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Guest Opinions

National Legislative Fly-In Provides Valuable Opportunities

Written by Kacie Burns

This spring, I was honored to be selected as one of two students nationally to attend the Spring Legislative Conference in Washington D.C. with industry leaders from around the country with the Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). The experience gained, coupled with the learning growth involving the legislative process and agency work, was an invaluable opportunity.

Sitting in on three of the Public Lands Council committee meetings revolutionized many of my current opinions.  Previously, I only had a state or regional perspective on the issues facing many public lands ranchers. 

Committee work

The Wild Horse and Burro Committee meeting furthered my stance on how detrimental this issue is in many states. The health of the range, horses, land and the ranch families who rely on this land to make a living are all at stake.  The vulnerability that poor management, or lack thereof, on behalf of the agencies responsible has put the above mentioned aspects in jeopardy. 

Currently there are several lawsuits in progress dealing with horse populations that exceed Appropriate Management Levels (AML), which shows management is not even remotely within the appropriate use according to the agencies that hold the responsibility over the management.

Relocating or removing these animals does not solve the problem if there is no population control in place. Numbers are almost three times the appropriate level in many areas and are a serious concern that needs action now.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has removed some horses, but after removal, the horses are kept in holding facilities costing the government and taxpayers almost $50 million annually. 

Neil Kornze, current director of the BLM, spoke on behalf of this issue. He empathized with the frustration and struggles being faced by the ranchers. However, his answers did not give me any resolution or confidence in the issues being addressed in the near future by the agency, especially without any urging.

The Grazing Rights Committee touched on many of the issues facing today’s public lands ranching families and how to begin to address these issues. The biggest problem facing this committee is that range rights can vary permit-to-permit and state-to-state, making this difficult to address. Committee members are working towards finding common ground and ways to operate with the agencies to protect the ranchers’ current rights and ensure the future of the range for future generations. 

The Sage Grouse Committee hits very close to home for me personally.  Although we do not have any on our allotment, many neighboring ranches and families across Colorado, Wyoming and the West have been heavily impacted by the decline of the population.  The recent listing decision was in favor of the Greater sage grouse, since populations are now considered stable. Mitigation and improvements have benefited the grouse and determined that protection was no longer warranted under the Endangered Species Act. 

The BLM Planning 2.0 was recently released, and the comment period extended by a mere 30 days.  This could potentially lead to grazing restrictions that are not necessary.  I encourage everyone to participate in the comment period, which is closing May 25. The comment period will be crucial, and BLM’s Planning 2.0 needs to be carefully watched and heavily commented on.   

Witnessing these passionate and exceptional individuals from across the country congregate on behalf of their livelihood and in defense of other rancher’s rights was a humbling experience. The time, effort and work that goes into defending our rights, especially as ranchers who rely heavily on the use of public lands as seen on a national level, was solidified during my stay in D.C.

Issues

At the NCBA welcoming session, the staff and president went into great detail over the legislative issues facing the entire beef industry and supplied us with talking points for meeting with our elected officials.  One of the key issues currently is getting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) passed. TPP offers many benefits across multiple industries and is key in keeping exports viable. 

TPP allows exports, such as tongue and short plates, that are not desirable to the American consumer to add value to the producers when exported to key markets such as Asia.  Our tariff is currently at 38.5 percent on beef in Japan, a country that is one of our key export receivers for beef. On passage of TPP, that tariff would be lowered over the course of 16 years, keeping us competitive with our primary competitor Australia, which is currently only at a 28 percent tariff with Japan. 

This current advantage that Australia holds with Japan cost nearly $300 million in lost sales in 2015 alone. If TPP does not pass, it would allow China to dictate the terms of trade with our major export markets and would prove to be devastating. 

Congressional delegation

When visiting with the congressmen from Wyoming, as well as other states, I was amazed at how much respect was shown towards the cattlemen.  It seemed as if a vast majority of the elected officials from the western states revere the opinions from the “boots on the Hill.” 

Previously, I contemplated if we truly carried a voice in D.C., but after witnessing it in person, I feel confident that our words are in fact impactful in the legislative process.  Too often our industry and agriculture as a whole feels as if it is fighting an uphill battle, especially with the current administration.

This provided me an invaluable experience that will influence my career in the future. I will be back to Washington, D.C. with PLC and NCBA members in the near future. I want to sincerely thank PLC, as well as the Wyoming Public Lands Coalition, for supporting me in this endeavor and supplying me with such a valuable opportunity.