The Public Lands Council (PLC) and the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) hailed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for its passage of S. 258, the Grazing Improvement Act of 2013.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), comes as a means to codify existing appropriations language - adding stability and efficiency to the federal grazing permit renewal process. The bill passed by the Committee will extend the term for grazing permits from a minimum of 10 to up to 20 years, providing for added permit security. The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have consistently - for more than a decade - carried a backlog of grazing permit renewals due to overwhelming and unnecessary National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) assessments. This bill provides sole discretion to the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to complete the environmental analysis under NEPA while allowing for an analysis to take place at the programmatic level.
"Grazing on federal lands is critical to the longevity of the sheep industry," said Peter Orwick, ASI executive director. "In excess of 46 percent of all sheep production involves federal grazing for some period of the grazing season."
The bill that passed was an amendment in the nature of a substitute which included troubling language, creating a pilot program which would allow for limited "voluntary" buyouts. These "voluntary" buyouts are not actually market based, due to outside influence. Where voluntary relinquishment of a rancher's grazing permit occurs, grazing would be permanently ended. New Mexico and Oregon would be impacted - allowing for up to 25 permits in each state, per year to be "voluntarily" relinquished.
In a letter to Chairman Ron Wyden and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, national and state associations stressed their support for the act that will help protect ranchers' tradition as stewards of public lands. The bill will foster improvements in rural economies, aid the federal government in achieving its management goals and save taxpayer dollars during our country's fiscal challenges.