A Better Way To Play

Grazing Public Lands is a High Stakes Game


By: Tim O’Byrne

Grazing on public land is a serious deal for a lot of our readers, and lately we’ve been introduced to what can happen if the parties involved fail miserably at playing the game within the boundaries of acceptable behavior. If all the wasted productive hours burned up over two decades in the most infamous of public grazing conflagrations in Clark County, Nevada were alfalfa pellets, you could fill the Washington Monument to the very tip of the spire. Clearly, while shedding some valuable light on the earthly shortcomings of all involved parties, that trail led not to green pastures.

One thing I’ve learned over the years (two things, actually). The first is this – if there’s a challenge brewing you must prepare for it strategically (like a chess player, thinking at least four moves out). The second is this – we live on the planet earth, and sometimes no matter how much you prepare, and no matter how much truth your case carries, the scales of Justice may not swing in your favor.

Relinquishing the second lesson to destiny and concentrating on the first shall be the meat and bones of this column.

One day, the powers that be who hold the key to your allotment maydecide they want to downsize your AUMs for a number of reasons; some are legitimate such as extended drought, while others, as we discovered in Hage v. the United States, are quite nefarious in their calculating nature.

So, you’ve got a legitimate beef, and you want to do something about it. Now that most informed Americans know what NOT to do about it, let’s explore an exciting strategy; hire a qualified range specialist to perform an unbiased third-party assessment of your public grazing practices and resources, provide a detailed report, and accompany you to the next meeting with your public lands coordinator. Oh, and pay this specialist what they are worth. Chalk it up to the cost of doing business in a new world, because it is a new world.

In order to bring us up to speed, I’ve consulted with John L. McLain, CRMC, CPESC, Principal Resource & Rangelend Specialist with Resource Concepts Inc. (RCI) in Carson City, Nevada. RCI has experience in providing evaluations of the appropriateness and economic implications of proposed Bureau of Land Management policies. John filled me in on how his company can help ranchers who graze on public lands prepare for a range permit meeting.

WR John, you mentioned it’s getting more difficult for our ranchers to work synergistically with BLM and USFS personnel lately for several reasons. What’s changed in the past 10 years that’s creating that friction?

JM Many of the personnel hired by public land agencies are not always trained in range management when they are assigned responsibility to administer grazing permits. We experience personnel with degrees in wildlife management, conservation biology, forestry and other specialties administering grazing permits, conducting the monitoring, or even determining the rangeland health for a given allotment and outlining what they feel to be issues attributed to grazing practices. Many of these specialists are recent hires and urban-raised, as opposed to past years when a larger representation were raised on ranches or in the rural areas and therefore more familiar with ranching and rangelands. In addition, we don’t see the level of training being provided by the agencies that we once  id. State land grant universities, including Cooperative Extension Service, working with ranchers, consultants, federal and state agencies, once participated in range monitoring and other workshops and tours to help get everyone on the same page and to help remove barriers that oftentimes occur. I feel that this is largely lacking today. Also, the continual movement of agency personnel to new locations is a growing concern. It typically takes a couple of years for a seasoned range conservationist to become familiar with his new surroundings, the permittees, and to identify alternative solutions to perceived problems. If they are constantly being transferred they rarely have the opportunity to determine if what they planned for allotment improvements ever really worked. I don’t consider that growing in your profession.

WR And if there are qualified personnel onboard, what are they spending their valuable time doing?

JM Range Conservationists are often entangled in appeals, protests and/or litigation brought on mostly by antigrazing interests, leaving little time to address allotment monitoring and permitting needs. This plays into the hands of the opposition when it comes to court challenges.

WR Tell us a bit about the T Quarter Circle Ranch and their allotments up in the Winnemucca area. That project appeared to be quite successful. 

JM RCI was approached by the operator out of concern regarding ongoing AUM reductions that were occurring on various other BLM permits in the area. He felt that with a sound monitoring program he would be able to justify his numbers and continue running his permit without threat to his permitted AUMs or the economic viability of his operation. RCI helped the operator establish a comprehensive monitoring program which he was quick to learn, and actively participated in the annual monitoring over about an 8 year period that included:
• learning the key species and utilization cage placement,
• how to determine use levels,
• the importance of recording climate conditions and events such as wildfire, insect infestations, etc.

