Grazing Improvement Act strongly supported
—Bill will provide agency efficiencies and stability to federal lands grazing permit process.
Ag producers continue to face a barrage of environmental legal challenges, but were relieved early this month when several senators reintroduced legislation that provides greater certainty and stability to the livestock grazing community.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, along with cosponsors Sens. Mike Crapo, R-ID, Mike Enzi, R-WY, Orrin Hatch, R-UT, Dean Heller, R-NV, Mike Lee, R-UT, and Jim Risch, R-ID, introduced the bill which seeks to improve the livestock grazing permitting processes on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The bill was debated during the last session of Congress in both the Senate and House of Representatives; it passed the House with bipartisan support as part of the Conservation and Economic Growth Act.
Public Lands Council President Brice Lee, a Colorado rancher, asserted that the uncertainty surrounding grazing permit renewals is threatening ranchers’ ability to stay in business.
“Those of us who utilize grazing on public lands face grave threats to our way of life due to today’s cumbersome and inefficient permit renewal process. It puts us at constant risk of seeing suits filed by radical environmental activists who seek to eliminate grazing on federal lands,” Lee said. “This bill would end some of the instability in the permitting process that plagues the grazing industry in the West.”
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President J.D. Alexander said that the bill simply makes sense, as it proposes to codify language that has been included in federal appropriations bills for over a decade. That appropriations language, which has long enjoyed bipartisan support, allows BLM and USFS to renew grazing permits under existing terms and conditions while the backlog of environmental analyses is being addressed.
“Increasing the term of a grazing permit from 10 to 20 years, as is proposed in the bill, will decrease the interval at which grazing allotments come up for environmental analyses,” Alexander said. ”This will decrease the daunting backlog facing the agencies and will make these processes more efficient.”
Alexander added that much of the backlog and uncertainty is due to extremist environmental groups, who frequently file minor lawsuits in their attempt to put ranchers out of business. These lawsuits consume agency resources, according to Alexander.
Lee and Alexander stated that the Grazing Improvement Act is important to ranchers, whose operations are the backbone of many communities that provide jobs and economic stability in much of rural America.
“We hear a lot from Washington about the need to increase job growth and revitalize rural America,” Lee said. “This bill is an opportunity to work in a bipartisan manner to ensure that economic growth and job creation become a reality in rural communities. This is commonsense legislation that we urge all senators to support."
Barrasso said the bill would give ranching communities much needed stability.
“Wyoming’s ranchers are proud and responsible environmental stewards of the land. Yet, many hard working ranching families are routinely attacked by extreme anti-grazing, pro-litigation groups. These endless lawsuits, aimed at eliminating livestock from public lands, overwhelm the permitting process and hurt ranchers by jeopardizing much needed grazing permits. My bill will give our ranching communities the certainty and stability they need by extending permits and preserving grazing rights. It will keep Wyoming’s livestock producers on the land and in business,” said Barrasso.
The act is written to help ranching communities by preserving the use of livestock grazing permits. It allows BLM and USFS to continue issuing grazing permits while required environmental analysis is pending. The act would also extend grazing permit terms from 10 to 20 years before requiring renewal.
Under the current law, livestock grazing permits are valid for 10 years. After 10 years, new environmental analysis is required before a permit can be renewed.
However, agencies cannot complete the required environmental analysis due to the backlog of lawsuits filed by extreme environmentalists intended to delay the permitting process. For over a decade, grazing permit holders and public land management agencies have relied on Congress to temporarily grant continued use of grazing permits every year.
The Grazing Improvement Act fixes this by allowing BLM and USFS to continue issuing grazing permits while an environmental analysis is being completed. It also provides more flexibility with categorical exclusions and other needed reforms to grazing permits.
In May 2011, Barrasso originally introduced the Grazing Improvement Act.
The original bill stalled in 2012 on opposition from the Obama administration, a fact that could continue to impede its progress in 2013. BLM’s Deputy Director Mike Pool said last March that the bill limits public comment and the agency’s ability to protect the range. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor