(NAFB)--The House Natural Resources Committee has voted to advance the Grazing Improvement Act. The legislation seeks to improve the livestock grazing permitting processes on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. With the bipartisan 27 to 15 vote - the measure now goes to the full House for consideration. According to Dustin Van Liew - Public Lands Council Executive Director and Director of Federal Lands for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association - the measure will contribute greatly to providing a stable business environment for federal lands ranchers who face increasing uncertainty as to the future of their livestock grazing permits.
The legislation - introduced by Idaho Representative Raúl Labrador as companion legislation to S. 258 introduced by Wyoming Senator John Barrasso - proposes to increase the term of grazing permits from 10 to 20 years. Among other provisions to reduce the burdens of National Environmental Policy Act review of expired permits - the bill also proposes to codify longstanding appropriations language that would allow grazing to continue under existing terms and conditions while the NEPA backlog is addressed. Van Liew says ranchers can no longer afford the incredible regulatory and litigious environment created by excessive application of NEPA. If we lose ranchers - he says we lose the stewards of the land, job providers in the West and a crucial part of American livestock production.
Two amendments were offered during committee consideration of the bill. The committee passed an amendment offered by Labrador that would exempt range improvements from excessive and unnecessary environmental review and clarify the intent of Congress with regard to who may appeal agency grazing decisions. According to Van Liew - the amendment will prevent radical environmental groups from abusing the current appeals system and further reduce the NEPA burden. The second amendment failed. It would have imposed an arbitrary 74-percent increase of the federal lands grazing fee on ranchers. Van Liew says the current grazing fee is fair, is based on market criteria and accurately reflects the cost of operating on public lands.