that is definitely true.

>> So is the Center for Public Policy, a separate entity from the NCBA?

>> So it's not. But I will clarify PLC often is described as an extension of NCBA, or a division of NCBA. That's not accurate. The Public Lands Council is a standalone entity. The NCBA Center for Public Policy is how we describe our DC office for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. And it is truly that NCBA here in DC has 20 staff members are they are policy experts covering the range of issues confronting the cattle industry. Everything from trade, to animal health, to cattle markets, to natural resources, federal lands, Endangered Species Act, fake meat. You name it. We have somebody deep into the weeds working on that issue all the time. And so that's why we describe ourselves that way. In my role as the executive director of the Public Lands Council I do wear a separate hat from my role as senior executive director of federal lands for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. And in that role, I do serve as the chief executive of the Public Lands Council, which is a standalone organization. We have our own budget. We have our own board. And we have the National Cattlemen's Beef Association as an affiliate. They sit on our board as one of our three national affiliates. So the American Sheep Industry Association, similarly, has a board seat, as does the Association National Grasslands. And then all of the western public lands grazing states, have a seat on our board. And those in state seats, according to our bylaws are made up of board members who are sent by the various livestock associations in each state. So every state in the west crack that nut in a different way. So, in Wyoming you have the Wyoming Public Lands Coalition, which is made up of the Wyoming Stock Growers, the Wyoming Wool Growers, and the Wyoming State Grazing Board. In other states, it's a little different makeup, but in all of them it creates a really good synergy with the National Public Lands Council because by the time that board member comes to a PLC board call, or a PLC annual meeting, they've ostensibly had conversations in state and are able to speak for a broad range of livestock production groups in that state. Which really gives PLC a unique perspective because we are pulling notches from cattle, but sheep as well. We're balancing some of those issues that are unique to the sheep industry, as well as some of those that are unique to the cattle industry. And we're also looking at those things that are impactful to everyone grazing livestock on public lands. And it gives us a forum where we can really receive input from a lot of the state associations and how they're tackling these issues. Maybe different aspects of a problem that somebody's experiencing, say in Washington State that's a little different than how they're other seeing it in South Dakota. So it's really kind of a unique forum in that respect. And it gives us a voice in Washington that really would be decentralized, otherwise. You know, our goal is to support our state affiliates, to echo their voice in Washington, and quite frankly to throw as wide a shadow as possible in this town full of people trying to throw wide shadows. And make sure that our voices are represented.

>> What all does the Public Lands Council do, then, is it primarily lobbying, and to what extent does that extend to the state governments?

>> So, we don't deal with the state governments at all. That's probably something better left to our affiliates, obviously. Whether it's the Washington Cattlemen, or the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, or anybody else. They have those in state relationships, and we rely on them to make the best calls for their members in those respective states. Where we really add value is in that federal conversation. So, yeah, we are a lobbying organization, absolutely. I'm a registered lobbyist as it Tanner Beamer, who is also on my staff. And in that capacity, we spend a good portion of our time up on Capitol Hill talking to members of Congress, talking to senators. Educating their staffs. Participating in briefings. Organizing testimony for congressional hearings. And then then we spend the rest of our time here in Washington at the federal agencies. So BLM Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, NRCS. We try to make sure that the industry is represented there. That we have relationships in place. And that we have an open and functioning dialogue. Which, you know, honestly with as many moving parts as we have in western land management today is probably one of the most important aspects of that relationship. Members of Congress come and go, their priorities ebb and flow with the election cycle and everything else. But those federal agencies are really in the business of managing these resources and that tends to outlast you know, an administration, or a particular Congress, or a particular mood in the country. So it's important for us at the national level to have both of those conversations going on at once. And to recognize that often they are very different conversations. Although we're pursuing the same goals.

>> Yeah, I think people who are not familiar with what lobbying looks like on the ground, have the you know, stereotypical negative connotation of lobbying. But having worked for two years as the executive for the State Cattlemen's Association here in Washington, we really did spend nearly all of our time trying to inform policymakers about issues that they otherwise really, truly would not understand much about at all. And of course, the other is an attempt to sway public policy. But a large majority of what we did was primarily informing.

>> Yeah, it is. And it's hard to tell all the time what the best course of action is at any one point because you know people do have preconceived notions. They do kind of have thoughts formed. And all too often those ideas are formed by exposure to you know half of an article they read three weeks ago. Or, you know something they saw in "National Geographic," but maybe didn't really get the main takeaway from it. And so it's really important for us to backfill with that and make sure we educate people. So you know, sometimes we are persuading. And other times we're simply educating.

>> What issues on the front burner for the PLC right?

