“Grazing Improvement Act” a Misnomer

Federal Senate Bill 1129 is akin to the kid who has been handed a plate of cookies and then demands the entire batch. 

It is no secret that grazing rights on America’s public lands represent a substantial giveaway of taxpayer money largely to big corporations.

The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service which manage the public lands, currently charge only $1.35 per cow and calf for grazing on public lands.  As conservation groups told President Obama last year, that translates to an astonishing taxpayer subsidy of "$132 million each year, and independent economists have estimated the true cost at between $500 million and $1 billion dollars a year." This even though livestock grazing on public lands provides only 3% of beef produced in the U.S. More than that, the artificially low fee in no way provides the revenue necessary to take steps to mitigate the damage and restore the ecosystems of public lands destroyed as a result of livestock grazing.

The conservation groups also say the program "incentivizes destructive grazing practices".

"The Government Accountability Office reported in 2005 that the BLM loses $46.5 million every year administering its grazing program. This is equal to 5 percent of the agency’s 2011 budget request. The Forest Service loses at least $69.5 million dollars a year on its grazing program. This is more than 1 percent of its 2011 budget request."  

But now, those that control these valuable grazing rights want more. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) has introduced S.B. 1129 under the misnomer, "Grazing Improvement Act of 2011".

The bill would amend the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, 43 U.S.C. 1751 et seq. 

The bill would broadly exempt any "renewal, reissuance, or transfer of a grazing permit or lease" from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") if the "current grazing management" continues. This means there would be no environmental assessment required for the continued use of an allotment on public lands for grazing.

Even renewals, reissuances or transfers that contain modifications of grazing permits or leases are exempt if the changes are "minor", whatever that means,  and (1) the federal agency believes the "current grazing management has met, or has satisfactorily progressed towards meeting, objectives contained in the land and resource management plan" and (2) "the decision is consistent with the policy of the Department of the Interior or the Department of Agriculture, as appropriate, regarding extraordinary circumstances".

The agencies could allow grazing to continue pending appeals of a decision by a permittee.  

The 10 year period for a grazing permit or lease would be extended to 20 years. 

It would be up to the agency’s "sole discretion" to determine the priority and time for completing any environmental analyses required. The decision would be based on the "environmental signifcance" of the land and funding. 

This bill would eliminate any accountability for environmental damage by grazing permittees and would mean they would continue to occupy public lands with even more rights at the same low price, all at taxpayer expense.  

Go here for more on NEPA and a lawsuit brought last year that highlighted the difficulty already of getting the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to obtain environmental assessments, set appropriate fees, limit grazing or really do anything to protect public lands from overgrazing by cattle.

Go here for more on a letter sent to Pres. Obama last year, calling on the administration to end subsidized grazing on public lands.