Keeping good records is essential when doing business with public land agencies. Most ranchers have a file they keep of important documents received from the agency they have permits with, i.e. Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management. Many ranchers might assume that if they are diligently keeping records of their interactions with agencies, then they have what they need to prevent or resolve future disputes.
However, the question you need to ask yourself is, “Is my file the same as the Agency file they keep on me”?
10 out of 10 times, the answer to that question is, “No.” The reason, ranchers are busy people – too busy to keep every record the government may send you and file it in a folder. However, the government has 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to make sure they keep your file up to date.
When I ask ranchers if they need to acquire a copy of their file from the agency, most reply, “I really don’t need to, do I?” The answer to this question is very simple, “How many Letters of Non-Compliance do you have in the agency file?”
Most would say, “I don’t think I have any.”
I will then ask, “Are you sure?”
I posed this question to a rancher in Montana, after he said “I don’t have any.” We helped him file a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA). After getting his file, he found he had one Letter of Non-Compliance. He was shocked. He asked his Forman if he had received this letter. His Forman said he had received the letter and had taken care of the problem right away. He then called the Forest Service to report it was corrected.
I have learned that unless you get confirmation that a Letter of Non-Compliance has been corrected in writing, then you should assume that to the agency managing your file the issue has not been corrected. I asked this rancher if he had an email, letter, or any confirmation from the Forest Service that they had been notified.
He said, “no.”
After reviewing the file and there was nothing in the file indicating the rancher had solved his Non-Compliance. Based on the record, he was still in Non-Compliance.
If anyone gets a Letter of Non-Compliance, it is important to resolve the non-compliance, and even more important to send a letter to the agency stating it was corrected. The bad news with Letters of Non-Compliance, is they stay in your file forever. The agency does not remove them. And more bad news, they accumulate as evidence against you, even if you correct the non-compliance.
The Forest Service informally calls this the 3-strike rule (they deny using this procedure), but if you get 3 of these Letters of Non-Compliance, which can be issued for different non-compliance issues, the agency can suspend or cancel all or part of your grazing permit.
We have encountered enough stories like this, that we believe every rancher doing business with public land agencies must be extremely vigilant in monitoring their file. It is also just as important for someone to review your file to determine if there is anything the agency has in their file that will work against you. Our consultants would be happy to help you get a copy of your file and review it to make sure there is nothing lurking there that could cause problems in the future.