>> You know, we're focused pretty heavily right now on regulatory reform. Obviously, we have an administration in place at the moment that has really made themselves open to looking at some of these programs, to see how they might be able to run better. you know it's been an interesting conversation to be a part of. Because I think during the Obama administration, regardless of your politics, just looking at and how they ran their shop, it was a pretty close environment at the federal agencies. They weren't really interested in in broad-based our discussion of how these programs work. It was much more about preservation mentality. And preservation as a program, I should be more specific. And in this administration, they've been far more willing to bring everybody to the table and say all right, everybody fight it out. Let's figure out how to make it work better. You know, that often results in things that maybe aren't specifically the exact prescription that we might think is needed in any particular circumstance. But you know looking at it from that persuasive lobbyist point of view, I'm trying to find a path forward to policies that we're not going to spend the next 10 years trying to defend in a subsequent administration. So, you know we're always looking at the long-term durability. And that means building stakeholder support. That means engaging groups that necessarily don't agree with us. You know, it means making sure that what we're working on isn't just good for us but is good policy, period. Because if it's good policy, period, then it's going to be beneficial for us down the line. We've been subject to so many bad policies and so many policies that were sort of put in place with an aim towards reducing the footprint of grazing that we've really spent a lot of time trying to unwind some of that and make sure that we're getting proper recognition as the tool that that we are in managing federal lands. While also making sure that we are continuing to move the needle on rangeland health. And you know building that web of support that reaffirms how important grazing is.

>> I was part of the leadership conference in DC, I don't know, maybe 5 or 6 years ago. And we had a political consultant who came and spoke with the group. She'd been in DC for about 25 years. And somebody asked her in the Q&A why she felt that the polarization had been increasing over the last you know, 10, 15, 20 years, political polarization. And her answer was really interesting. She felt like because of digital media and so much transparency in government that there is no room for anyone to negotiate. There's no room you know, for a dark smoke-filled room in which people can move off of their tightly held positions and move a little bit more toward somebody else. Nobody can give an inch, because everything that they say and think, almost, is going to be broadcast to the entire world. So, the idea of having an open dialogue where people who disagree with each other can discuss it, and not just camp out on their talking points, seems like it's pretty important.

>> It is. And what's interesting is I mean I think in the national media certainly, and even in some corners of DC, I think ranchers unfairly get labeled as being sort of immovable objects on a lot of these issues, but what we find is, as we engage in some of those sort of you know smoke-filled room conversations. Although there are very few actual smoke-filled rooms anymore, as much as I love a good cigar. You know, it's interesting that our members, particularly in the west, are so much more open to trying to find a path forward and trying to find common ground than some of the NGOs. You know, some of these conservation groups. Even if they have the best of intentions, what we often find is that they have a far greater lift to sell compromise to a support base of members or check writers that there really has bought into you know an idea that's been sold by those groups than us. You know, at the end of the day our biggest goal is to make sure that our producers on the ground have a stable business environment. And are free from regulatory overreach. And can put the best product out the door while putting the best conservation practices possible on the ground. There are a lot of different ways to accomplish that and make sure that our members interests are protected. So in that respect, despite the public perception, you know, we're halfway home just because our folks are just so eager to get something done.

>> Backup just a touch before we jump into talking about rangeland monitoring and tracking rangeland health on both public and private lands. What was your pathway to doing policy work for the NCBA? How did you get where you're at?

>> You know, it's been an odd strange trip for sure. You know I started my career, I'm from Arizona, originally. Fifth generation. Came from an agricultural background. And I grew up with horses and cattle. I grew up showing quarter horses and team roping. And so, you know a lot of our friends in the industry always laugh about team ropers. And I certainly fit that description for better or worse. But I grew up in a family that really made its bones working on public lands issues in the west. Working on western water issues. And working in western real estate. My dad was State Land Commissioner of Arizona when I was a kid after doing a stent for the Department of Interior during the Carter administration in the Land and Minerals hallway as a special assistant. And so I'm mean I grew up around this stuff. My mom was a policy specialist at the Center of Energy and Natural Resources Committee when [inaudible] was written. So, I mean this is sort of in blood I guess to a certain extent. I started my career as a commercial real estate broker actually. Was selling and buying ranch property and commercial property in Arizona. And that was a family business that I got my start in. I spent 10 years doing that and built a pretty large portfolio of ranch property in the state of Arizona for some of our high net worth clients. And in the process of putting together, you know 20 some odd ranches, really kind was baptized by fire on some of the issues that you have to deal with in managing these environments that have deeded land, and forest service permits, and BLM permits, and state lease. And you know all of the challenges that come with that and how they grow exponentially as your portfolio grows. So in 2009, when the real estate market had sort of reached its doldrums, my wife and I had a long conversation and decided that if we were ever going to go get into politics, which was sort of our passion, from the time we met in middle school through high school and college, we better speak now or put it out of our minds forever. So we packed up and moved to Washington in 2010 and she would work on Capitol Hill and I started working in a consulting capacity. I consulted on multiple congressional campaigns. I ran a successful congressional campaign in northern Michigan in the 2012 cycle. And I worked on a bunch of other ones and started picking up consulting clients, lobbying clients, spent several years with my own practice here in DC. Built that up. Did a lot of work on endangered species, waters of the United States, working for western oil and gas producers, as well as ranching interests in different parts of the west. A little bit of mining. Kind of a mixed bag of resource issues. And through that work, got to know my predecessor Dustin Van Lou, so when he decided to leave, we kind of had that conversation. And it seemed like a good opportunity to kind of come home to the part of the resource industry that really is sort of in my blood. And you know without question, it's been the best decision I ever made. I'm incredibly proud of having built a successful political consulting practice in a town like DC. But boy, nothing can replace the work I do now, who I do it for, or how I get to spend my days. So it's kind of a twisty path that ended up with me being right back in my backyard. And you know no matter what I do in this job, there's nothing cooler than my parents reading my name in the "Western Livestock Journal" or something like that because at the end of the day that's all we really want, right is to make our parents think we're doing something productive with our time even if we live across the country.

