NCBA provides legislative updates
After a busy week in the legislature, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) took the time to sit down with NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel Mary Thomas-Hart and Public Lands Council Executive Director Kaitlynn Glover to discuss the introduction of the Pandemic Authority Suitable to Utilize Reserve Easements Act (PASTURE) and the Great American Outdoors Act (GAO).
Both bipartisan and bicameral, the PASTURE Act is likely to be included in the next round of COVID-19 relief bills, according to Thomas-Hart.
“This act provides USDA the necessary authority to open up Conserve Reserve Program (CRP) acreage for emergency hay and grazing,” she explained. “This act was absolutely necessary considering the circumstances. The beef supply chain did a great job managing additional pressures that came with the pandemic but we want to do everything we can to ensure producers have the resources they need.”
She continued, “This includes forage availability. The last thing producers need is a forage shortage down the road. By opening up CRP acreage, we can ensure producers have the forage they need for as long as possible.”
Thomas-Hart noted the house recently passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Solutions (HEROES) Act, which was a broad round of COVID-19 relief. She encouraged producers to get in contact with their legislatures.
“Our farmers have been hit particularly hard by the economic impacts of COVID-19,” said Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN), who introduced the bill. “I’m proud to partner with other representatives on a bipartisan solution to the affordable forage shortage farmers may be facing this year.”
She continued, “By adding pandemics to CRP emergency flexibility, we are modernizing conservation policy to address the complex emergencies facing our farmers and ranchers. I will always support bipartisan, common sense solutions to help our family farmers and livestock producers in their times of need.”
“The introduction of the bipartisan, bicameral PASTURE Act is a welcome step toward providing grazing flexibility to livestock producers during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane.
“As farmers and ranchers are keeping and feeding livestock for longer periods of time, Congress must ensure producers do not face a forage shortage,” Lane continued. “Emergency haying and grazing of CRP acreage is a relied upon practice for livestock and forage management. The PASTURE Act gives USDA the ability to open CRP acreage for emergency haying and grazing during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Great American Outdoors Act
NCBA is less than enthusiastic about the introduction of the GAO Act.
“The bill has a really great name, and that is where the greatness ends,” Glover said. “Ironically, the bill shares an acronym with the Government Accountability Office, which guides the legislature on how to efficiently spend money. This bill is anything but efficient.”
“The first issue with this bill is it addresses the huge backlog of deferred maintenance. With all the agencies involved, there is upwards of $20 billion in deferred maintenance,” she explained. “The bill aims to address $9.5 billion of that backlog over five years.”
Glover explained the second half of the bill addresses the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
“The LWCF is heralded as the single greatest conservation bill in U.S. history,” Glover explained. “This fund has two parts. The first is to build recreational areas in small communities such as baseball fields and rodeo arenas. The second is dedicated solely to land acquisition, which is where our main issue lies.”
She continued, “Forty percent of the funds in LWCF can be used for land acquisition. Previously, these funds had to be annually reevaluated by Congress. This bill would permanently set the fund at $900,000 per year forever, with no oversight.”
“Congress willingly removing itself from oversight is irresponsible,” Glover said. “Oversight is a privilege and a responsibility, and it is extremely irresponsible for Congress to give that up.”
Glover continued, “We send people to Congress to represent us and use our tax dollars efficiently and giving up the responsibility of oversight for LWCF dollars is irresponsible.”
“Passing the GAO Act is like having a house one can’t afford to maintain and then going and buying seven more houses,” Glover noted. “I understand where the supporters of this bill are coming from, the American people love the outdoors. But, we want to make sure the lands already owned by the federal government can be kept healthy. We don’t want any more federal lands at all costs.”
Many other industry groups also oppose the passage of GAO Act.
NCBA, American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), PLC and many other affiliate organizations wrote a letter urging Congress to retain its role in safeguarding public lands by opposing the GAO Act on June 8.
This raises concern among the 48 livestock and natural resource groups who signed the letter, as the groups point out the blatant conflict by pairing the mountain of disrepair of current land under federal control and allowing rampant acquisition without accounting for management of future land acquisitions.
“As introduced, the GAO Act, and every other bill that preceded it that contained similar provisions, is an irresponsible way to fix a very real problem. Currently, land management agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management face staggering backlogs of much-needed maintenance. If passed, the GAO Act sentences hundreds of millions of acres of American land and water to a poorly-managed future,” the groups wrote.
Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.