Opinion: Grazing Improvement Act gives ranchers much needed certainty

Farm Forum

In Wyoming and throughout the West, we understand the important role our ranchers play in providing safe, high quality beef and lamb for America’s dinner table. Ranching operations are the backbone of many of our communities, providing jobs and economic opportunities across much of rural America.

Today, two of the biggest obstacles facing our ranching communities are the rules and regulations coming out of Washington. Our nation’s ranchers should be focused on running their operations-not dealing with Washington red tape. Ranchers continue to face too much uncertainty surrounding their grazing permits. This is a common occurrence in the West, where much of the land is controlled by Washington.

Under current law, grazing permits have a term of 10 years. In order for ranchers to obtain a permit renewal, an environmental analysis must be conducted. Due to the backlog of lawsuits filed by extreme environmentalists, public land agencies are overwhelmed and cannot complete the required analysis on time. This delays the permitting process and hurts ranchers by jeopardizing the renewal of their required grazing permits.

In order to provide certainty to ranchers who use federal lands, I have introduced the Grazing Improvement Act (S. 258), along with my cosponsors Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho). This legislation will help ranching communities by preserving the use of livestock grazing permits. During the last session of Congress, the bill passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. It is time the Senate act on behalf of our ranching communities as well.

For over a decade, permit holders and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service have relied on year to year appropriation language allowing them to use and issue permits and leases once they have expired. The Grazing Improvement Act fixes this by allowing the BLM and Forest Service to continue issuing grazing permits while an environmental analysis is being completed. This gives our farmers and ranchers the stability they need to keep their operations running. It also helps improve the cost-effectiveness of federal land management agencies, which is crucial in this time of limited budgets.

The Grazing Improvement Act provides more certainty to federal lands ranchers is by increasing the term of a grazing permit from 10 to 20 years. The bill allows the Department of Interior Secretary to issue a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) if the decision by the agency is to continue grazing management under the permit. These reforms will allow federal land agency personnel to spend more time in the field. By making the permit process more efficient, we will help decrease the backlog of permits the BLM and Forest Service currently face.

The Grazing Improvement Act extends an important lifeline to ranching families across America, many of whom have been in livestock production for generations. These families simply want to hand down their operations to the next generation of farmers and ranchers. The much needed grazing reforms included in the Grazing Improvement Act will help families achieve that dream by ensuring their way of life can continue. This is one of the many reasons that the legislation has received so much support, including endorsements from the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

I am proud to lead the push in the Senate to advance this important bill. It’s critical that we keep America’s livestock producers on the land and in business.