Grazing bill - Grazing Improvement Act moves forwardWritten by Saige Albert
Casper – On Dec. 2, a bipartisan agreement was reached by the Senate and House Committees on Energy and Natural Resources to include a package of public lands bills in the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Travis McNiven, legislative assistant for Senator John Barrasso, addressed the closing general session of the 2014 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup on the bill, noting, “There are some really good things in the package, and there are some things that we aren’t too crazy about. Overall, we think it is a fair package of bills.”
The package of bills passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 300-119 on Dec. 4, and the Senate is expected to vote on the NDAA on Dec. 9.
The package of public lands bills includes four Wyoming bills, several wilderness bills, new parks, expansion of parks and other authorizations.
“We are quite pleased with what is there and what it allows us to build from in the future,” McNiven noted. “The public lands package has eight or so bills.”
He also noted that there are a number of pro-jobs bills for timber and mining industries.
Just over 200,000 acres of wilderness is designated in the package, but of that, McNiven noted, “The majority are already wilderness study areas and the majority of those are in Nevada.”
He continued, “We’ve also been much more careful with those designations – be it a park, wilderness or scenic river – to make boundaries mean something.”
McNiven commented that buffer zones have been eliminated, which serves to increase private property protections.
Also included in the package is the Grazing Improvement Act (GIA), which has been an area of focus by Wyoming congressional delegation and the Public Lands Council for a long time.
Dustin Van Liew, executive director of the Public Lands Council, said, “Section 3023 of the NDAA consists of GIA provisions to amend Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), including codifying the ‘grazing rider,’ which will allow for permits to be reissued under the same terms and conditions uninterrupted when permits expire while any agency analysis is being conducted.”
Van Liew also noted that FLMPA would be amended to provide statutory authority for categorically excluding grazing decisions from the National Environmental Policy Act where current grazing management continues and the land is meeting applicable range health standards.
“The language would also apply to any environmental analysis to the ground, as opposed to permits, and allow multiple allotments to be analyzed at a time, making the entire grazing program work more efficiently,” Van Liew noted.
He continued, “Finally, the language provides for the sole discretion of the Secretaries to set the priority and timing of environmental analysis completion regarding grazing permit decisions based on environmental significance and funding.”
Of particular importance is the removal of detrimental language regarding grazing permit retirement that was included during markup in the Senate process, Van Liew added.
Wyoming’s industry has expressed positive reactions from the news about the Grazing Improvement Act.
Dick Loper of the Wyoming State Grazing Board commented, “The Senate Committee took out most of the things that were objectionable to the livestock industry.”
At the same time, he continued that many of the things that the livestock industry has needed for many years are included.
“Overall, it is a positive addition to the statutory authority on federal lands,” Loper continued. “We think this will help BLM be much more efficient in the permit renewal process.”
He further noted, however, that though the language appears to be positive for the industry, the actual implementation of the GIA will depend on the interpretation of the law by BLM.
“The positive provisions of the GIA that were included in the House NDAA bill are very important to Wyoming’s sheep industry,” said Amy Hendrickson, executive director of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association. “This includes the GIA language to amend FLPMA and codify the grazing rider, as well as the language that allows for the application of environmental analysis to allotments rather than the permits and provides for both grazing permit decisions and trailing and crossing decisions to be categorically excluded from the National Environmental Policy Act.”
“In addition, we are very pleased with the removal of the detrimental GIA language regarding grazing permit retirement that had been included during the Senate process,” Hendrickson continued.
Van Liew urged all producers to contact their Senators and ask them to support the NDAA and GIA provisions, as the Senate is expected to vote on the issue on Dec. 9.
McNiven added, “At this point we are excited and optimistic about the possibility of seeing the public lands package with the GIA come home.”
Loper added, “I’d like to thank our congressional delegation, especially Senator Barrasso and his staff, for all their work on this bill.”
The public lands package of bills is part of the NDAA, which seems strange for some people.
“Some folks have said that public lands have no place in a National Defense Authorization Act, but the Committees of Jurisdiction opened the door to the process because they wanted military bases to be able to expand and take in BLM and public land,” Travis McNiven, legislative assistant to Senator John Barrasso, explained. “That started the public lands discussion as it related to the military.”