Wyoming Rancher testifies before U.S. Senate Committee, calls for less regulation

Today Niels Hansen, Secretary/Treasurer of the Public Lands Council and a member of NCBA, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to explain how onerous federal regulations undermine conservation goals.

“Cattle producers pride themselves on being good stewards of our country’s natural resources. We maintain open spaces, healthy rangelands, provide wildlife habitat and feed the world. Despite these critical contributions, our ability to effectively steward these resources is all too often hampered by excessive federal regulations like the ones we are discussing today,” Mr. Hansen said in written testimony.

Ranchers own and manage more land than any other segment of agriculture, implementing proven conservation practices that have sustained the environment for generations. Mr. Hansen highlighted how specific laws and regulations pose challenges to this rich heritage:

  • The 2015 Waters of the United States Rule: “As a livestock producer, the 2015 WOTUS Rule has the potential to negatively affect every aspect of my operation by placing the regulation of every tributary, stream, pond, and dry streambed in the hands of the federal government, rather the states and localities that understand Wyoming’s unique water issues.”
  • CERCLA/EPCRA reporting: “Congress never intended these laws to govern everyday farm and ranch activity. When the mandate issues, nearly 200,000 farmers and ranchers will be on the hook to report low-level livestock manure odors to the government.”
  • Endangered Species Act: “Cattle producers throughout the country continue to suffer the brunt of regulatory and economic uncertainty due to the abuse of the Endangered Species Act…Years of abusive litigation by radical environmental groups have taken a toll, and the result is a system badly in need of modernization.”

Mr. Hansen – a third-generation rancher and industry leader in environmental stewardship – asked Congress to empower ranchers and local land managers by reducing the regulatory burdens they face.

“By freeing our industry from overly burdensome federal regulations and allowing us to provide the kind of stewardship and ecosystem services only we can, you will do more for healthy ecosystems and environments than top down restrictions from Washington ever can,” he said.

Sage Grouse Habitat Montana

Governor Bullock Signs Executive Order Establishing the Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program

Sage Grouse Habitat MontanaHelena, Mont. – Today, Governor Steve Bullock was joined by representatives from natural resource industries, ranchers, wind power advocates, sportsmen, and conservationists, as he signed an executive order establishing the Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program. The Program, which was developed from the ground up, and has broad support from a diverse group of interests, seeks to maintain state management of the Sage Grouse by protecting its habitat, while respecting the private property rights of Montanans.

“Montanans recognize that it is in the best interest of our state, its economy, and our quality of life, to maintain state management of the Greater Sage-grouse,” Bullock said of the executive order. “Through a public process, and the work of a diverse group of stakeholders, we’ve developed a dynamic, and science-based approach to ensure this bird remains under state management, and is not listed under the Endangered Species Act.”

Once established, the Program will work to implement the requirements laid out in the executive order, including a review process for actions that might impact the bird or its habitat, including industry-specific measures. In addition, the order addresses, among other topics:

  • Adopts a comprehensive Program for keeping sage grouse management in the states hands;
  • Recognizes the important role that Montana’s private landowners play in sage grouse conservation and the need for voluntary incentives to help those landowners to stay on the land and preserve vital sage grouse habitat;
  • Creates the Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program and the Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team, attached to the Governor’s Office, to maintain state leadership, administer the program based on sound science, and continue to bring Montanans together to move sage grouse management forward;
  • Strikes the appropriate balance to preserve the sage grouse and its habitat and protect valid rights and existing land uses and activities; and
  • Ensures that Montana and Montanans will continue to manage this iconic species for the benefit of future generations – and continue to economically prosper from the industries that have existed in sage grouse country.

In addition, the executive order makes it clear that existing land uses and activites are not subject to the order, some uses and landowner activities are exempt from compliance with the strategy, including  county road maintenance, and production and maintenance activities associated with existing oil, gas, communication tower, and power line facilities.

“We appreciate the efforts and leadership from Governor Bullock to ensure that management of the sage grouse remains in state hands,” said Dave Galt, Executive Director of the Montana Petroleum Association. “By working together, we’ll ensure that we can protect not only this bird, but also economic opportunity and quality of life for all Montanans.”

