Guest Opinion: Grazing Improvement Act would bring more problems

GUEST OPINION: AGRICULTURE

March 7, 2014 

Rep. Raul Labrador’s Guest Opinion touting the Grazing Improvement Act published in the Idaho Statesman Feb. 23 is a good example of bad public policy by a congressman who ought to know better.

Labrador was elected as a conservative candidate deeply concerned about excessive government spending and the growing federal deficit. In sponsoring this legislation, the congressman has chosen to overturn all the principles he represented to the voters as a candidate.

The General Accounting Office has confirmed that the federal government loses more than $1.2 billion every 10 years administering public lands livestock grazing. The current federal grazing fee of $1.35 per month for a 1,200-pound cow and 400-pound calf is 80 percent less than it was 40 years ago and only one-fifteenth of a market-rate fee; yet Labrador, the erstwhile fiscal conservative, has chosen to ignore that wasteful and easily correctable loss. Instead he seeks to entrench public lands ranching by removing public review and oversight and creating an entirely new law that undermines the right of all Americans to seek redress in federal court.

Labrador also seems not to know that only 12 percent of all forage for beef cattle and sheep in Idaho comes from public lands. It is the much more productive private lands that really produce food for the world, not arid public lands.

Of course, the fiscal and judicial problems with this proposed legislation are not the only problems created by Labrador’s misplaced efforts. If enacted, this legislation would despoil public lands and waters, harm fish, wildlife, and plants, and degrade recreational opportunities throughout the western United States.

Livestock grazing is the most pervasive use of public lands in the country, occurring on more than 250 million acres, an area larger than the states of California and Texas combined. Scientists have concluded livestock grazing is “the most severe and insidious of the impacts on public lands.”

More than 175 threatened and endangered plant and animal species inhabiting our public lands are imperiled by livestock grazing. In the United States, grazing has contributed to the demise of 22 percent of federal threatened and endangered species — nearly equal to logging (12 percent) and mining (11 percent) combined.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, nearly 30 percent of grazing allotments assessed in the last 14 years — covering more than 36 million acres of public land — were not meeting rangeland health standards as a result of livestock grazing. An additional 5,261 allotments have not even been assessed since 1998, offering no indication about the health of these lands.

The Grazing Improvement Act is objectionable for five major reasons. The bill:

1. Limits environmental review for nearly all grazing permit renewals.

2. Doubles the current term limit for a grazing permit from 10 to 20 years.

3. Grants the Forest Service and the BLM unchecked authority on whether and when to review grazing permits.

4. Places the concerned American public who may challenge a livestock grazing decision by the Forest Service and BLM into an unprecedented and unconstitutional category to discourage the right to judicial review.

5. Entrenches welfare ranching and rancher dependence on government handouts.

If it becomes law, the Grazing Improvement Act would exclude the public from grazing decision making while perpetuating negative grazing impacts on 250 million acres of our public land.

Though Labrador might not care about those things, as a fiscal conservative, he should explain why he supports plundering American taxpayers to maintain an increasingly uneconomic business activity.

Marvel is the former Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho-based conservation organization. He lives in Hailey.

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