>> That's right, that's the acid test. Yeah, thank you for what you do. Alexis de Tocqueville said, I don't know 150 years ago that one of the features of American life that made America strong, was what he called its mediating institutions. Organizations like the NCBA, the Boy Scouts, churches, League of Women Voters, you name it. All these organizations that represent people and give people a voice and kind of you know duke it out on the public stage. There really was truly an open dialogue about big ideas. So I think what the NCBA does is pretty important. As well as the fact that surveys routinely show that organizations like the NCBA are the most highly trusted sources of information for farmers and ranchers, in particular. Extension often comes in second, so it is important for people like me to work with people like you to help ranchers succeed environmentally, socially, and economically. Did I mention that I worked for two years as the Executive Vice President for the Washington Cattlemen's Association. This was '01, '02, '03. That was a period of time when the beef industry, nationwide was splitting over some political issues, like packer ownership, country of origin labeling. But during that time, I felt that any political success we had at the state level usually could be traced to demonstrating the environmental sustainability of rangeland based beef production. And so I had an opportunity to work for WSU as an extensive faculty. So I switched horses so to speak. But I really affirm the importance of industry associations as agents of change and real help to ranchers. So next question is what all does the NCBA do, and the Public Lands Council in terms of education. We've talked a bit about advocacy which is really broader than lobbying. But what about education?

>> Well, you know, I think that's really at the core of how we spend our time, is educating audiences that that don't understand the full picture. You know the debate playing out, and it's sort of it's removed from the rangeland conversation. But I'm going to bring it back home because I don't think it's that far removed. But the green new deal that was floated here at the beginning of this Congress by some of these new members that came in in this wave last fall. Obviously had this reference to farting cows, which you know for a variety of reasons we know is just patently false on its face. But it's given rise to a broad range of folks on the left, primarily, making really uninformed statements. And pushing this idea of you know, reducing beef consumption somehow being the magic bullet to affect climate change. And you know, so we view that as a really important thing to push back on. Particularly since their information is just so completely inaccurate. Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York just announced that he's an introducing meatless Mondays. And in his press conference to announce it made the statement that something I think he said 30 or 40% of greenhouse gas emissions is attributable to livestock production. I mean that's just that's just not accurate. He's either grossly misleading his constituents or he's you know grossly uninformed. But it's 2%. You know, livestock production in the United States is 2% of greenhouse gas emissions. And its 3% if you include inputs at the feedlot. So when you look at the actual percentage and you look at what we produce for that. You look at the mouths we feed. The high quality protein that we're able to put on tables across the world, at this point. And in the fact that we do that, while also managing rangeland exponentially better than we have in the past. To the point where you know as well as I do, we have data now that shows that in many areas of well-managed grazing system can actually be a carbon sink are that we can actually get to zero or start putting carbon back on the grid so to speak, in the in those areas. And from my money, nowhere is a better example of that than in the western United States where we have these large landscapes that we're managing and maintaining intact. And making available for wildlife. And you know we're doing all that while also putting the best product in the world on people's plates. Anywhere our trade folks go around the world, what they hear is there is no beef available, anywhere on planet earth better than the beef produced in the United States. Full stop. So, I mean it really is a cool opportunity. And I was on the BBC yesterday talking about a UN Climate and Wildlife Report that just came out that was extremely dire, and you know the sky is falling, as the UN is sort of want to do in those kind of reports. And you know, I made this statement on the BBC broadcast and the host came back at me and said well, don't you have responsibility to producers in the rest of the world. Absolutely not. My responsibility is to American beef producers, to make sure the folks know that they are producing the best product in the world, and they're doing it in a way that should be the model of sustainability for the rest of the world. And I mean I think that's something that really NCBA plays a leading role in educating people on. Both on Capitol Hill and in the public to help them understand that just because you saw something in a Netflix documentary, you know, there are entire categories, there's an entire cottage industry that cropped up around these dark conspiracy fueled food documentaries. And then the beef industry is a favorite target of those. Just because you see those sort of fact free documentaries, the reality is a far better story. And one that we should really be leaning into in order to find ways to make those kinds of gains in other parts of agriculture. So, I mean that's a tool that NCBA is able to use because of the presence that we spend so much time building, nationally. I mean that credibility doesn't come overnight. You know the media landscape in 2019 is unbelievably quick. And your ability to impact a national story, or to get our voice a national story comes down to the minutes, sometimes. So you know being able to react to that quickly. To have the organizational capacity both in communications, you know, in those relationship with reporters, as well as the policy knowledge to know what that argument needs to look like. That's the value proposition as far as education that NCBA can bring to the table as far as that narrative that shapes up every you know, 5 to 10 hours with the multi deadline per day environment that we're seeing in the news culture right now. But there's also that need to educate producers on the ground. And make sure that our folks understand the challenges that we're facing nationally. The challenges that are being presented to us by our own consumers. Right, I mean I think all too often, it's easy for us to forget that we have customers out there and those customers can choose to go somewhere else. They often don't because at the end of the day, I'm going to a burger or a steak over a chicken breast every single time it's available. And I think most other people that are in that category will as well. But you know it is important to help our producers understand, you know where they need to maybe make their efforts better known. I mean, you know I've always said, you want to know the skinny on wildlife in a particular area. And I grew up hunting on public lands in the west, obviously. You don't talk to a hiker that's walking through, you talk to the rancher that's managing that environment. There's not to be a better informed expert on deer populations, or birds, or anything else on his ranch than him or her. And that's a testament to what our folks do. But as you well know, we don't sell ourselves to the public that way, as often as we should. We don't take as much credit as we should. My staff gets irritated with me because I'm fond of using the phrase, you're welcome America over, and over, and over again in our office. But I think it's a concept that we need to get more comfortable with. Because we do put a lot of good work on the ground, and we don't take enough credit for it, all too often. And it puts us in a defensive posture sometimes that I don't think we deserve to be in.

