SUN VALLEY, Idaho — National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was concerned when President Biden came out of the gate with an executive order to conserve 30% of U.S. land, water and wildlife by 2030.
The concept probably sounded great and a way to pick the low-hanging fruit, until you get into the details of what counts as conserved and what doesn’t, said Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs.
NCBA wanted to make sure the administration recognized cattle producers’ conservation efforts and was pleased to see many of its recommendations incorporated into the administration’s "America the Beautiful" report on conservation priorities that came out in May.
“We were very aggressive in the process,” he said during the Idaho Cattle Association annual convention on Monday.
In many ways, the initiative is still in its infancy with undefined metrics, he said.
David Rosenkrance, U.S. Forest Service deputy regional forester for Region 4, said he’s still expecting guidance from the Washington Office. But right now USFS is looking at forest lands as conserved.
“We view the rangelands as part of the conservation lands,” he said.
Peter Ditton, acting Bureau of Land Management state director for Idaho, said BLM rangelands are an important component of conserved lands as well.
But the initiative is still in its infancy, and he doesn’t know how acres will be counted, the criteria that will be used or when the counting will happen.
Kim Brackett, a south-central Idaho rancher, said she was initially concerned BLM land wouldn’t be considered conserved and ranchers would have to make changes.
But “I’m not greatly concerned. I don’t see drastic changes coming,” she said.
Ranchers have been monitoring rangeland for years, and she hopes that’s going to count, she said.
Rosenkrance said that data absolutely will matter and encouraged cattle producers to work with the Forest Service and share the data.
Ditton said that data is used for grazing permit renewals. He encouraged ranchers to refine it so if BLM does a data call, ranchers will be ready. Ranchers should also be ready with any agreements they have with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he said.
“It’s going to be an important piece of what we see put into the conservation tally,” he said.
NCBA pushed for inclusiveness in the conservation initiative and to insert cattle producers’ voices in "America the Beautiful" — and the administration listened, Lane said.
Grazing being considered as a conservation use wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, he said.
“Grazing is no longer a dirty word,” he said.
The administration’s recommendations in the report released in May include:
• Incentivizing voluntary conservation efforts and providing new sources of income for American farmers, ranchers and foresters.
• Improving the effectiveness of relevant USDA conservation programs.
• Supporting the voluntary conservation efforts of private landowners.
• Leveraging public-private partnerships and voluntary measures to improve targeted populations of wildlife.
• Creating jobs in rural America that support science-driven stewardship and conservation efforts.
Brackett said that has her excited about what cattle producers can do on private lands with conservation practices.