“Continued state management of the sage grouse is important for all Montanans, especially for cattle ranchers,” Errol Rice, Executive Vice President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association said. “With an eye towards solutions, stakeholders with diverse viewpoints have come together to find science-based ways to ensure that we are protecting this bird, while respecting the needs of Montana ranching families.”

“We applaud the Governor’s willingness to step up to the plate to launch this important conservation program. Science shows that business-as-usual will have devastating effects on sage-grouse over the long-term. We all need to follow the emerging science and work closely together to conserve this iconic species. And what’s good for sage-grouse and sagebrush is good for a whole host of at-risk wildlife species—making this an important conservation program for the state of Montana and our wildlife,” said Janet Ellis, Program Director for Montana Audubon.

“We all have a role to play in ensuring the state retains management of the sage grouse for the benefit out our state’s economy and quality of life,” Glenn Marx, Executive Director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts said. “Through incentive-based conservation projects and actions, this plan recognizes that private land owners will play an important part in our success going forward.”

The Program will be administratively attached the to the Governor’s Office. When fully implemented, the Program will have up to six full-time staff. The Governor’s upcoming budget will include funding for the program, however until that budget is approved, the Governor intends to work with stakeholders to raise private funds help the Program get off the ground.

In addition, the Governor indicated that his upcoming executive budget will include a proposal for a Sage Grouse Stewardship and Conservation Fund, designed to, among other objectives,  promote and fund voluntary incentive-based non-regulatory programs and practices on private land to conserve sage grouse habitat (if approved by the Legislature).

The executive order was based off of recommendations of the Greater Sage-grouse Habitat Conservation Advisory Council, which Bullock established in 2013. The Advisory Council gathered information, and brought stakeholders and experts together in a public process to recommend conservation measures to address the primary and secondary threats to the Greater sage-grouse in Montana. These recommendations were presented to Bullock in January 2014.

The executive order is available online at: http://governor.mt.gov/Portals/16/docs/2014EOs/EO_10_2014_SageGrouse.pdf

(This press release is courtesy of Governor Bullock’s office)

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House Passes Bill to Modernize Endangered Species Act

PLC LogoWASHINGTON (Public Lands Council) – Today, the House passed H.R. 4315 the Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act by a vote of 233 to 190. The Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association strongly support the legislation, which combines four bills previously marked up by the House Natural Resources Committee, and will be beneficial to updating and improving the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

“The ESA, while designed to protect species from endangerment of extinction, has proven to be ineffective and immensely damaging to our members’ ability to stay in business,” said Brice Lee, PLC president and Colorado rancher. “During the nearly 40 years since the ESA was passed and over 25 years since Congress last reauthorized the law, our industry has come to recognize the Act as greatly flawed and outdated. Less than two percent of species placed on the endangered species list have ever been deemed recovered.”

H.R. 4315 will require data used by federal agencies for ESA listing and proposed listing decisions to be made publicly available and accessible. The bill also requires the Interior Secretary to report and comprehensively track all litigation costs associated with the Act. Furthermore, the bill caps hourly fees paid to attorneys that prevail in cases filed under ESA, consistent with current law.

“Environmental activist groups have a habit of suing the federal government to force the listing of a species, then suing to prevent species delisting, even after recovery goals have been met,” said Bob McCan, NCBA president. “Their legal expenses are often reimbursed by the American taxpayer. By comprehensively tracking all costs associated with the ESA and capping the attorney fees, we can limit the incentive those groups have to file suit and keep the federal agencies accountable for the taxpayer dollars being spent.”

Finally, the federal government will be required to disclose to affected states all data used in the ESA decision making process. It also ensures that “best available scientific and commercial data” used by the federal government will include data provided by affected states, tribes, and local governments.

“The ESA has not been reauthorized since 1988, and is in great need of modernization,” said McCan. “While not a complete fix, this piece of legislation takes some of the necessary steps to repairing this broken law.”

