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WWP Goes to Washington DC

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Last week Western Watersheds Project staff members Ken Cole, Brian Ertz, and Brian’s 9 year-old son Benjamin traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate about grazing legislation.

While there, we talked with legislative staff about how the Grazing Improvement Act (GIA) will entrench the interests of public lands ranchers, undermine ongoing efforts to protect sage grouse, and ensure that sage grouse will suffer further declines making them more likely to be listed as an endangered species.

Overall, the GIA would increase conflict over grazing on public lands by extending grazing permits from the current 10 years to 20 years, allowing agencies to renew permits without conducting rangeland health determinations as long as the new permits use the same terms and conditions and reducing public participation in grazing decisions. It limits the ability of agencies to address the negative impacts of grazing on the landscape.

As an alternative to the GIA we advocated for the Rural Economic Vitalization Act (REVA) which would reduce conflicts and would allow private parties to negotiate with a rancher to voluntarily relinquish grazing permits back to the BLM or USFS who would then close the allotments to any future grazing. No taxpayer money would be involved and there would be a limit of 100 permit buyouts in any given year. An open market for conservation would let concerned parties protect some of the most sensitive landscapes from the harmful effects of livestock grazing anywhere in the country where a rancher voluntarily gives up a permit. Rather than letting the big, corporate public lands ranchers feed and consolidate off the misfortune of smaller operators, voluntary buy-outs provide ranchers another option in managing their ranches to pay debt down, recapitalize their operation, prevent sell-off of private land, finance retirement, or whatever else they want to do with the money.

We also spoke with congressional staff about Idaho Representative Mike Simpson’s legislative rider attached to the Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriations bill which would have prevented the BLM and USFS from addressing the conflict of domestic sheep grazing in occupied bighorn sheep habitat and placed thousands of bighorn sheep at risk of exposure to deadly pneumonia carried by domestic sheep across millions of acres of public lands. For years, Western Watersheds Project has taken the lead on this issue. Through litigation, media, education, and lobbying we have brought pressure to bear on behalf of bighorn sheep throughout the West. Fortunately, just two days after our lobbying efforts began, Representative Simpson withdrew his rider!

Thanks to the Sierra Club’s Grazing Team for sponsoring Ken Cole’s participation in Washington D.C. !

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