WASHINGTON – Idaho rancher Brenda Richards testified before Congress on behalf of the Public Lands Council (PLC), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Idaho Cattle Association (ICA) in support of the Grazing Improvement Act (H.R. 657), a bill which would save taxpayer dollars and increase business certainty for ranchers who hold federal lands grazing permits. Richards, who serves as PLC Vice President and runs a cattle ranch with her husband and three sons in Owyhee County, Idaho, told the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation that passage of H.R. 657 would have a positive impact on many ranching families such as hers.
Richards thanked Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) for reintroducing the legislation, which passed the House of Representatives last session and which currently has a Senate companion bill, S. 258, introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). She then gave first-hand accounts of its important role in putting a stop to the never-ending environmental litigation facing ranchers and the federal land management agencies due to the unnecessary, duplicative environmental analysis currently burdening the industry and taxpayers.
“The Grazing Improvement Act would offer the flexibility the agencies need, while providing stability to the industry,” Richards said. “It would codify the language that we hold our collective breath for every year in the appropriations process, language which allows us to continue using our permits under current terms and conditions while the agencies work through the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) backlog. By extending the life of grazing permits and categorically exempting certain qualified permits, transfers, and livestock crossing and trailing from NEPA review, H.R. 657 will reduce the backlog that is the source of much consternation.”
According to Richards, the current federal lands grazing permit system is broken, and gives environmental extremist groups ample opportunity to litigate. Those lawsuits are often times partially funded with American tax dollars. Richards added that the litigation, combined with agencies’ reimbursing the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees, puts additional strain on agency resources and perpetuates the cycle.
During her testimony, Richards described how instability in permit renewals has impacted the ranching community in places like Owyhee County, where 78 percent of the land is federally owned.
“We cannot afford to lose access to (federal land) forage because of paperwork backlogs and litigation, but that’s exactly what’s happening,” she said. “I encourage you to support this bill as one that will stimulate rural economies and job growth, save taxpayer dollars and ensure that the natural resources of the West continue under the careful stewardship of generations of ranching families such as mine.”