By TIM HEARDEN
The nation's largest cattlemen's group is pushing legislation in Congress that seeks to increase business certainty for ranchers who hold federal grazing permits.
The bill by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, would give the federal government flexibility to keep grazing in place while going through the lengthy environmental process to renew permits.
Currently, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has more than 4,000 grazing renewals on its collective desks and the U.S. Forest Service has about 2,500, said Dustin Van Liew, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's director of federal lands.
The bill would also exempt about 2,000 family transfers of permits that occur each year and allow the crossing of livestock on federal lands to get to designated grazing allotments, Van Liew said.
As such, the bill -- House Resolution 657 -- is this season's priority legislation for the NCBA and the Public Lands Council, of which Van Liew is executive director.
"We're hopeful," Van Liew said. "We will continue to work with the U.S. Senate to advance the bill and to hopefully see the bill on the president's desk before the end of the 113th Congress."
Labrador's bill is similar to NCBA-backed legislation by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., that seeks to expedite the process to reduce hazardous fuel loads on federal lands at the most risk of wildfire through livestock grazing and timber harvesting.
Both bills were reintroduced this year after failing in Congress in the last session. Labrador's legislation passed the House of Representatives last year and now has a companion bill introduced by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
At a House subcommittee hearing on the Labrador bill last week, rancher Brenda Richards of Owyhee County, Idaho, testified the legislation would stop environmental litigation facing ranchers and land-management agencies because of duplicative environmental analyses currently burdening the industry.
"It would codify the language that we hold our collective breath for every year in the appropriations process, language which allows us to continue using our permits under current terms and conditions while the agencies work through the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) backlog," said Richards, the PLC vice president.
She said the bill would reduce backlogs by exempting certain qualified permits, transfers and livestock-crossings from NEPA review.
"We cannot afford to lose access to forage because of paperwork backlogs and litigation, but that's exactly what's happening," she told the subcommittee. "I encourage you to support this bill as one that will stimulate rural economies and job growth, save taxpayer dollars and ensure that the natural resources of the West continue under the careful stewardship of generations of ranching families such as mine."
National Cattlemen's Beef Association: http://www.beefusa.org/
Public Lands Council: http://publiclandscouncil.org/