>> Yeah, I think this should be one of the easiest stories to tell. People are going to get tired of me saying that rangeland based beef production is nearly by definition the most sustainable form of food and fiber production. Because it's one of the only industry segments where you're producing food in the same space that you producing this whole other suite of ecological goods and services; clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat. That should be an easy story to tell.

>> Absolutely we are the last of the true free range productions, right. I mean that's it.

>> And I think probably in recognition of that, there's been a shift in government programs to incentivize good stewardship instead of paying farmers not to farm, like we did with the CRP program. Which had its place. Which reminds me of a rabbit trail that I'm going to take just in case I forget about it later. At one time, the Chicago Climate Exchange had a carbon market for grazing lands. Is that still in place, and where is that today?

>> So, you know, it's a good question and the idea of ecosystem service credits, I mean they've shift away from saying carbon credits because cap and trade, obviously you know, scared everybody to death. But we've seen this crop backup in species conservation. A lot of different sort of models have cropped up to try to avoid ESA listings by doing pre-listing conservation, we're generating credits on ranches for taking a variety of conservation practices into your operation and allowing that to be an offset for an oil and gas producer, or a mine, or wind energy, or whatever else. And then we're starting to see the carbon side of that crop back up again. And I think for my purposes, and I mean I've worked on this issue for years now, here in DC, including before I was here at PLC, and then NCBA. I worked on it in the oil and gas industry as well on the western prairie chicken, and dunes sagebrush lizards, those things. And I mean, I feel like we have a lot of people, both in our community and in the conservation community as well as in industries like oil and gas and mining that are all in agreement that we need to find a model that works. I don't think we're quite there yet. I think there's a lot of people, kind of trying to march ahead. And say nope, I've cracked the code. And this is the model. But what we've seen, by and large, is that no one's been able to solve the demand side of that equation without regulatory constriction. So how do you compel people to engage in a carbon credit market, or a species conservation market unless for lack of a better description they have a gun to their head saying you will engage in this marketplace. And obviously for our producers, that's never going to be the right answer, right. I mean we want to make sure that we're creating opportunities for our producers to be compensated if they're undertaking conservation practices that are maybe beyond what would be optimum for their production on that land. Because I mean I firmly believe that you have a lot of producers in the country particularly today, that have optimized their operations to the point where they really are kind of getting the maximum production benefit at the same time as realizing the maximum conservation gains. So for them to undertake additional, beyond what they're doing now, is going to upset that balance. If that's what's needed in a certain area of credits are needed and it's worth it to that producer to undertake those additional practices, maybe reduce their stocking rate beyond what they otherwise would. Or whatever else. That needs to be up to that producer and that needs to be a business decision that that the producer makes on his or her own. When we start putting regulatory pressure on that and making that kind of a forced conversation, that gets into territory we're not comfortable with. So it's a conversation we continue to be willing to have, it's I guess halting is probably the best way to describe it. I've had multiple rounds of this conversation at the White House in the last two years, as have I know some of the NGOs. And you know, we just from my assessment, we're just not there yet. But it is definitely a conversation that is happening in a lot of different corners of the resource world. It's not going away. It's not something I think we can avoid forever. But we better make sure we, as an industry, have a really clear understanding of how we could be impacted by that. And not fall for the easy play. A lot of these groups that are pushing different credit models, kind of play on this, man there's a lot of money to be made for ranchers in this thing. Well, and I genuinely believe no one's going to get rich selling credits. They're just not. But boy, maybe there's an opportunity for the measuring of that ecosystem service value to help better illustrate the good work that we are doing and make sure that we're not being unfairly discounted for our impact when in reality a lot of times you know, we are providing more benefit than we are impact. So I think there are opportunities there but just my own personal feeling is we're a long way from the finish line on what that's going to look like.