National Cattlemens Beef USA logo

NCBA and PLC Support the Modernization of Endangered Species Act

National Cattlemens Beef USA logo(via NCBA Beltway Beef) The Endangered Species Act has become one of the most economically damaging laws facing our nation’s livestock producers. When species are listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the ESA,the resulting use-restrictions placed on land and water, the two resources upon which ranchers depend for their livelihoods, are crippling.The ESA has not been reauthorized since 1988 and is in great need of modernization.

The National Cattlemen’s Bee Association and the Public Lands Council support all attempts to modernize and streamline the ESA and have provided several recommendations to Congress. The House of Representatives Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group released a report in February 2014 which gave several recommendations for ESA improvements.The report concludes that the ESA “while well-intentioned from the beginning,must be updated and modernized to ensure its success where it matters most: outside of the courtroom and on-the-ground. ”The working groups’ recommendations echo our organizations’ recommendations.

NCBA and PLC submitted a letter of support this week for four bills that are a direct result of the findings that are covered in the working groups’report.

H.R.4315, the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act introduced by Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA),requires data used by federal agencies for ESA listing decisions (including proposed listings) to be made publicly available and accessible through the Internet. The public should be able to see the information that their government is using to make listing decisions that ultimately affect everyone.

H.R.4316, the Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act introduced by Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), requires the Interior Secretary to report and comprehensively track ESA litigation costs, including attorneys’ fees, and post it on the internet. We must hold people accountable for the monetary resources,taxpayer money that is spent.

H.R.4317 the State, Tribaland Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act introduced by Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-TX),requires the federal government to disclose to affected states all data used in ESA prior to any listing or proposed listing decision. It also ensures that “best available scientific and commercial data” used by the federal government will include data provided by affected states, tribes,and local governments.

H.R.4318, the Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act introduced by Representative Bill Huizenga (R-MI),caps hourly fees paid to attorneys that prevail in cases filed under ESA, consistent with current law under the Equal Access to Justice Act.Currently, no cap on attorney fees exists under the ESA allowing attorneys to be awarded massive sums of taxpayer money.

The ESA,while designed to protect species from endangerment of extinction, has proven itself o be ineffective and immensely damaging to our members’ ability to stay in business. Less than two percent of species placed on the endangered list have ever been deemed recovered.

Environmental activist groups’ list-and-litigate routine costs not just producers, but taxpayers, as well.These groups have a habit of suing the federal government to force the listing of a species,then suing to prevent species delisting—even after recovery goals have been met.Their legal expenses are often reimbursed by the American taxpayer. It is no small wonder when environmental radicals can keep themselves well-funded by a seemingly endless stream of taxpayer dollars that so many species have been listed and so few have been delisted. While not a complete fix, these four bills take some of the necessary steps to repairing this broken law.

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Sage Grouse Habitat Montana

Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat Conservation Advisory Council

BSage Grouse Habitat Montanay Jay Bodner, MSGA Director of Natural Resources

Governor Bullock established by Executive Order the Greater Sage-grouse Habitat Conservation Advisory Council on February 2, 2013. In April 2013, the Governor appointed the 12-member Council to gather information, furnish advice, and provide to the Governor recommendations on policies and actions for a state-wide strategy. The goal of this planning effort is to preclude the need to list the Greater Sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Council was directed to complete their recommendations by no later than January 31, 2014. The Council is co-chaired by FWP Director, Jeff Hagener, and the Governor’s Natural Resources Policy Advisor, Tim Baker. Council members include representatives from agriculture and ranching, conservation and sportsmen, energy, mining and power transmission, tribal government, local government and the legislature.

The Advisory Council has held a series of nine meetings for the development of a draft strategy. During the meeting focused on agriculture, MSGA members Leo Barthemess (Malta) and Jim Hagenbarth (Dillon) were featured speakers explaining a ranching perspective on sage grouse management.

The Advisory Council completed a draft Conservation Strategy and held seven public hearings in Montana in primary sage-grouse areas, and well over 450 people attended the public hearings. During the hearings the draft strategy was outlined by FWP personnel, the public had the opportunity to ask questions about the draft strategy and provide public testimony on the document.

