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Bill introduced to boost livestock grazing certainty for ranchers


Grazing Improvement Act increases the grazing permit duration from 10 years to 20 years

For Crook County ranchers whose livestock graze on federal property, the concern always lingers about how long the government will continue to allow the practice.

Concerns about local sage grouse populations have recently threatened to alter allowable grazing lands while the Bureau of Land Management has already reduced grazing allotments in Idaho.

One thing ranchers can count on is grazing permits. Good for 10 years, the permits, once obtained, enable the livestock producers to graze their animals on a certain allotment of forest service or BLM land without threat of any changes through the duration of the permit. Now, that permit could provide even more peace of mind with passage of the Grazing Improvement Act.

The law, which was passed by the House early last month, would increase the grazing permit duration from 10 years to 20 years.

"Ranchers in Oregon have faced years of bureaucratic delays and uncertainty," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a co-sponsor of the bill. "This common-sense bill would give certainty to Oregon's ranchers, allowing them to focus on investing in their business, creating jobs, and responsibly managing the land."

For Paulina-area rancher Trent Smith, the extended permit timeframe would make a huge difference for him and other livestock producers.

"Any time they want to lengthen our lease permits, it's a good thing," he said. "It just means we are on there that much longer and we have that much more security in what we are doing."

Smith said the duration of the permit could affect how ranchers choose to operate their business. He explained that the cheapest way to run a cow is on a forest service or BLM allotment.

"The majority of ranches that have that allotment base what they can do off of those government leases. They are an integral part of the ranching industry throughout the West."

Not only does permit duration impact the long-term vision of the ranch, it can affect the methods by which the ranchers manage the allotment.

"We want to make sure that if we are going to be on this ground that we are doing a good job," he said. "If you come into the picture and you say you have a 20-year outlook instead of a 10-year outlook, then it gives you a better peace of mind that it is going to allow us to do some other things to help adaptively change and manage these pastures."

While the 10-year extension sounds promising, Smith acknowledged that some concerns remain should the legislation pass. He explained that currently, when they renew grazing permits every 10 years, they have to complete a list of other requirements associated with the renewal.

"Is it going to give us that leeway of 20 years, being able to change the tests and everything else we have to go by," he asked, "or is it going to be something we are dealing with every 10 years?"

In addition to the permit extension, the bill includes other measures aimed at rancher certainty. It would codify provisions that Congress typically have to renew annually, so grazing can continue on an allotment as agencies complete the permit renewal process. Also, it would allow federal agencies more flexibility to use categorical exclusions when issuing and renewing grazing permits.

This is not the first time that Congress has considered the Grazing Improvement Act. The bill also passed the House in 2012, but failed to garner a vote in the Senate. Whether the legislation faces the same fate two years later remains to be seen, but Smith is leery of its chances.

"It would be nice to see it go through," he said, "but we are not expecting anything to really happen."