>> I think that's a good pivot to bring the conversation down to the ranch level. The purpose of this podcast is to help ranchers address various kinds of risk. And by ranchers, I mean families that make all or a significant portion of their income from livestock. You know, these are people that are economically dependent on getting this right. And there's obviously lots of different kinds of risks that operate at different scales. There are risks that threaten the profitability of the current year's calf crop. And then you have risks that threaten the existence of the ranch, which is the kind of stuff you guys work on. Death taxes, who's going to take it over. You know long term economic problems. And ranchers have to be always operating at you know the full spectrum of those scales. People who do succession planning talk about working in the business versus working on the business. You know working in the business is getting the cows fed in the morning. Working on the business is thinking through you know, should we be part of some value added branded beef program that's going to result in greater revenue. Or you know should we consider a conservation easement that purchases some of development rights of the ranch and provides a shot in the arm in terms of income. You know, both of those kinds of work are necessary, and in a business where the management is also the staff, or is part of the staff, it can be difficult to maintain these sometimes competing perspectives. Your thoughts on that?

>> So I don't view those as being desperate pursuits. I think that anymore, and we spent a lot of time on that idea of the younger generation of ranchers, particularly in multigenerational operations being part of the national conversation. And I think the reason that's so important, and when I say younger, I mean people my age right, 40-year-old ranchers that have parents that are still involved. I mean anyone who's ever been to a State Cattlemen's Association meeting or a State Wool Bearer's Meeting, or an NCBA meeting, or ASI, knows that this dynamic plays out. The parents are there. And they've been going for 25 years or more. And they're deeply involved in policy. And they've been in these battles for ever. And their kids are home on the ranch, running a lot of that day-to-day operation. Their kids are in the business. And you know, there is a real disconnect that I see coming down the road if we don't merge those two conversations more. Because we have to know what those pressures are on the day-to-day operation for a cow/calf operation in eastern Washington. We have to know the challenges that they're looking at in order to have any hope of crafting regulatory framework that's going to help them on the other side of that equation. You know, if we're looking at administering grazing in a way that provides more flexibility to get out on an allotment earlier in the year so that you can hit a cheat grass monoculture when that grass is good and productive. Knowing full well that it's not going to be usable in July. But knowing that we can come back to it and clean it up again in the fall. And then understanding that in a lot of cases that may fall outside the on and off dates of an individual's permit. You know, we have to know what works for an operation, what actually is feasible for them. Because we can provide them all flexibility in the world but if they look at that and say that doesn't pencil with how I run my operation, we've done no good. So, I think that you know merging those conversations and looking at them holistically is a big challenge that we take really seriously. But you know, that's why we spend so much time on young producer engagement. That's why NCBA does the Young Cattlemen's Conference. So that we can get producer off the ranch, get them out around the country. I mean, if you haven't been, YCC is one of the coolest things we do in this industry because it takes 60 producers from around the country, takes them on a nine-day tour of the beef industry. And if it's done right, which it was my year and every year I've heard about. You're out of your comfort zone, depending on where you come from in the industry, for eight of those nine days right. So if you're cow calf producer, you're right at home when we're touring an operation, you know an on the ground ranch. But then we go to the feed lot. Then we go to the packing plant. Then we go to Chicago, we go to McDonald's headquarters, we got to the OSI facility that make McDonald's burger patties. You know, and then you go to DC. And it's incredible over the course of that nine days to watch these producers get that perspective, you know they feel like they have it. But then they talk to you know the guy in the production facility in Chicago that is as far removed from their end of the beef industry as is possible. But it gives them a better understanding of the fact that to some extent we are all in this together. And you know we have to be looking at those different aspects of the industry. And those production folks on the end of the value chain have got to start understanding better the challenges that producers are facing on the ground in order to get that product to market. So, you know, that's a long way of saying, I have a hard time separating those two, because I do think they're just kind of intrinsically linked.

>> Yeah, I don't think you spelled out that the YCC is the Young Cattlemen's Conference. And I was Washington's representative to the YCC back in 2001. What year did you do it?

>> I did it in 2016.

