Congress revives Beef Caucus meetings

Jul 30, 2010

Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson expects the recently revived U.S. House Beef Caucus to meet soon in Washington after a lapse into dormancy. Elevating awareness of issues that impact the beef, cattle and ranching industry will top the 25-member caucus’ agenda.

"This is a vitally important [to the] industry, not only to the West, but the country. It’s important to our food supply," Simpson told Western Livestock Journal. "We decided it was important to re-institute the caucus and re-educate members about issues that affect the beef industry."

A member of the Congressional Caucus on Beef, Simpson also co-chairs the House potato and sugar caucuses. "Right now, the beef industry is under stress like any other ag groups," the Idaho Republican said.

The Idaho Cattle Association (ICA) reports the state’s beef industry generated $1.2 billion in cash receipts in 2008—or between 15 percent and 20 percent of the entire state’s cash receipts. In 2009, the approximate cattle value in Idaho was $2.3 billion. In 2007, the approximate number of cattle was 2,236,147, and the number of cattle farms was 10,621.

Challenges that will be addressed by the nonpartisan House Beef Caucus include economic viability, grazing issues, international trade, environmental concerns, animal health, wolf depredation and food safety.

"They all affect the success of the cattle industry," Simpson said. International trade is down across many sectors, and proposed languishing trade agreements need to be enacted, he said, noting foreign markets must be pried open.

"Economic viability is important because of all the other issues affecting input costs," he said, praising Idaho’s wolf management plan that allows for hunts. The state’s first wolf hunting season proved how foxy wolves that prey on livestock can be in eluding hunters,¬†Simpson noted.

The public also needs reassurance about issues surrounding animal health and the food supply chain. "They must be aware that the American food supply is safe and have confidence," he said.

Simpson is the ranking Republican member on the House Interior and Environment Subcommittee that funds Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other land management agencies. He has been discussing BLM and U.S. Forest Service grazing matters with the House Interior Appropriations Committee chairman.

Cattle and sheep grazing on public lands is an effective management tool that helps maintain environmental integrity of the lands, reduce invasive species and minimize fire hazards, Simpson said, noting ranchers and farmers are engaged in land conservation programs.

On July 22, Simpson successfully defended grazing on public lands in the West during a subcommittee markup on the Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal 2011. He offered an amendment to strike language from the bill that would have created a voluntary grazing buyout. It was accepted by a 13-1 vote.

"In the West, we know that if you don’t graze on public lands, you don’t graze at all," Simpson said. "Creating a federal buyout program is a dangerous step toward ending grazing on public lands, which would have a devastating impact on local economies throughout the West and would have unintended consequences on the environment. Now is not the time to ignite another War on the West."

Simpson’s amendment also inserted language to allow BLM to continue working through a growing backlog of grazing permits that need to be reprocessed. Similar language has been included in the Interior Appropriations bill since 1998. BLM requested that it be added again because of the positive impact it has had in allowing it to focus on environmentally sensitive areas without unnecessarily disrupting ranching in the West.

Simpson said grazing policies now result in unmanageable backlogs that negatively impact ranchers and prevent agencies from devoting time and resources enacting good land management policies.

A comprehensive solution is needed, he said, adding he will work with Interior and the Forest Service "to develop a thoughtful, responsible and long-term strategy that protects grazing interests while better monitoring range conditions and preserving ecologically sensitive range lands."

Added language also would require Interior to report on fees paid out under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which have not been tracked since the mid-1990s. At its recent annual convention and trade show, ICA addressed whether environmental groups were exploiting the act to get federal subsidies of their lawsuits against ranchers grazing on public lands.

The Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal 2011 will now be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee.

Other members of the U.S. House Beef Caucus are Marsha Blackburn, R-TN; Leonard Boswell, D-IA; Dennis Cardoza, D-CA; Tom Cole, R-OK; Michael Conaway, R-TX; Bob Filner, D-CA; Jeff Fortenberry, R-NE; Bob Goodlatte, R-VA; Sam Graves, R-MO; Lynn Jenkins, R-KS; Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-MO; Ben Ray Lujan, D-NM; Betsy Markey, D-CO; Michael McCaul, R-TX; Walt Minnick, D-ID; Jerry McNerney, D-CA; Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV; Pete Olson, R-TX; Earl Pomeroy, D-ND; George Radonovich, R-CA; Dennis Rehberg, R-MT; Tom Rooney, R-FL; Lee Terry, R-N; and Lynn Westmoreland, R-GA. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent