Bill that would raise brand fee narrowly survives House committee
Updated: Wednesday, April 03, 2013 9:14 AM
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A bill that would raise the ceiling on a brand inspection fee for cow-calf producers narrowly passed a House committee March 4 on a voice vote.
The bill would allow the cattle industry to raise a brand inspection fee that is used to help fund predator control efforts in Idaho by as much as 25 cents a head. The fee is currently 5 cents a head and the money is used to help fund animal damage control efforts by Wildlife Services, a USDA agency that manages conflicts between humans and animals.
If the fee is raised, the increase would only apply to cow-calf producers, while dairy cattle and commercial feedlot cattle would be exempt.
The Idaho Cattle Association, which represents 1.7 million head of cattle, supports the bill. But Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest general farm organization, opposes it.
Federal funding for Idaho Wildlife Services' will be cut $225,000 this next fiscal year and the agency, which has an overall budget of $1.7 million, has had to reduce staff and other resources as a result, ICA lobbyist Stan Boyd told lawmakers.
While agency funding is declining, wolf damage is increasing, he said. None of Wildlife Services' budget went to control wolves in 1995, the year they were introduced in Idaho, but 40 percent of the agency's budget is used responding to wolf depredation calls today, he said.
Depredation has always been a problem for livestock in Idaho, he said, "but we've never seen anything like what's happened here since 1995 with the advent of wolves in the state of Idaho. It has drained resources. That's the bottom line."
Producers don't like the idea of paying more for animal damage control efforts and are in a standoff on the issue with the federal government, he added. But in the meantime, "The wolf population is growing and the damage is increasing."
IFBF range and livestock specialist Wally Butler told lawmakers that while Farm Bureau members support ICA's efforts to find a solution, they disagree with the bill.
Farm Bureau members in December adopted a policy opposing increasing the maximum amount of the fee.
"Not all of industry has supported this," Butler said. "Within the cattle industry itself, there is a split" he added in reference to the exemption for dairies and feedlots.
Members of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee expressed serious concerns about asking producers to pay for a problem handed to them by the federal government.
"I don't believe ranchers should have to pay for the damage that was inflicted upon them. I think that's a dangerous path to start down," said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.
But Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, said lawmakers shouldn't second-guess the industry's efforts to defend itself. A majority of ICA producers voted to support the bill "and I think we need to honor that," she said.