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Guest Opinion: Public Lands Council Update from Washington

Public Lands Council Update from Washington

By Dustin Van Liew, Public Lands Council Executive Director

Back in April, you read Roundup Publisher Dennis Sun’s report on Public Lands Council’s (PLC) Legislative Conference. PLC is the sole organization in Washington representing the roughly 22,000 ranchers who utilize forage on public lands in the West. We are fortunate to have such prominent leaders as Dennis, our newest board member, in our ranks. Wyoming has always been and continues to be a great source of strong, dedicated individuals guiding PLC’s and industry’s success. 

Whenever the “hats are in town,” we are always sure to take full advantage of their time here and put them to work. Dennis and the roughly 50 other attendees of the PLC conference brought their story to Capitol Hill and the agencies. Several PLC members were even able to testify at congressional hearings on our top priority legislation. For a few days, the cowboys ruled in Washington, D.C. 

Now the hats have gone back to the ranch, and we have carried on with our work here in D.C., echoing the voices of our members and seeking every avenue we can to promote our priority legislation. 

We’ve also been following up on questions asked and ideas hatched during members’ meetings with agency personnel from BLM, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). And, as always, our efforts in the courts continue. 

Below are a few updates on PLC’s latest activities.

Grazing Improvement Act – PLC Vice President Brenda Richards testified on this bill during Legislative Conference. It would help stabilize the public lands grazing industry by greatly reducing the amount of needless paperwork and review currently required under NEPA. 

We expect the bill to move through the House without much difficulty, as that chamber passed it last year, and believe it stands a good chance in the Senate.

Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act – PLC also testified on this bill, which would streamline NEPA and Endangered Species Act regulations for fuel-reduction activities, such as timber harvest and grazing, in areas of extreme wildfire risk. 

We are working with staff in the House to provide industry’s input on important amendments for inclusions in a final bill and are working with Senate staff to see the bill introduced in that chamber.

EAJA and Judgment Fund Reform – Ranchers continue to – in effect – fund their own demise as their tax dollars end up in the coffers of predatory enviro-litigators who sue the government for allowing activities such as continued grazing on federal lands. 

We are promoting the Judgment Fund Transparency Actto track and report payments from the Treasury, and we soon expect to see similar legislation introduced for Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) attorneys’ fee payments. We support this transparency and more – fully blocking these multi-million dollar “nonprofits” from making a living off of litigating ranchers’ way of life into extinction.

Appropriations – While the appropriations process seems to be on a slow track, we have appropriators’ ear and they know our priorities - such as providing adequate funding for agency range budgets and blocking or delaying damaging regulatory actions such as the burdensome new forest planning rule; EPA attempts to regulate water and dust; and the listing of the greater sage grouse. 

Sage grouseWe continue to strategize and remain engaged as agency sage grouse planning efforts go forward, and grazing decisions in some areas, unfortunately, already begin to reflect a skewed vision for our rangelands that includes fewer livestock and more overgrowth and wildfire. 

We will continue working to prevent a listing without turning ranchers into an endangered species. Meanwhile, we’re involved in litigation too, challenging Western Watersheds Project’s false claims about sage grouse and grazing.

Wild horses – This week, we met with agency heads from BLM, Forest Service, FWS and more as founding members of the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition. 

Wild horses continue to be a rampant problem for ranchers and rangeland health, and this coalition intends to help the agencies move forward with tenable plans for actually managing their populations. 

Preference rights – A continuous worry for ranchers is the land management agencies’ recent attempts to wipe preference grazing rights off the books. Those rights are a deeded part of a ranch that must remain intact. PLC has made this clear to Washington staff and is on the lookout for any such encroachment of property rights in the countryside.

Forest Service Planning Rule – After participating in every part of the development of the new forest planning rule - to no avail - PLC had no other choice but to litigate this onerous regulation. 

NEPA – The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is in dire need of reform. PLC is in talks with congressional offices as to how to tackle it. Meanwhile, the latest NEPA court case we’re involved in has been taken up by the Supreme Court. We hope to see overturned enviro-litigators’ challenge of the agencies’ ability to use high-level programmatic NEPA in the Sierra Framework case. 

Water rights – PLC has asked the Supreme Court to take up the infamous Hage v. U.S. case, in hopes of a favorable ruling for water rights. We are also keeping close watch on Forest Service attempts to wrest water rights in exchange for use permits. 

Additionally, we continue to seek legislation to prevent EPA from gaining control of virtually all waters through a rulemaking or “guidance” document. 

Forest roads Clean Water Act permitting – We filed amicus in the recent victorious Supreme Court decision that Clean Water Act “National Pollution Discharge Elimination System” (NPDES) permits are not required on forest roads. While the decision was good, we support legislation to ensure EPA doesn’t change its rules to require NPDES permits.

These are a few of the many ongoing battles we’re engaged in day-to-day on ranchers’ behalf. As executive director of PLC, it’s an honor to serve our western ranchers, who work tirelessly providing for their families, the nation and the world, all while watching over our nation’s natural resources. In my book, there is no better use of our time and energy than standing up for the principles that make it all possible. 

Next week, I will be accompanying PLC President Brice Lee to the Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show. I look forward to visiting with some of industry’s finest in Cheyenne.