BURLEY, Idaho — While the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench into the workings of Congress and federal agencies this year, there’s been a good deal of progress on issues affecting cattle producers.
The big win was EPA’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule that went into effect on Monday, Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association natural resources, said during the Idaho Cattle Association summer meeting on Monday.
The rule replaces the contentious 2015 Waters of the United States rule, known as WOTUS, providing clarity on which waters are regulated and maintaining important exemptions for agriculture.
On Friday, a federal judge for the Northern District of California denied a motion for a national preliminary injunction. A federal judge in Colorado, however, stayed implementation there.
“Now it is the law of the land, except in Colorado,” she said.
In other areas, the White House Council on Environmental Policy earlier this year proposed revisions to the environmental assessment process under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Those assessments affect federal land management and haven’t been substantively amended in 40 years. The revisions seek to make the process timely, efficient and targeted and are now under review at the Office of Management and Budget, she said.
“It’s been very clear this has been one of President Trump’s priorities,” she said.
Progress was also seen at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she said. In early June, the agency released a draft document that would put into statute a 2017 opinion by the Department of Interior Solicitor’s Office that civil and criminal penalties only applied to intentional "take" of birds listed in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
"Take" includes disturbance, harassment, moving or killing, she said.
The agency's action is a step forward. If birds are disturbed or injured during otherwise lawful activity, those penalties would not apply, she said.
“Those penalties were a huge burden and a huge threat to those who operate where migratory birds existed,” she said.
There is also movement at BLM on updating grazing rules. The agency held four scoping meetings in the West earlier this year and took public comment. NCBA and PLC want to see grazing considered a land-management tool to reduce fine fuels that lead to intense wildfires, as well as a tool to cultivate native grasses and reduce invasive species, she said.
The last revisions were in the early 1990s and focused on minimizing the footprint of livestock grazing in the West, she said.
“This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.
There has also been regulatory movement in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In early June, legislation was introduced in the House and Senate to allow emergency haying and grazing on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. In March, EPA announced a temporary policy for enforcement discretion for violations directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department of Transportation also temporarily waived the hours of service rules for livestock haulers, which limit drive times and require electronic logging devices.
In addition to keeping tabs on all of those issues, NCBA and PLC will be working with members of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees.
The highest profile for stakeholders in the West is funding for BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. Herd management areas are overstocked, and it’s hurting the resources. BLM estimates it will need $1 billion for more aggressive gatherings and fertility control, she said.
“It’s one of our biggest financial asks,” she said.