The Grazing Improvement Act, backed by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, will only harm the wild horses and burros still allowed to exist in the West. The government promises that this will allow time to be spent on environmental studies regarding at-risk species and wild horses… while more cattle will be grazing on more public lands without any oversight. This makes absolutely no sense at all. ~ HfH
By: James McWilliams
When an interest group–let’s say the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association–supports a bill because it will “reduce the paperwork backlog,” you can pretty much guarantee that another group–let’s say American taxpayers–are poised to be fleeced.
The legislation under review is the Grazing Improvement Act of 2013. Sponsored by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill recently left the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote. Its primary intention is to amend the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 in order to extend the renewal term for public land grazing permits and leases from ten to twenty years.
The implications of this extension are substantial.
Ranchers currently graze livestock on 155 million of the 260 million acres administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service. Taxpayers subsidize this activity to the tune of $100 million annually. They do so despite the Center for Biological Diversity’s claim that “livestock grazing wreaks ecological havoc on riparian areas, rivers, deserts, grasslands and forests alike” and the Forest Service’s admission that grazing livestock is a major cause of species endangerment.
What the Grazing Improvement Act seeks to accomplish with term extensions involves more than clearing paper backlogs. Notably, the bill helps ranchers who graze public lands delay or even evade critical environmental assessments.
Under current circumstances, an environmental review authorized by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) must take place before a grazing permit or lease can be renewed. With term extensions, NEPA assessments would become less frequent and, in many cases, end altogether.
A letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee signed by fifteen environmental organizations spells out the problem. “The Grazing Improvement Act,” it explained, “would undermine NEPA by automatically renewing expired grazing permits without agency review, doubling the length of grazing permits and leases from 10 to 20 years and may waive entire categories of grazing use from public planning requirements.”
Cattlemen groups, who sent their own letter to the Committee, have a different explanation. They support the proposal because, they write, it “will provide certainty to livestock producers—ensuring unnecessary regulations and litigation are not allowed to pull the rug out from under the grazing permits they rely on to provide economic vitality to western communities and open space for wildlife while producing food and fiber for the world.”
In a phone conversation, Dustin Van Liew, executive director of the Public Lands Council for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, suggested that the legislation would allow environmental review agencies more time to “focus on areas that need to be analyzed,” noting in particular concerns over endangered species and wild horses.