Raul Labrador: Legislation will cut red tape for Idaho livestock growers

GUEST OPINION GRAZING PERMITS

February 23, 2014 

Livestock grazing is an important part of the rich ranching tradition in America, and Idaho produces some of the world’s finest tasting lamb and beef. I have been working for years to give ranchers the longevity and stability they deserve through my bill, the Grazing Improvement Act. I am pleased to report, with the help of many others, the bill passed the House of Representatives this month. The bill has been sent to the Senate.

The Grazing Improvement Act will help ranchers across Idaho who are increasingly burdened with red tape by providing them a streamlined permitting process by extending the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service (BLM) livestock grazing permits from 10 to 20 years. This will preserve ranching jobs and give ranchers better economic security. It will also provide relief to federal land managers who battle a growing backlog of pending permits, largely delayed due to endless litigation often generated by environmental groups.

The financial security of ranchers depends upon their responsible stewardship of the land. Unfortunately, the process to review the permits that allow them to produce food has become severely backlogged due to lawsuits aimed at eliminating livestock from public lands. The BLM itself estimates that more than 4,200 grazing permits are backlogged waiting for renewal. This is an unacceptable number of backlogged permits, all of which negatively affect Idaho’s livestock producers.

Brenda Richards, a rancher and resident of my home district, testified on behalf of Owyhee County and recounted the burdens the BLM has placed on ranchers and taxpayers. Ranching has long played a role in Owyhee County. She explained that since the early 1990s, the challenges from the BLM and their decisions, or lack thereof, have had significant impact on the county government and the residents within the county. In Owyhee County, the BLM has neglected to fulfill their obligations of renewing permits and failed to gather necessary information in a consistent, accurate, timely manner as outlined in their own guides. Eventually the permittees and the county then end up in court battling on the same side as the BLM to defend their rights, permits, and livelihood. This expense falls directly on the county and the permittee because the BLM’s legal costs are covered by the federal government.

Fortunately, the House also passed my amendment to discourage frivolous legal challenges to federal land management grazing decisions — a big win for our agricultural community.

The amendment requires groups that are not substantially justified or directly affected by final federal grazing decisions to pay for the legal expenses of the other party when they lose in court. 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. Each year, hundreds of appeals are filed on grazing decisions by environmental groups. The cost to ranchers can hardly be measured. In a recent case in Wyoming, for example, appealing the decision cost a small group of ranchers over $125,000 in administrative appeal and attorney fees alone. My amendment addresses this problem by clarifying the intent of Congress on who may appeal and litigate a final agency decision. It will create a “loser pays” system that will discourage frivolous lawsuits by environmental groups.

We can be good stewards of our land and resources without hurting Idaho’s ranchers. We must alleviate the problems caused by a tedious bureaucratic process created only to respond to the litigious environmental agenda. We can no longer allow the federal government to maintain an enormous backlog in processing grazing permits. The Grazing Improvement Act aims to ensure stability for Idaho’s livestock producers. They deserve that, and we will make it happen.

Raul Labrador, a Republican, represents Idaho’s 1st Congressional District.

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