After several years of monitoring with RCI, the operator effectively was able to carry on the monitoring by himself, but still retained RCI to field spot check his work to assure that he has things properly documented. To date his monitoring program has served to keep his permit whole and protected, knowing that he has quality data that will stand the scrutiny in court if ever required. The data isn’t there solely for protection, but also to guide his management decisions and insure quality rangelands that will deliver peak performance from his cow herd. This then hopefully becomes a win-win for the BLM and the operator.

WR It appears to me that it would be a huge confidence boost for a rancher to walk into a BLM or USFS range permit meeting with fresh data from an independent professional third party such as yourself, and even be accompanied by the consultant who can speak the language.

JM There’s no doubt that the appropriate data, when properly collected and presented, is critical to the rancher’s needs and represents a good offence. However, data also helps to point out where grazing problems may occur. An important point that needs to be made is that reducing AUMs very seldom does anything to address a grazing problem. It should be the last alternative by my experience.

More good is accomplished working together to relieve that area from the grazing pressure by perhaps tweaking the grazing management or suggesting a range improvement such as fencing or water development than by economically stressing a ranch operation through reductions.

WR What is the best advice you could give our readers who rely heavily on public grazing lands that are looking for some guidance?

JM Looking at the long term, I firmly believe that ranchers should be working to develop, with or without consulting assistance, an Allotment Management Plan (AMP) for their respective allotments. The AMP, once agreed to and  signed by the agency and the permittee, becomes, in a sense, a contract with the agency and the roadmap for the next 10 years. If the plan is followed and backed up by good monitoring, I believe that it is almost bullet proof and provides the protection public land ranchers need today. Range Conservationists can come and go, but each replacement will be able to review the plan that the agency has already approved and follow its direction working with the ranch.

WR What about timing? Some readers are up to their boot tops in an existing fracas, some are seeing storm clouds on the horizon.

JM Range specialists like RCI can do the best job if we are there early to assist the permittee, as opposed to when the agency is ready to levy a decision on his permit in a negative way, such as a proposed reduction in AUMs. Anger and frustration seem to prevail at this point.

WR Thanks, John, your insight has been very helpful. You can contact RCI by calling (775) 883-1600 or checking out

Questionable Quotes

By: Tim O’Byrne

Every time we do the Salute to the Feedyard issue, I’m reminded of my own years spent in the hustle and bustle of the pens and feed lanes. And so, it is only fair that I impart unto you some of my musings.


1. “Plugged leg? No problem, man, I’ll be there in a jiffy. Got an extra shovel?”

2. “I hate it when things are boring around here.”

3. “I hope it rains again tomorrow.”

4. “That’s OK, Horse, I didn’t even feel you smush my knee into the gatepost for the third time this morning. I must be getting used to it. Carry on.”

5. “Well, I’d love to keep shootin’ the breeze with you all morning here in the return alley, but I really should get back to riding my bank o’ pens.”

6. “Wow, I totally missed that one. Thanks, Mr. feed truck driver.”

Seriously, #6 happened to me (it probably happened to you, too), and I’m glad the guy caught it at the bunk… later, as I learned to drive feed truck, I found out just how much you can see from up there, especially those sick critters that try to hide from the pencheckers by fakin’ that they’re eating. Teamwork and humility. That’s a successful combination.

Let’s have a little fun. I need you to go back in your archived WR back issues in order to qualify to win this little contest. But first, let me tell you what the prize is. Bear and Son Cutlery, Inc., in Jacksonville, AL, sent me this 100% American-made bone handled pocket knife. This knife is so special it deserves to be shared with a reader. The blade on the 37⁄8”Cowhand™ is 440 high carbon, rust resistant steel. It also features nickel silver bolsters, a one- hand open finger hole on the hollow ground blade, liner lock and pocket clip. It’s one heck of a knife, and it retails at $80 bucks.

Let’s go wayyyy back to the August September 2007 issue of WR. I’ll bet some of you still have one in the bookshelf. Now… look on page 65. What is the name of Chapter 2 of Dr. Bob Blomme’s upcoming retirement book, if he ever gets it wrote?

The first one to call me with the correct answer WINS! Pretty simple. It’s 702-566-1456, leave a message, I might be away from the office. If I don’t call you back, it means somebody beat you to it. If you still want to chat, call me back some day, I like to hear from readers an y chance I get. Keeps me grounded.

