Trailing permits may require NEPA for 2012, President proposes hike in grazing fees
Trailing permit requirements for 2012 and a potential federal grazing lands fee increase have topped recent news from Washington, D.C. regarding public lands and livestock.
Beef and sheep producers who trail livestock to summer pasture may have breathed a sigh of relief at the January news that analysis for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) would not be required for trailing this year, but now the issue is back.
“The BLM has decided at the national level that all offices will have to do NEPA before trailing this year,” says Wyoming State Grazing Board Rangeland Consultant Dick Loper.
Explaining the change, Loper says, “We went to Congress and developed language we thought would solve the problem and sent it to the Hill in late 2011. On the Hill, in deliberations, the language changed – what came out was not what we proposed.”
But, Loper says the Solicitor reassured Idaho Representative Mike Simpson that the revised language would not change anything, so it passed.
“However, several weeks ago the Solicitor told the BLM the language that passed did not give the agency relief from NEPA on trailing permits this year,” states Loper.
Because the BLM has learned of the requirement at the last minute, there has not yet been written guidance for field offices.
“We’ve been in touch with the BLM at the national level, and they’re writing instructions, but there are efforts in Congress this week to get a fix to the fix,” says Loper. “Time is running out; the grazing season starts March 1.”
In the meanwhile, Loper encourages those who trail on BLM to speak with their local BLM range conservationist to become a direct participant in the process of developing trailing permits.
“The BLM will have to come up with an environmental document with alternatives, terms and conditions, so ranchers need to take a proactive role to get a situation they can live with,” notes Loper. “Most BLM offices had put this on the back burner, but now they can’t, unless we get it fixed.”
President proposes fee increase
According to the Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), President Obama’s proposed budget includes an effective increase in the public lands grazing fee assessment, which would force family-owned ranches to shell out more cash to Uncle Sam.
Dustin Van Liew, PLC executive director and NCBA director of federal lands, said in a statement that increasing the grazing fee through an arbitrary tax is unwarranted and is further evidence that the President and his administration are out of touch with production agriculture.
“From the President’s estate tax proposal to his plan to add a tax to increase the grazing fee and make extreme cuts in the BLM and Forest Service range funding, this budget proposal is further proof that this administration does not understand American agriculture,” said Van Liew. “Federal lands ranchers are, and always have been, willing to pay a fair price to graze livestock on public lands. They willingly invest significant amounts of money to manage and improve the range.”
“The current grazing fee is fair. In fact, most public lands ranchers already pay more than market price for their federal permits, considering factors such as added regulatory costs, increased predation, ownership of water rights, maintenance of improvements and the difficulties of managing livestock in rough, arid rangelands,” he continued. “Arbitrarily increasing the grazing fee via a tax will do nothing more than impose unnecessary costs on the ranchers who work every day to produce safe and affordable food and fiber.”
Specifically, the President’s budget calls for the BLM to impose a one-dollar-per-animal-unit-month (AUM) increase above the grazing fee to cover administrative costs.
Van Liew said ranchers should not bear the burden of paying for “bureaucratic administrative costs” that are out of their control. He also noted that the current administration denied petitions to change the grazing fee structure as recently as last year.
The President’s budget outline is just a proposal, and it is ultimately up to Congress to determine final budgetary allocations.
“The President’s lack of understanding for the federal lands grazing industry, as evidenced by his proposed 74-percent tax on federal land ranchers, is extremely disappointing. Effectively increasing the grazing fee during these times of economic uncertainty will unnecessarily increase burdens on livestock producers and hamper their ability to create jobs and generate economic growth in their communities. We are not going to stand by and let that happen,” said Van Liew. “PLC and NCBA will continue working with members of Congress to do what’s in the best interest of ranchers, and thereby our nation’s natural resources, to ensure a sustainable future for our industry and rural America.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.