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Guest Opinions

Public Lands Council Continue Hard Work

As I gear up for multiple Public Lands Council (PLC) affiliate meetings out West this fall and winter, including a stop in Casper the first week of December for the Wyoming Stock Growers meeting, I wanted to bring you up to speed on what we have been working on in Washington, D.C. Coming off 16 days of a government “shutdown,” where 83 percent of the government continued to work, we are back at it on Capitol Hill working to pass priority legislation for ranchers with public land grazing permits. 

This session PLC has seen positive movement on the Hill, which offers a bright spot for the often overwhelmingly gridlocked Congress. 

Our top priority, the Grazing Improvement Act, which willstabilize permit renewals and will codify a longstanding appropriations rider that would allow grazing to continue under existing terms and conditions while the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) backlog is being addressed, is advancing. This session, we helped garner bipartisan sponsorship in the House, as well as strengthening the bill in committee. We will continue to push for advancement in the Senate. Wyoming’s own Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has championed the legislation in the Senate when he introduced S. 258 last February. PLC has kept the act as a top priority, as so many Western livestock producers will benefit from the bill – we are working for passage in the House this year and markup in the Senate soon. 

Additionally, PLC was pleased to see that a bill we have strongly supported – the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, H.R. 1526 – passed the House this fall. The bill was sponsored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), it includes measures from various previously-introduced bills designed to expedite the removal of hazardous fuels from national forests while simultaneously increasing the economic productivity of those forests, including the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act, sponsored by Representative Gosar (R-Ariz.).  

Another priority for PLC is protecting private property rights against usurpation by the federal government, including water rights.  The Water Rights Protection Act (WRPA), H.R. 3189, is a bipartisan bill that was introduced earlier this month by Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Colo.); introduction was followed by a Water and Power Subcommittee hearing on the bill. The legislation aims to protect water rights from a recent directive by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) allowing them to potentially take water rights from private entities operating on federal lands. The USFS is attempting to acquire water for the federal government as a condition of issuing standard land use permits. The USFS has failed to provide just compensation – a violation of the Fifth Amendment and likely the Koontz ruling discussed below. 

Finally, we remain hopeful that the budget compromise currently being worked on by the House and Senate conference committee, a product of the resolution to the government shutdown, will include an Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations package. The House Interior Appropriations bill includes more than 15 provisions PLC supports and has worked on, including extension of the grazing rider, extension by one year of the decision on whether to list the greater sage grouse and extension of grazing permits from 10 to 20 years among many others. 

On the legal front, PLC continues the fight alongside the Wyoming Stock Growers in Federal District Court defending the USFS’s past use of categorical exclusions against attacks by Western Watersheds Project. Categorical exclusions were a tool that allowed the agency to renew grazing permits under the same terms and conditions where full environmental analysis was not necessary, a commonsense tool which allowed the agency to focus limited resources to areas which required analysis. 

At the Supreme Court during the final week of the last session the Court ruled in favor of the Koontz family in Florida, a case in which PLC filed an amicus in support of the family. In the five to four decision, the Court ruled that the federal government could not require outsized forfeiture of property, real or monetary, in return for the issuance of land use permits – a huge victory for industry and clear limit on the federal government’s attempts to extort property when landowners rely on permits from the government. 

On the agency front, PLC leadership and staff continue to maintain strong relationships with USFS and BLM leadership at the Washington, D.C. level in order to represent industry and ensure we are at the table as the administration drafts new policy and regulation. 

PLC has worked for ranchers since 1968. Our dedication to protecting rights of ranchers with public land grazing permits has increased drastically in just the last few years, including providing six witnesses on Capitol Hill during the first half of the 113th Congress. 

I encourage you to join our affiliates in Wyoming and contribute dues to the voluntary assessment all permittees will receive this fall. With your support we can pass the legislation I’ve listed above, ensure agency regulation has minimal impact on your operation and defend you against frivolous lawsuits aimed at destroying livestock ranching in the West – all of which contributes to turning the tide against bureaucracy out of Washington and senseless attacks from environmental zealots set on ending animal agriculture.