WY Stock Growers support grazing legislation
Twenty years of uncertainty over the renewal of federal grazing permits moved a step closer to ending on Nov. 21, with passage of the Grazing Improvement Act (S. 258) by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. This marks the first time that the legislation, initially introduced in 2011 by Senator John Barrasso, was allowed to come up for a vote in the Committee.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association testified before the Committee in 2012 urging passage of the 2011 version of the Barrasso bill. WSGA emphasized that, “The public land livestock industry seeks and supports the essential legislative changes incorporated into S. 1129 [the original bill] for one primary reason–they are essential steps in restoring a stable business environment to our industry. Long-term certainty of grazing permits is also at the foundation of the evolving science of rangeland management. Over the past forty years, livestock have become recognized as an important tool for rangeland management on both public and private lands. Reducing the requirement for perfunctory environmental analysis will enable the agencies to be more thorough when analyzing actions that actually impact the resource. It will also help reduce the opportunity for litigation by extreme anti-grazing groups who, by virtue of fee-shifting statutes such as the Equal Access to Justice Act, have made a cottage industry out of process-based litigation, draining agency budgets and reaping taxpayer dollars to the tune of hundreds of thousands, annually.”
An unfavorable Administrative Law decision in the 1993 Combs Wash case has required the BLM and Forest Service to complete an Environmental Analysis or Environmental Impact Statement under NEPA on most renewals or transfers of grazing permits even when the terms and conditions of the permit remained unchanged. Because the federal agencies have been unable to meet this requirement in a timely manner, public land ranchers have been dependent on annual action by Congress through the appropriations process to assure renewal of their permits.
In addition to ensuring timely renewal of permits, the Senate bill provides the opportunity for permits to be renewed for up to 20 years rather than the current 10 years. The bill further provides for the grouping of allotments for environmental review, allows for the categorical exclusion of qualifying permits from NEPA environmental analysis and authorizes the categorical exclusion of trailing or crossing permits.
As is very often the case in the federal legislative process, securing needed support from the majority party comes at a price. The bill, as passed out of committee, contains a provision for a pilot program of voluntary relinquishment of up to 25 grazing permits annually in each of two states—New Mexico and Oregon. This concept of allowing permits to be purchased then permanently retired from grazing continues to be strongly opposed by our industry.
As the Grazing Improvement Act moves forward, the Senate version will have to be reconciled with a similar House bill that does not include the buyout provision. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association will work hard in partnership with the national Public Lands Council and others to assure removal or modification of the buyout provision. Meanwhile, we commend Senator Barrasso and his staff for their dedication to successfully moving the bill forward.
–Wyo. Stockgrowers Assoc.