Ranchers trying to derail a congressional effort to raise grazing fees have closed roughly 4 million acres of private land in the West to some hunters from Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Georgia.
The access ban undertaken by the Wyoming Public Lands Council is targeted at hunters and other outdoorsmen living in congressional districts belonging to U.S. Reps. Mike Synar, D-Okla.; George Darden, D-Ga.; and Chester Atkins, D-Mass.The three Democrats are sponsoring legislation that would drastically boost fees charged ranchers for grazing their livestock on federal lands. The fees currently run $1.97 per animal unit month, but they would jump to $8.70 by 1994 under the congressmen's proposal.
An animal unit is considered a cow and calf combination, a bull, steer, heifer, horse, burro or mule, or five sheep or goats.
The proposed increase in grazing fees would "devastate not only the many ranches dependent on public land grazing (during) part of the year, but also the small rural communities where ranchers live and do business," according to the lands council.
Carolyn Paseneaux, secretary-treasurer of the lands council, said ranchers in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nebraska are participating in the access ban.
People from the targeted congressional districts can gain access by writing their congressman and urging support of public land grazing under the current fee structure.
Paseneaux said evidence of such letters will be necessary before access will be granted.
For those who show up in the four states without having written their congressman, "there will be pen and pencil, envelope and stamp available at those ranchers that have closed their lands," she said.
Steve Adams, president of the lands council, said a feeling by ranchers that their rights are being trampled prompted them to institute the ban.
"We will no longer sit still and allow our livelihood to be taken from us," he said. "Humans have a survival instinct just as do animals, and we intend to protect our way of life here in Wyoming."
The lands council has obtained a list of hunters who have drawn non-resident hunting licenses from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and plans to contact them about the access restrictions, Paseneaux said.
Already information about the ban has been spread by a radio station in Georgia operated by the Southern Baptist Church, she said.
"They're not happy because those people do come and hunt down in the Baggs area (of southern Wyoming)," Paseneaux said.