Editor's Note: This opinion comes from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
By Joe Guild, NCBA Federal Lands Committee chairman; and John Falen, Public Lands Council president
The U.S. beef industry is diverse, with a presence in all 50 states. Despite that diversity, we all have common goals of raising healthy beef in an environment free of overly burdensome government interference and to pass down successful operations and healthy natural resources to future generations. These goals are threatened by the growing number of laws and regulations that govern what we do. Federal lands ranchers have unique challenges. In the West, where the federal government owns roughly half the land mass, more than 22,000 ranchers have the challenge of running our operations, in part, on federal land.
Much cost and uncertainty accompanies our partnership with the federal land management agencies. They have high environmental standards and paperwork obligations to live up to—more, in fact, than they are able to handle. Environmental activists groups never miss a chance litigate especially when grazing permits are concerned.
The same radical groups that file the endless stream of lawsuits against grazing on federal lands have hailed the recent introduction of H.R. 3234, the "Rural Economic Vitalization Act" (REVA). The bill claims it will "help" struggling federal lands ranchers by allowing third parties to buy out ranchers' permits and permanently retire those lands from grazing. Radical environmental groups have come out in full support, calling the bill a "free-market" solution. Why? Because these well-funded groups know that with just a little more threat and intimidation of litigation, they can make "willing sellers" out of every ranching family on the range, thereby achieving their agenda of a livestock-free environment—all cloaked in "free-market" terms.
True, federal lands ranching families are facing a tough uphill battle, dealing with drought, strict regulations, agency regulatory paperwork backlogs, endless environmental litigation, and other struggles. They do have the option of selling their grazing permits—for grazing, not for retirement. Current law requires that grazing permits stay in use until the federal government decides otherwise. REVA would put this decision in the hands of individuals and make it easy for environmental groups to permanently shut down grazing, West-wide. This is not a picture of rural economic vitalization. This is the definition of destruction.
Honest-to-goodness "rural vitalization" would come from ranchers' becoming more secure in their grazing permits as investments. Fortunately, some lawmakers have stepped up to promote the stability and longevity of the federal lands grazing program. Senator John Barrasso's, R-Wyo., Grazing Improvement Act of 2011 (S. 1129) would decouple ranchers' long-term business plans from the bogged-down regulatory backlog that places their futures on hold. It would also make for a fairer fight in the appeals process, providing commonsense safeguards to ranchers against arbitrary agency decisions. Altogether, S. 1129 would greatly reduce the environmental litigation currently flooding the system.
S. 1129 would allow ranchers to think long term about what kind of land and resources they want to pass down to the next generation. REVA's answer to alleviate ranching families' struggles is simply to remove them from the picture. While there are many pressures on federal lands ranchers to get out of the business, we must not succumb to the defeatist attitude that the only solution is to end grazing on the federal estate. Too many families and rural communities count on us to forge ahead to find answers that keep grazing as a viable part of the western landscape. Join with us to stand up for federal lands ranching and to work with lawmakers like Senator Barrasso to strengthen this industry for generations to come.