>> Okay, you weren't quite as young as I was when I did it.

>> Probably then I went to bed a little earlier.

>> You mentioned that you hear from ranchers and see on the ground that a lot of public lands and private lands both are being managed in a much more sustainable manner than they were 100 years ago. I think, at least in Washington State, and Idaho, and probably Oregon, we also see quite a few large land leases, that were maybe held by the same family for 100 years and those have changed hands. And you've got guys that are my age that are applying some new thinking on how to manage that. It's also my impression, and I think there's documentation of this, that range condition on most public lands is either improving or is quite good. Do you get that sense from ranchers that you work with?

>> I do. I think that our producers are incredibly proud of the work that they do. And I think that that shows in range conditions are around the west. This goes back to that the misinformation discussion we were having earlier, you know, the environmental community, and not all of it, but some of the usual suspects. The Western Watershed Project, Center for Biological Diversity, hammer on this idea of a range conditions over, and over, and over again. And they're really focusing more on BLM's information shortcomings in their system more than they are the reality of conditions on the ground. And the reality of those conditions on the ground are a far better story. And you know our producers are unqualified experts by and large in managing those range conditions. I mean you know as well as I do, you go to a producer meeting and you're going to talk to a roomful of people who are not just experts in the Endangered Species Act, and you know in other regulatory issues, but obviously, the nuts and bolts of their business. And they've all figured out that the better their range conditions are, the better their end product is going to be. It's good for their business to make sure that those conditions are as fertile and productive as possible. And in the fact that that concept is so hard for some people outside of our industry to digest sometimes never ceases to amaze me. You know this idea that we're all just out there laying waste to the public lands and grazing into the bone and you know letting erosion take over, and invasive species is insane for anyone running a business. I mean, that's just not how anybody would approach that. And then certainly I think that as we understood technology more and more researcher has come out. We've seen producers grab onto those emerging concepts and really run with them. With an eye towards the fact that what works really well on my ranch might be a disaster on yours. And so I think we've always got to be cognizant of the idea that where we really make progress here is at the ground level. And that can be different on one side of a mountain than it is on the other. And that's an important concept to keep in mind as well. You know you embrace all of these new technologies, embrace all of this new thinking, but make sure you do it in a way that applies to your operation specifically. And then it's our job to educate policymakers, nationally, that that we need the flexibility to make sure that you can apply what works where you are. And I can apply what works where I am.

>> To collect golden eggs, you've got to keep the golden goose happy. I made that up. You know a lot of ranchers have said to me, you should have seen what this looked like 15 years ago. I mentioned this in the session with Jeff Herrick, a couple weeks ago. What they almost always mean by that is, it looks better than it did 15 years ago. And sometimes they've got some photographs or something to back that up and oftentimes they don't. I can think of several different scenarios that would lead someone to consider some kind of rangeland monitoring. And I want to talk about that on both private and public land. You know, one scenario is that a guy takes over some rangeland or forest that has had hard use for some time. And he's managing differently than the last guy. And he wants to know is it improving. You know another scenario is that somebody's got a piece of range ground that they feel like is in good shape. You know, species composition is going to ebb and flow a little bit in response to environmental variables. But in general it's healthy and probably isn't going to change a lot. And maybe they want monitoring that provides some kind of an early warning system of a problem if a problem pops up, you know kind of a general surveillance rangeland monitoring. I've also seen a number of situations where somebody has you know what is objectively pretty healthy public land. But they've got some political pressure against public lands grazing. They want to know, you know, should I be doing something separate from what the agency may, or may not be doing to protect themselves. To show that their grazing management is maintaining healthy rangeland. And I think one of the challenges that on most public land, you know a permittee, or a lessee believes, not without some basis, that the agency should be conducting some monitoring. Sort of kind of jump ahead here. To what extent do you think ranchers should be pursuing some form of rangeland monitoring on their own, particularly on public lands.

