Grazing Improvement Act Pits Agriculture Groups Against Environmental Organizations

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The Grazing Improvement Act of 2013 is a bill to amend the permit process that ranchers much go through to receive or renew grazing leases on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (USFS) lands. It has been the subject of much attention - so much so that it is hard to find an article on it that is not biased.

Agriculture organizations hail it as a much needed reform to a restrictive and burdensome process, while environmental groups decry it for almost eliminating entirely the environmental review process needed to receive or renew leases, as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Currently, the BLM and USFS are backlogged with permit requests, which leaves ranchers uncertain about the renewal of their leases. The main reason for this backlog is simply that the sheer volume of permit requests is overwhelming the short-staffed agencies. Ranchers and other agriculture supporters claim that excessive litigation by environmental groups questioning the permitting process only exacerbates the problem. 

In order to remedy this issue, the Grazing Improvement Act would extend the maximum permit or lease length to from 10 to 20 years. Perhaps more importantly, the Act would give the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture (the former for BLM land and the later for USFS land) greater discretion in determining whether permits up for renewal will require NEPA review or not.

According to the Congress.gov summary of the bill (S.258), renewal of permits or leases can exclude an environmental analysis if: “(1) such decision continues to renew, reissue, or transfer current grazing management of the allotment; (2) monitoring indicates that such management meets objectives contained in the land use and resource management plan of the allotment; or (3) the decision is consistent with the policy of the Department of the Interior or USDA regarding extraordinary circumstances.”

Supporters of the bill, such as the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, believe that the changes proposed in it are “essential steps in restoring a stable business environment to our industry. Long-term certainty of grazing permits is also at the foundation of the evolving science of rangeland management.”

On the other hand, environmental groups are asking people to oppose the bill on the grounds that it will curtail the essential NEPA environmental review process. The Sierra Club states on their website that it is “a bill that would further entrench domestic livestock grazing on federal public lands to the detriment of fish, wildlife, watersheds and other public values.”

Photo courtesy of the USDA.