My travels took me through a quiet feedyard town in southern Alberta this summer, and I did what I always do no matter where I go… stop in at the local market and check out the beef assortment, packaging, labeling, and price. This was a shocker! A Tbone was marked regular at $53.77 / kg ($24.44 lb. Canadian). That’s $22.38 / lb. U.S.! This ¾ lb. steak costs $17.13 U.S.! And it ain’t even cooked yet. And that wasn’t the only sticker shock I encountered north of the 49th! Canada, you sure have some pricey BBQ’s up there.


Although WR Senior Editor Troy Smith is a remarkable journalist and photographer in his own right, I mistakenly attributed the beautiful photograph on the lead spread of the story Being Bold (June July 2014, p. 81) to his lens, when the credit should have gone to Nick Gerhardt, a friend of the Nielsen family who was featured in the piece. Our apologies, Mr. Gerhardt.

BLM Reasoning (today’s oxymoron)

Chinese officials denied entry to U.S. loads of hay because they detected genetically modified alfalfa in the mix.

Chinese officials denied entry to U.S. loads of hay because they detected genetically modified alfalfa in the mix.

By: Tim O’Byrne

Pssst! Word on the gravel road is… the BLM doesn’t recognize cheatgrass. Yeah. Cheatgrass as a forage does not officially exist to the BLM according to reliable sources. That’s why the formidable bureau refuses to include it in a range analysis as having at least some nutritional value, encouraging grazing and control of the drought-tolerant weed and becoming part of the solution to reducing range-fire fuel instead of being a part of the problem. That’s also why they refused to take part in a recent University of Nevada Cooperative Extension study overseen by educator Steve Foster and range specialist Brad Schultz to test the idea that cheatgrass grazing might actually be a good idea.

The BLM experts need to talk to an old boy like retired IL Ranch manager Jim Andrae, who’s spent more days on the rangelands of Nevada than most of them have had hot meals. In fact, if they don’t want to take precious time out of their day for a face-to-face lesson like that, especially with them being so tied up with litigation and whatnot, they can flip to page 97 of this issue of WR and read about how back in the day the original effective range managers (Jim Andrae and his peers), used controlled burns and early turnout of cattle onto spring-green cheatgrass areas to not only control the fire fuel levels and weed encroachment problems by hammering it hard and early, but also put a few extra pounds on some hearty cows. Oh, but that would be admitting that cheatgrass might actually be a forage after all.


In what can only be described as a scene in a bizarre foreign film, one in which we Americans could not watch without snickering at the irony, China, a country known for having added the toxic substance Melamine to raw milk, wheat gluten and rice protein, has turned away U.S. alfalfa because it discovered some of the plants were genetically modified. Approximately 30% of alfalfa seed in the U.S. is modified to resist Roundup, but hay brokers from California were intent on shipping only non-biotech hay to feed the massive country’s protein hungry dairy cows. How the genmod hay ended up on a slow boat to China is anyone’s guess; it could have been a mix-up in storage, or cross pollination… but last summer Beijing stamped it “Return to Sender”, causing a quick-felt collapse in the international hay shipping business back on our dusty shores.


toppin-2Folks, we sent out a survey awhile back to some select readers, just to get a feel for what’s going on out there with y’all, and we were very happy to have you return so many of them.

The final question on the survey asked if you had any comments or suggestions on future stories for upcoming issues. It ended with a little note from me, stating that, “I’ll read every one” of your suggestions. Well, folks, this here’s the last batch. I’ve read a couple hundred already, and sure want to thank you for your wonderful comments and suggestions. And I promise I’ll get to this last draft once the spring rush is over. We are blessed to have so many loyal readers, busy ranchers like yourselves, take time to help us understand how to bring you the best magazine we possibly can.

Again, WR thanks each and every one of you, and if you didn’t get a survey and want to make a suggestion or comment, we’d love to hear from you. Just mail it to WR Editor, PO Box 91269, Henderson, NV, 89009, or email me at .

Remembering David Stoecklein

by Tim O’Byrne

At times, the WR team will come together in appreciative reflection upon our journey of the past several years. This issue is Volume 10, Number 1; quite a milestone. We often think back to our very first issue which went to press in the fall of 2006. The very first copy to arrive in the WR editorial office hangs on the wall, along with the very first letter we received from a rancher/reader congratulating us on our launch. And more than once, way more than once, somebody on the WR team, including me, will say something like, “You know, nothing beats that first cover”.