>> Well you know, I personally believe that your best defensive weapon is monitoring. I mean and so for me, looking at the situation and trusting the agency to do that monitoring for me, is a bet I wouldn't be willing to make. And you know, I understand. I say that with an understanding that there's a lot of fear of what happens with that data and why on earth would I give these guys anything more than you know than I have to. and you know that contentious kind of old thinking about monitoring. But the reality is the groups that want to see our industry put out of business are robustly involved in the monitoring world at this point. They are on the ground and ranchers who know the sight of those Western watersheds, you know, range monitoring folks by their Subaru parked, you know at the edge of their gate know exactly what I'm talking about. So, you know the best defense to that is to build your own record. And to have that detail available so that you can have that conversation and say you know; BLM uses their AIM system based on random plots. And you know the conversation we always have with the folks who devised AIM is well you know you throw the plots up in the air, and they land wherever they land on the ranch and you're going to get a cross section, even if one land is in the middle of a stock tank, and the other lands on top of a tree. You know, we're going to get a result that's useful when you average them all out. Well, how do we ensure against that now working properly. The only way we do that is for the permittee to be out there on the ground building their own record. So that if it doesn't play out the way it should, or if what's derived from that BLM monitoring or Forest Service monitoring doesn't line up with your own perceptions as a producer of the range condition. You can go to the tapes, right. You can go to your documentation of those conditions and say absolutely disagree with you. Here are the pictures from these same spots you know, every however often over the course of the year. And better yet, here's the progress over the last five years. And here's what we've done with invasive in this pasture and here's how we've managed this. And here's pre-fire conditions. You know, I mean we spend so much time talking about post-fire recovery and we all too often don't have enough detail on the front end to make the argument that we know needs to be made. That you know this wasn't grazed enough. There was too much residual dry matter out on this allotment. There was too much grass left. There were too many stands of cheat grass. You know, we didn't do enough fire breaks. Whatever the case may be. But what we always lack is extensive documentation. And I sure, in running my business wouldn't trust anybody else to do that for me without me having a really involved hand in that. So, I think that's a challenge that we've really got to start confronting in the industry is making that a safe place for producers to engage. For their own for defense. Because you know, these challenges aren't going away. They're getting more sophisticated. And we need to get more sophisticated along with them.

>> It seems like at least on large private lands and even some public lands in the northwest that you have a shift toward awarding grazing leases based on a lessee's ability to manage toward non-forage production goals. You know, the agency may have wildlife habitat goals, or this could be sage grouse, it could be you know, game species, it could be a number of things. But they're selecting a lessee or permittee based on their maybe demonstrated ability in other places to manage toward you know, these ecosystem services goals. Have you seen that in other places? And what are some ways that ranchers could demonstrate that?

>> Well, I mean you're talking about non-federal leases? You know I think that that's obviously going to vary based on where those decisions are being made. If a particular desired condition is being sought by a state agency on their state trust lands, in order to balance the equation for sage grouse say. Or whatever the case may be. More and more we're hearing about wildlife migration corridors. And you know when we start talking about how on earth, we're going to tackle migration corridor conditions across 150 miles you know spanning multiple states, and multiple jurisdictions. That becomes more and more important. Because you know, you might have those chokepoints as they've started to be known at some point on private land, or in some mixed environment. Where you might see the states start to come in and say hey, we really have need in this area to you know facilitate movement of mule deer. And so, we want to make sure that whatever permittee gets this permit if it's in the kind of environment where there isn't a preference right in place, or some kind of a controlling interest in that grazing permit. Which obviously you know is important for us to respect regardless of goals beyond those extraordinary conditions. You know I think that probably is something we're going to see more and more of because it kind of comes along with the idea that grazing is such an important part of achieving those goals. Rather than being looked at as an impact. It's being looked at as a very necessary tool. So, wherever there's not a property interest there to protect on behalf of a generational family ranch. That's sort of low hanging fruit for those state agencies and private landowners. Particularly if we look at some of these conservation trusts and things like that that are trying to meet some of those objectives. You know, obviously that's their land. They can make those choices if they want to. But I would expect to see that pickup particularly going back to that mitigation credit conversation. Where there are opportunities to kind of consolidated manage for a specific, you know, kind of credit farming for lack of a better description on a particular piece of private land. I could definitely see that are picking up steam over the next couple years.

>> You talked about averages and random sampling. And the statistical validity of monitoring has been one of the concerns, you know one of the barriers to I think people getting it done. Charlie Orchard who built the land EKG monitoring system based on the indicators of rangeland health that are in the ecological site descriptions, illustrates the fallacy of averaging by talking about a guy who is sitting at a white man's campfire in the winter. A white man's campfires is one that's too big. His boots on fire, and his butt is frozen, but on average he's just right. You know, but the idea is that, one of these barriers is that you have to have a large sample size, just to have results that mean something. And that often involves following a rigorous sampling protocol that takes a lot of time to set up, may require specialized technical training, and even then, what you get out of it may not be acknowledged as validated by agencies. In the last session Jeff Herrick with the Horizontal Experiment Station and New Mexico State University, said that this relatively new land potential knowledge system that they have developed might be the holy grail of rangeland monitoring. Because it incorporates some of that randomness into kind of a non-technical sampling protocol. What is your experience with the development of land PKS, and can you recommend it to ranchers?