The Advisory Council also held a 34-day comment period to offer written comments on the draft strategy. The comment period closed on December 4, 2013 and 377 comments were received. MSGA provided comments on the draft plan, focusing on:

  1. Stronger provisions regarding the Predator Section
  2. Allowing flexibility to sage brush treatments
  3. Consistency with the WY Plan, in regards to the No Surface Occupancy. Recommend reducing the buffer around leks from 1mile to 0.6 miles.

Included in the comments, were most notably, the comments from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This is the agency that will determine the adequacy of the draft plan. The USFWS comments were very extensive and in MSGA’s review, the USFWS indicated that the plan did not include enough protections for sage grouse. MSGA was disappointed in their comments as it related to private property. The USFWS stated,

In Montana, proposed core habitat often occurs across a fragmented private / government ownership pattern, complicating landscape-scale management. Approximately 54% of proposed core habitat occurs in private ownership. This high proportion of core habitat occurring on private lands may provide limited value for sage grouse depending on the regulatory scope associated with the Montana Strategy in these areas.

Private landowners in Montana are critical factor in ensuring a healthy population of sage grouse, along with other wildlife. It is MSGA’s belief that the landowner should be commended for their efforts and not faced with possible additional regulations. MSGA also worked with the MT Farm Bureau Federation, DNRC and Council members to address the USFWS concerns in the “Range Management” Section of the draft Plan. This work group developed language that was submitted to the entire Council for their consideration.

During the January 14-15, 2014 Council meeting, the Advisory Council reviewed public comment and modified and finalized the draft plan. The Advisory Council will provide the document to the Governor by the end of the month, for his consideration. The Governor has the option to accept, modify or reject the Advisory Council’s recommendations. After finalizing Montana’s sage grouse strategy and developing an implementation plan, the Governor will submit Montana’s sage-grouse conservation strategy to the USFWS for its review. After reviewing the strategy, it is anticipated that the Service will notify the Governor about the strategy’s adequacy.

MSGA plans to review the final document as soon as it is available and also provide it to our members. If any members have questions or additional comments on the plan, please contact the office.

 

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Daines Announces Field Hearings on Sage Grouse, Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Steve Daines today announced that the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a field hearing in Billings on September 4, 2013 to hear from local land users about the potential impacts of listing the Greater Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the implications it holds for Montana’s economy and habitat.

The hearing, which Daines requested last week, will also focus on state and local efforts in land management to conserve species and balance responsible resource development and land use. Daines will be joined by Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04), Congressman Kevin Cramer (ND-AL) and Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (WY-AL).

“As a fifth-generation Montanan, I know firsthand how damaging federal overreach can be to the Montanans that depend on our land and resources for their income and their way of life,” Daines stated. “I’m pleased that the Natural Resources Committee has responded to my request for greater examination of the consequences of Endangered Species Act abuse and the potential listing of the Greater Sage Grouse, and agreed to hold this field hearing in Billings, where residents will be directly affected by the Department of Interior’s decisions. I encourage Montanans to join me at this hearing and look forward to hearing more about how these issues affect the people of our state.”

In light of the Department of Interior’s proposed Resource Management Plans and proposed priority habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse, Daines, along with Cramer, requested for Chairman Hastings to hold a field hearing on the implications of misguided federal actions under the ESA.

Daines and Cramer cited nationwide implications of ESA abuse, noting that potential federal actions under the ESA due to “mega-settlements” with fringe groups could have severe repercussions on domestic energy production. Additionally, misguided federal actions could impact livestock and outdoor recreation industries, both of which are critical to the economy and way of life in Montana and North Dakota.

The full letter requesting the hearing from Daines and Cramer is available here.

The hearing will be split into two parts and titled “State and Local Efforts to Protect Species, Jobs, Property, and Multiple Use Amidst a New War on the West.” A complete schedule is below:

WHAT: House Natural Resources Committee Oversight Field Hearings on “State and Local Efforts to Protect Species, Jobs, Property, and Multiple Use Amidst a New War on the West”

WHO: U.S. Representative Steve Daines (R-MT), Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), U.S. Representative Kevin Cramer, other members of the House Natural Resources Committee

WHEN: Wednesday, September 4, 2013, 1:30 P.M. MST, MSU-Billings Cisel Hall, 1500 University Drive, Billings, MT

Hearing is open to the public. Witnesses by invitation only.