Labrador's grazing bill passes the House again

rbarker@idahostatesman.comFebruary 6, 2014 

Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador added two amendments to a bill that passed the House Wednesday.

The actions please Idaho ranchers but frustrate anti-grazing advocacy groups.

Labrador’s grazing bill, similar to a bill carried in the Senate by Wyoming Republican John Barrasso, would extend livestock grazing permits on public land from 10 to 20 years. His amendment to the bill on the floor would require groups that sue and lose on grazing issues to pay the costs of the ranchers involved.

Ranchers, who have occasionally won a long series of lawsuits over violations of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act say Labrador’s bills would give them stability and fairness. But they most of all would delay many of the actions federal land managers and the courts have required when permits were issued.

“Ranchers can no longer afford the incredible regulatory and litigious environment created by excessive application of NEPA,” said Dustin Van Liew, executive director of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, when the bill cleared the Natural Resources Committee in 2013.

Environmental and sportsmen’s groups say the grazing fees are far below market rates and keep the grasses unavailable for wildlife like elk, deer, antelope and buffalo. When the Western Watersheds Project's Ken Cole lobbied against the bill in Washington in 2013, he said the bill would allow the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to renew permits without conducting rangeland health assessments and further imperil sage grouse.

“The 'Grazing Improvement Act' is a huge giveaway to the livestock industry coming at a time when many of our western public lands are in dire condition,” Cole said in a release.

Labrador questioned the motives of groups like Cole's.

“Environmental groups have been increasingly effective at abusing the current appeals process not to promote environmental health, but for the sole purpose of removing livestock from federal lands,” said Labrador.

But Idaho Democratic Rep. Shirley Ringo, who is running against Labrador for his 1st District seat, said the “loser pays” approach "in this context is an effort to intimidate individuals or organizations for whom litigation is the only recourse to remedy a situation.

"We should be aware that environmental groups that may pursue this course of action are typically nonprofits," Ringo said. "The action they take is not to 'make a buck,' but to help protect the public interest."

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