Clueless Oversight Promotes Damaging Livestock Practices

Washington, DC, July 12, 2018 —  A House hearing today on federal lands grazing is an exercise in fact-free boosterism rather than serious oversight, according to testimony submitted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The hearing’s politicized approach is designed to avoid any objective assessment of commercial public land livestock impacts on 150 million acres of rangelands across 13 Western states.

Billed as an “Oversight Hearing,” the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands event has the suggestive title of “The Essential Role of Livestock Grazing on Federal Lands and Its Importance to Rural America.”  The lead witnesses are Brad Little, a cattle rancher who is Lieutenant Governor of Idaho and running for governor, and Stefanie Smallhouse, the President of the Arizona Farm Bureau.

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The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which administers most federal lands livestock grazing, is not featured.  PEER testimony highlights BLM data that the group had to litigate to obtain which indicates –

  • Of total acres assessed by 2015, more than one-third fail to meet BLM’s own Standards for Rangeland Health reflecting minimum quality of water, vegetation and soils, as well as the ability to support wildlife–a total of 40 million acres, approximately the area of Washington State; and
  • The overwhelming portion (more than 70%) of range health failure is due to livestock overgrazing in allotments covering more than 30 million acres, an area the size of New York State.

“Commercial livestock grazing is unquestionably the largest factor driving deteriorating conditions on America’s rangelands,” stated PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade. “The destructive effects on land and water quality from commercial grazing are missing from this ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ hearing.”

Adding fiscal insult to ecological injury, PEER points out that the commercial grazing fee has been reduced the last two years in a row. It is now down to $1.41 per animal unit month compared with $9 per AUM for private land in Arizona and $41 in Nebraska. The state average for private lands is $22.70 per AUM.

“Not only are federal grazing fees ridiculously low, but they do not come close to covering the costs taxpayers bear for the program,” added Stade.  “The heavy taxpayer subsidy is one reason federal lands grazing deserves to be called ‘Welfare Ranching.’”

The PEER testimony also points to widespread illegal grazing on BLM lands and the agency’s unwillingness to monitor, let alone address, grazing trespass. A PEER survey of BLM staff also suggests that the agency lacks sufficient personnel to capably administer grazing allotments.  In addition, fear of political backlash deters BLM from analyzing actual conditions on its vast rangelands.

“No federal program is in more need of oversight or less likely to receive it,” Stade concluded.

Read the PEER testimony

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See the hearing lineup

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