Natural resource issues Lane, Heck discuss challenges around natural resources, D.C.
Casper – Public Lands Council (PLC) Executive Director Ethan Lane and National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Government Affairs Associate Chris Heck likened Washington, D.C. to a three-ring circus.
“Think back to when we were kids at a circus – the old circus before the animal rights people ruined them,” Lane said.
A traditional circus isn’t complete without a man-eating lion and a lion tamer with a chair and whip, a group of clowns packing them into small cars and an elephant wrangled by peanuts and bullwhips, he said.
“This is Washington, D.C. right now,” Lane commented.
Despite the chaos in D.C., Lane and Heck both emphasized that appropriations is the priority issue.
“Every year, the government has to be funded,” Lane said. “This is must-pass legislation, and it’s a great opportunity to make changes.”
Thus far in 2017, the House of Representatives has passed all of its appropriations bills, while the Senate has passed none of theirs.
“There are 12 legislative days left in this year, and a lot fewer days until Dec. 8 to fund the government before it shuts down,” he added. “The work rests on the Senate side of Congress.”
With the tight deadlines, Lane predicted that the bills will likely not go through the subcommittee mark-up process. It is also likely that the Dec. 8 deadline will be extended until next spring.
“When they get to the floor, there will not be much time for amendments,” Lane said. “We’re not as worried about adding in new pieces because we got our priorities in early. We are worried about preserving those pieces.”
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill include language delisting the grey wolf.
“This is good news and major progress on an issue we’ve been pushing really hard on,” he explained.
The House version of the bill also includes language related to wild horses that will give the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) more flexibility to transfer wild horses and euthanize horses on the advice of a veterinarian. This language is critical for the agency to manage the horses according to the act.
“We also continue to work to against any funding cuts to watershed programs, conservation programs and mandatory farm bill conservation programs receive no CHIMPs,” Heck said, explaining that CHIMPs are changes in mandatory programs that allow appropriators to make spending reductions to mandatory programs. “CHIMPs are often used to make additional funding cuts to conservation beyond what the farm bill intended. For conservation efforts to be effective, their programs need to be adequately funded.”
Another piece of legislation that is important for both houses of Congress and the White House is the tax bill.
As of Nov. 30, the House has a bill that has worked its way through the process, but the Senate has yet to pass a measure.
Provisions regarding the estate tax, deductions, caps on interest for ag operations and more are all part of the bill, and Heck said, “Everything changes every day and every minute. The final bill will be dramatically different from what we see today.”
“This bill will add about $10 trillion to the debt,” Lane added. “There are a lot of open gates with not much time left to close them.”
Lane and Heck echoed Gov. Matt Mead in their enthusiasm for modernizing the Endangered Species Act (ESA)
“We’ve taken a lot of interest in modernizing the ESA, and we are working closely with members on The Hill to craft modernized legislation that would resemble recommendations,” Lane said, noting that sage grouse, wolves and grizzly bears are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to endangered species.
“As we look at the rest of the country, we’ve got northern long-eared bats, voles and gnats,” he continued. “Most terrifyingly, the Monarch butterfly has been proposed for listing. Anyone who wants to keep themselves up at night should look at the range of the butterfly.”
Related to sage grouse, Lane noted PLC is encouraged by the process that has begun to unfold.
“Ranchers have been helpful in providing feedback and commenting on the things that are unfolding with sage grouse,” Lane said. “We are also encouraged by the Forest Service’s delayed implementation of their sage grouse plans. Forest Service backed off and recognized that they have to go through a similar process in BLM with revisions to make sure their plans are effective.”
“BLM’s plan revision is due Dec. 1, and Forest Service is due the first week of January,” Heck added.
Despite process, Lane said that implementation will be key. Both PLC and NACD will continue to work with Department of the Interior and USDA staff as they move forward.
Another rangeland issue across the West is wild horses, and Heck serves as the chair of the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition.
“The coalition has been very active,” Heck said, meeting with House and Senate Appropriations staff to discuss the Stewart Amendment, which allows BLM and Forest Service to utilize all potential tools in wild horse management. “The language brings management of wild horses back to the Wild Horse and Burro Act and bring all the tools back to BLM and Forest Service.”
The amendment does not allow slaughter of horses, but it does allow a veterinarian to authorize euthanasia for horses.
“We’re proud to see the wild horse and burro advisory board this past October recommended that, three years from now, BLM should not have a single, long-term holding facility,” Heck explained. “That means the focus of wild horse and burro management would once again be on-range management. Currently, over 60 percent of the program’s budget is spent on off-range holding, while range conditions continue to degrade and populations continue to outpace management efforts.”
With so many issues facing ranchers in the West, Lane and Heck encouraged ranchers to get involved and actively participate to ensure that their interests are protected.
“We are looking to continue to improve our grassroots outreach and increase our advocacy efforts,” Heck said, noting that NACD utilizes e-mail and print publications, known as e-Resource and Forestry Notes, to inform their membership on issues.
“On the PLC side, we have the Daily Roundup that provides information to our members,” Lane said. “We also have the Weekend Roundup which is geared for just producers. It includes some of the viewpoints of our opposition for ranchers to think about.”
He concluded, “We’re appreciative for active participation from our members. People who don’t participate can’t benefit from being engaged. Those of us that are involved need to share our passion with our neighbors and get the word out.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.