For much of the last session of Congress, which concluded at the end of 2014, it seemed that inaction and dysfunction were the watchwords. The Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate seemed to be in a Beltway stare down, each blocking the other’s efforts.
However, there was some good news for cattle producers who use grazing permits on federal lands in the West arising from that recently concluded session, says Dustin Van Liew, executive director of the Public Lands Council (PLC). Speaking during a legislative outlook session during the recent Cattle Industry Convention in San Antonio, Van Liew detailed a major win for western ranchers.
That victory came in the form of the Grazing Improvement Act, a piece of legislation that Van Liew says cattle producers have been working to pass for the last four or five years. “We were successful at the end of the 113th Congress in getting the important provisions of that bill included in the National Defense Authorization Act.”
Perhaps the biggest win for western ranchers is that language is now codified in the statutes that federal land management agencies can’t cancel a grazing permit because of a backlog in environmental impact analyses.
“Before, those permits were subject to cancellation if the analysis was not complete,” Van Liew says. “Now, in statute, (federal agencies) are required to renew those grazing permits until such time that they complete the environmental analysis, providing extensive security for grazing on federal lands in the West.”
Other provisions in the bill make it easier for the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to analyze grazing permits on multiple allotments, and make it easier to issue a decision allowing permit holders to continue to manage their permit under similar terms and conditions.
Looking forward to the current 114th Congress, Van Liew says the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is in cattle producers’ crosshairs.
“This act has not been reauthorized in over a quarter of a century,” he says. “We’re calling on Congress to modernize the ESA to fit the 21st century, take away the negative impacts on property rights, and create a situation where there are positive reinforcements for maintaining wildlife habitat and working to continue that habitat and those species into the future.”
Several bills have already been introduced, he says, which will serve to kick-start the discussion in the new session of Congress.
As those discussions continue, Van Liew says the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the PLC will work to make the science that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses to make decisions under the ESA publicly available and transparent.
“Further, we want local and state governments and stakeholders involved in the process so any decisions made in your state are being made with state governments that are closer to the people and the ground,” he says.
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