The House Committee on Natural Resources on June 12 endorsed the proposed Grazing Improvement Act of 2013, which would double the term of grazing permits to 20 years on more than 250 million acres of federally managed public lands.

Committee members voted 27-15 to send the bill — HR 657 — to the full House for consideration. The bill was introduced in February by Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) as companion legislation to S. 258 in the Senate, also introduced in February by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

The Grazing Improvement Act seeks to amend the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 “to improve the management of grazing leases and permits” and to “reduce the burdens of National Environmental Policy Act review of expired permits” on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

The BLM administers about 245 million acres of public lands with livestock grazing authorized on 157 million acres, while ranching is permitted on about 97 million of the 193 million acres managed by the Forest Service.

The bill also proposes to allow grazing to continue under existing terms and conditions on more than 8,000 permits administered by the Forest Service and nearly 18,000 grazing permits managed by BLM, while a “NEPA backlog” of 4,200 pending grazing permits is addressed.

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.”

Van Liew says ranchers can no longer afford the regulatory and litigious environment created by “excessive application of NEPA.” “If we lose ranchers,” he said, “we lose the stewards of the land, job providers in the West and a crucial part of American livestock production.”

The bill is opposed by a wide range of environmental and conservation groups, who have derisively dubbed the bill the “Grazing Entrenchment Act,” and say it does little to improve the habitat of federally leased grazing lands.

In addition to extending permits from 10 to 20 years, the Sierra Club says the bill “would further entrench domestic livestock grazing on federal public lands to the detriment of fish, wildlife, watersheds and other public values.”

According to the Sierra Club, the BLM grazing program is subsidized by taxpayers by nearly $50 million a year while the Center for Biological Diversity estimates the costs to U.S. taxpayers for public lands grazing on all federal lands is roughly $500 million annually.

Brian Ertz of the Western Watersheds Project writes in a March Wilderness News column that extending permits from 10 to 20 years is merely a ploy to avoid confronting growing public opposition to intensive public lands grazing.

“The permit/lease renewal process is one of a few opportunities the public has to weigh in on management in favor of wolves, bighorns, fish, buffalo, pygmy rabbits, mountain springs and streams, etc. etc. etc. and where federal land managers are legally obliged to listen — and managers should listen: the conditions of public lands on-the-ground are disastrous across the West,” he writes. “Whether you’re a public lands advocate, a wolf supporter, a bighorn sheep enthusiast, an angler or hunter, a Yellowstone buffalo activist, a recreationist or in any way interested in public lands — this bill affects you.”

For more, go to:
House Committee Advances Grazing Improvement Act
Grazing Improvement Act Passes House Natural Resources Committee
BLOG: Crapo, Risch sponsor Grazing Improvement Act
Oppose the Grazing Improvement Act!
Natural Resources Bills in the 113th Congress
Grazing Improvement [Entrenchment] Act Gains Legs, Threatens Hundreds of Millions of Acres of YOUR Public Land
H.R. 657: Grazing Improvement Act