AGRICULTURE

Cattlemen’s capitol concerns: House passes Grazing Improvement Act

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Farm Forum

The Grazing Improvement Act was passed by the US House of Representatives with a vote of 220 to 194 earlier recently as part of a larger package, the Public Access and Land Improvement Act, H.R. 2954. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) should be commended for leading the effort on behalf of the livestock industry in the west for moving this important legislation through the House. The bill would improve the livestock grazing permitting process on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

PLC and NCBA have long supported the Grazing Improvement Act as the uncertainty surrounding grazing permit renewals is threatening the ability of federal lands ranchers to keep their businesses operating. This legislation will contribute greatly to providing a stable business environment to federal lands ranchers, who face ever-increasing uncertainty as to the future of our livestock grazing permits. First and foremost the legislation codifies the grazing rider, appropriations language which allows grazing to continue while the federal land management agencies work through environmental analysis. Further, by increasing the term of grazing permits from 10 to 20 years, ranchers will have certainty that their operations will remain in business and give ample time for the federal agencies to process any required analysis.

The legislation will also provide security for livestock producers that operate on public lands while the BLM and USFS work through the backlog of permits renewals and environmental analysis, often caused by extremist environmental groups who frequently file lawsuits on minor paperwork issues in an attempt to put ranchers out of business.

Included in the bill are important provisions such as the exemption of several common practices from the NEPA review including the crossing and trailing of livestock on public lands which is a longstanding necessity in the livestock industry that has recently been threatened with a new layer of red tape. Also excluded are range improvements on public lands and the transfer preference rights from one permit-holder to another.

The house language provides for categorical exclusion of grazing permits from full NEPA analysis if those permits are to continue under current management with the same terms and conditions and limits who may appeal grazing decisions.

The bill was strengthened further from two amendments passed during consideration by the House and supported by PLC and NCBA. The first, offered by Rep. Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Labrador, added language which would allow the Secretary to consolidate environmental reviews, while clarifying the definition of current grazing management, and ensuring a timely response for temporary trailing and crossing applications. The second amendment, offered by Rep. Labrador, requires the non-prevailing, not directly-affected party in a challenge to the Secretary’s final grazing decision to pay the directly-affected prevailing party incurred fees and expenses and clarifies the definition of a directly-affected party. This added language will go a long way in reducing the endless stream of lawsuits aimed at removing livestock from federal lands.

Looking ahead, we are urging the Senate to take up this bill without delay. While their version is similar to the House in many important underlying provisions, we are working members in both chambers to ensure that any final bill does not include language allowing for retirement of grazing (as was added to the Senate version during Committee action in November) or any other provision that negatively impacts ranchers.

Ranchers are the original stewards of the land. Their continued success holds great implications for the open spaces and rural economies of the West. Communities that depend on the continued presence of federal lands ranchers are already experiencing the hardships that accompany the loss of grazing permits. Ranching is a way of life and this legislation is of great importance America’s agricultural economy.