That first cover, a gritty shot featuring Texas cowpuncher Bubba Smith and the crew working a branding, was
just a superb example of a ranch action shot. And the fella who took it, David Stoecklein, has been on the WR
masthead since Vol. 1, #1. We were saddened to hear of our friend’s recent passing, but dang glad to have known
him. His images have graced so many of our features and covers I couldn’t begin to count them. His body of work was, and is, every bit as outstanding as it is prolific.

In this issue, in memoriam, Dave’s name remains on the WR masthead. Next issue we will respectfully retire it forever. It was a great ride, Dave. I’m at peace knowing you’re finally able to see what the colors of the rainbow look like from the other side.


This is like the fourth year now that we’ve run the annual national cattle association/group year-end wrap-up (see page 92, this issue). This year’s submissions really got to me. The issues are unbelievably complex and of the gravest importance; Waters of the US, importing beef from a known Foot and Mouth disease area of South America, COOL,
the health of the Beef Checkoff. It didn’t take long to realize just how important it was that the individuals in these groups maintain a steady course in protecting our industry, its people, and the spinoff economies. If it wasn’t for these unwavering individuals, and for the people who support them in their tireless, unselfish efforts, the Herculean, often unrewarding task of keeping the detractors and bullies in line would be doomed to failure. The industry’s collective strength would deteriorate rapidly, and beef production as we know it today would fracture, dissolve
and fail on several broad levels.

Here’s my challenge to you in 2015: Join a beef cattle organization that appeals to you, whether state or national, attend a meeting or convention, and let those leaders know you are behind them 100%. If you find yourself in a position of power, conduct yourself professionally, transparently, and with the pride and dignity worthy of this handshake way of life.

Our industry deserves to have emphatic participation in order to leave the next generation something to be excited about. Go. Join today.


Not known for my over-the-top brilliance, I proved that point once again a few months back. On p. 18 of my
September October 2015 column, I devised a scheme in which to give away a Bear and Son Cutlery knife that they
had given me to test. We like to do that every now and again with items or books submitted to us. My plan was to
take the first caller who could correctly identify some line in a back issue. I waited, the first caller called, they won the
knife, end of story, right? Wrong. Five or so more folks called in the ensuing week. It was then that I realized the folly
of my contest; some folks get the magazine (in the Heartland) before others (the west or Florida). The contest was
unfair from the start. The only thing we could do was to give those other callers a knife, too. This is where things get
warm and fuzzy. Bear and Son sent me enough knives to cover my foible, and that’s what we did – we sent them all
knives. Thanks, Bear and Son! The next contest will be fool-proof.

NCBA Trade Show Fun


By: Tim O’Byrne

Here’s me with Christine (center) and Annie Allen, our ad rep from Montana, at our booth at the NCBA Trade Show in San Antonio, TX in February. Had a great time, and it was so fun to catch up with everybody.

Thanks for stopping by. Oh, the winner of the custom pair of Olathe boots was Julie Dooling who’s from Montana, too, which might make it look like the contest was rigged from the start, bein’s as Annie knew her and everything.

And if you go to our website to watch the draw on You Tube, you’ll notice that the name of the kid we picked off the floor to make the draw didn’t correspond to his actual name tag, in fact, it wasn’t even close. The name tag said Peggy or Betty or something. This is starting to smell fishy… ANNIE!

Something Special

And now, something special from guest columnist Christine O’Byrne, managing editor of Working Ranch Junior: I am normally manning our WR booth during the NCBA Trade show, and I love seeing everyone who stops by, but I always take some time to get around and see some folks who are busy at their own booth.

ncba-2My first stop is usually The Happy Toy Maker because it’s like a visit with Santa. This year when I stopped in to see him, we had our usual howdies and talked for a bit before he began to tell me about a particular fan of his toys. A young boy who was fighting cancer would go to The Happy Toy Maker website and watch the videos featuring the rugged ranch toys while he was getting his treatments.

The Happy Toy Maker got word of this, and sent one of his toys to the boy. Well, at this point in the story, I got a big lump in my throat and I felt my eyes start to well up. Then he goes on to tell me about taking a little side trip to stop and see the boy. I choked through that lump in my throat and said “Oh, I bet he was sure excited to see you! You are like a real live Santa!” I gave him a hug, said “Bless you, thank you.” and went on my way, grateful for people like The Happy Toy Maker.