The Grazing Improvement Act of 2013 is a bill to amend the permit
process that ranchers much go through to receive or renew grazing leases on
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (USFS) lands. It has been
the subject of much attention - so much so that it is hard to find an article
on it that is not biased.
Agriculture organizations hail it as a much needed reform to a restrictive and
burdensome process, while environmental groups decry it for almost eliminating
entirely the environmental review process needed to receive or renew leases, as
mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Currently, the BLM and USFS are backlogged with permit requests, which leaves ranchers uncertain about the renewal of their leases. The main reason for this backlog is simply that the sheer volume of permit requests is overwhelming the short-staffed agencies. Ranchers and other agriculture supporters claim that excessive litigation by environmental groups questioning the permitting process only exacerbates the problem.
In order to remedy this issue, the Grazing Improvement Act would extend
the maximum permit or lease length to from 10 to 20 years. Perhaps more
importantly, the Act would give the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary
of Agriculture (the former for BLM land and the later for USFS land) greater
discretion in determining whether permits up for renewal will require NEPA
review or not.
According to the Congress.gov summary
of the bill (S.258), renewal of permits or leases can exclude an environmental analysis if: “(1) such decision continues to renew, reissue, or transfer current grazing management of the allotment; (2) monitoring indicates that such management meets objectives contained in the land use and resource management plan of the allotment; or (3) the decision is consistent with the policy of the Department of the Interior or USDA regarding extraordinary circumstances.”
Supporters of the bill, such as the Wyoming
Stock Growers Association, believe that the changes proposed in it are “essential steps in restoring a stable business environment to our industry. Long-term certainty of grazing permits is also at the foundation of the evolving science of rangeland management.”
On the other hand, environmental groups are
asking people to oppose the bill on the grounds that it will curtail the
essential NEPA environmental review process. The Sierra
Club states on their website that it is “a bill that would further entrench domestic livestock grazing on federal public lands to the detriment of fish, wildlife, watersheds and other public values.”
Photo courtesy of the USDA.