>> Well, we've been working with Jeff and his team, we had him present when PKS at our 50th anniversary PLC meeting in Park City last year. And Jeff and I talk about this pretty regularly. You know we have been actively monitoring, for lack of a better term, I guess these different app base solutions as they as they progress. Because we're looking for those opportunities to lower the barrier for entry for producers. And it you know comes back to talking to one of our bigger permittees and them telling us that monitoring right now is six full days of their operational year. That's just not achievable for every permittee, or every private landowner for that matter. But it is important that we get to a place where they can start building that record. And if we can utilize technology. And you know it's funny we always tell producers, hey, you've got a smartphone in your pocket, document take pictures, record this stuff so that the obviously logical evolution of that is, into an app like Land PKS that can do that in a way that is really going to generate usable data and contribute to the conversation in a positive way. And I mean, back to this idea that this data is being generated whether we're involved or not. You know, the NRCS and Montana State rolled out the wrap system last year. That's that satellite-based monitoring system that's open to the public and is really amazing technology. But I think everyone that's looked at it or been involved with it understands that boy it's going to really require a lot of ground truthing to make that usable data. And so something like Land PKS can really aid in building that three-dimensional record of what we're actually seeing on the ground. And it can take some of the randomness out of that monitoring in its current form. So I mean we're very interested Land PKS. You know we're hoping to get a further demonstration of it here in the remainder of this year and you know it's definitely something that's on our radar as far as things that we want to start engaging with our producers in order to get them comfortable with it. Because it's got a usable for them on the ground. And by that, I mean your average permittee that maybe doesn't come to every state Cattlemen's meeting and doesn't come to the NCBA convention in New Orleans. And doesn't come to Washington DC for the legislative conference. We need those folks that maybe if we're really lucky read one trade publication article a month, right. And then maybe listen to their local ag radio update. Or maybe listen to 'The Art of Range' podcast. But that's as all right as they're going. And so, those are the folks that we really need to reach in order to have a broad enough base to really make an impact. So, yeah, we're excited by it and what we keep echoing to Jeff is this has got to be an approachable took for those produced on the ground.

>> Yeah, the people you can't see from the road. Yeah, I tried out Land PKS last week on some sites that I'm familiar with and have some data on. And I was pretty impressed at the usability and the quality of the data. To kind of wrap up here, what else can ranchers do to be responsible permittees and by responsible I mostly mean you know trying to be pursuing social sustainability. Because public lands ranching depends on us telling our story well. Any take home messages on what one thing you want listeners to remember or do?

>> Well, so never give me an opportunity like that Tip, because I've got more than one. You know, I first of all, I do believe really strongly in telling our story, but we need to get better at telling it to other people. We're really good at telling each other our story. And I think that gets us into trouble sometimes because it creates an echo chamber. And we need to get better at telling our story to folks who have no idea how this industry makes money, or the good that we do. You know and I think that's something that the livestock associations can really help with as we get better at finding ways to reach out. But you know, don't be afraid to engage with your neighbors or you know folks that encounter your ranch you know from a recreational perspective. And that sort of leads me to my second point. You know, the environment, particularly in the west is changing rapidly. And we see this in some of the outdated regulations that impact grazing. When a lot of those things were written 40 years ago, we didn't have the recreational footprint that we have today. There's been an explosion of public access and public use in the west. So our permittees promote from a social perspective, unfortunately, have a more complex workload now. Because you know you do have a huge number of suburban folks that are buying, you know, four wheelers in four packs for their family to go out to public land on the weekend. They're camping and their hunting, and they're hauling half million dollar motorhomes out. And they're camping on your stock tank for a month at a time. And you know we're having those conversations with Forest Service and BLM and with some of the recreation groups to find ways to manage that. But you know, ranchers have got to show up for that conversation. And we have to start you know, reaffirming the idea that look, we understand that we're operating in a multiple use environment. We've always understood that. But we also need to make sure that everybody is being held to a similar standard. For years ranchers have been the only ones subject to a measuring stick. And those other multiple uses by and large come and go at their leisure. They're not necessarily paying fees to be there and what they're the public, they pay taxes, it's public land. That's valid but we have really got a start engaging in that recreation conversation. We're certainly taking that are nationally, because I truly believe that is going to become the dominant conversation in our industry in the next few years in the west is how we interact in that changing environment. And how we make sure that those folks that come crashing through our gates on the weekends, understand that they're entering a live agricultural environment, they're entering a managed environment, and they're entering an environment that has a lot of different work going on behind the scenes that you can't necessarily see from the surface. It's not row crop, right it's agriculture, just the same. But with a thousand more moving parts because of the sensitive species that we're facilitating habitat for. Because of the water sources that we're protected. Because of the you know the different forged values that we're managing for. It is a highly complex environment. It's not just open abandoned land that you can go do whatever you want on. So that's really something I guess I would ask ranchers to start thinking more about. You know be pissed. I mean for lack of a better description and rightfully so, that you have people that aren't showing respect for the land that you make your living on. And then you're left holding the bag for it. But let's engage in the conversation. Let's make sure we're documenting that too. Let's make sure our voices are heard. And let's be looking for opportunities to reaffirm our position in that landscape.

>> [Background Music] Very good. Again my guest today is Ethan Lane with the Public Lands Council. Ethan, thank you for your time and I hope you get some time to enjoy the spring weather in Washington, DC today.

>> Thanks, Tip, I appreciate you having me.

>> Thank you for listening to "The Art of Range" podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. Just search for art of range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture [music].

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