Sage Grouse Management Plans Based on Inaccurate Science

One year after the announcement by the Department of Interior that a listing under the Endangered Species Act was not warranted for the greater sage grouse and the implementation of restrictive resource management plans for the species, the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association submitted a report to the agencies citing concerns with the methodology used.

Ethan Lane, PLC executive director and NCBA executive director of federal lands, notes that recent studies have shown little or no correlation between sage grouse nest success and the requirements set out by the agencies.

“The threats to sage grouse habitat remain wildfire and land development, both of which are mitigated by proper livestock grazing,” said Lane. “One of the most restrictive and burdensome requirements set out by the agencies through the sage grouse Resource Management Plans is the arbitrary stubble height requirement. To say that grass height alone can predict whether or not a sage grouse nest will be successful is not accurate and based on flawed methodology.”

The report points to recent studies showing that the assessments of stubble height required by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are incorrect. These studies show that the timing of grass height measurements in relation to nest predation are fundamentally flawed and not indicative of nesting success.

“Grass height measurements for successful nests are usually conducted in late spring when the eggs have successfully hatched and the grass is taller,” said Lane. “Contrarily, predation of nests often happens closer to the time the eggs are laid in early spring when the grasses are still growing. Grass height alone has little impact on the success or failure of sage grouse nesting, yet these requirements put intense pressure on grazing rotation and the long term health of the range.”

Repeated studies clearly show that grasses respond best to intensively-managed grazing that focuses heavily on timing and recovery. A managed grazing rotation means that a pasture will be grazed early in the season in some years and later in others to ensure optimal recovery and rangeland health.

“The Resource Management Plans make stubble height the driving factor in grazing decisions and impede improving rangeland conditions,” said Lane. “This is counter-productive to sage grouse habitat, as we know healthy rangelands are the largest factor in the success of the species. Moreover, by prioritizing individual data points like grass height over long-term range health, these plans also detract from the conservation of public lands and result in deteriorated rangelands.”

The Public Lands Council is calling on BLM, USFS and USFWS to provide clear instruction at the field level that livestock grazing is not a significant threat, livestock grazing should not be held to a standard that is not ecologically possible in some sites, and that reducing numbers and utilization of public lands will only increase the fuel load.

Source: Public Lands Council

Top Policy Initiatives in Washington D.C. for the Week of September 12, 2016

House Agriculture Committee Addresses Outdated Packers and Stockyards Act

This week, the House Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 5883, legislation to modernize the Packers and Stockyards Act. Enacted in 1921, the Packers and Stockyards Act is intended to protect buyers and sellers of livestock from unfair, deceptive, and discriminatory practices.

Having not been revised in decades, Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC), chairman of the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee, introduced H.R. 5883, to expand the definition of “marketing agency” to include video and online auctions and update acceptable payment methods to include electronic transfer of funds, ensuring the legislation keeps up with the latest technologies available as our industry and modern banking continues to evolve.

Sage Grouse Provision Key for Western Producers

Work continues in Washington, D.C., on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY17. The House-passed version of the bill includes a provision blocking implementation of Federal management plans for the greater sage grouse over ongoing successful management of the species by Western states, livestock producers, and others. As the conferees work through the various issues contained in this year’s version of the “must pass” legislation, it’s clear that House leadership is working hard to keep the provisions in place and protect producers.

Efforts are now focused on the Senate, and in particular Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Despite documented impacts to military training exercises at installations like Yakima Training Center in Washington State, not to mention the impact of the plans on rural western economies, Senator McCain continues to resist inclusion of this critical language. Senators from around the West will continue to press this case with McCain through the fall in order to ensure this important legislation crosses the finish line intact.

Senate Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing on CFTC Commissioner Nominations

Today the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing to consider the nominations of Dr. Christopher Brummer and Brian Quintenz to serve as Commissioners of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

The CFTC is charged with fostering open, transparent, competitive, and financially sound markets, to avoid systemic risk, and to protect the market users and their funds, consumers, and the public from fraud, manipulation, and abusive practices related to derivatives and other products that are subject to the Commodity Exchange Act. The Commission is comprised of five Commissioners nominated by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Currently, there are two Commissioner vacancies at the CFTC. Senator Pat Roberts, chairman on the Senate Agriculture Committee, opened the hearing by stressing the charge of the CFTC Commissioner.

“As noted by the CFTC’s own mission statement:  Farmers, ranchers, producers, commercial companies (or end-users), municipalities, pension funds and others use markets to lock in a price or a rate and focus on what they do best – innovating, producing goods and services for the economy, and creating jobs,” said Roberts. “It is essential that the CFTC have individuals in charge that truly take that mission statement to heart, as the innovation and hard work of our farmers and ranchers seems to have been forgotten in recent years.”

Chairman Roberts continued and highlighted the impact the CFTC has on the agriculture industry.

“Many of us here raised concerns when Dodd-Frank was being considered and insisted that the legislation should not negatively impact those who had nothing to do with the causes of the 2008 crisis, and it is important to note that this was a bipartisan concern. Yet, when Dodd-Frank became law, and the CFTC began writing new regulations, it is in fact our farmers, our ranchers, our county grain elevator managers who felt the heavy hand of over-regulation come down on them,” said Roberts. “It is clear that Congress should not withhold needed regulatory relief for our farmers, ranchers, and risk management service providers any longer. Nor should the CFTC. The CFTC must look through the lens of regulatory practicality – not the lens of regulatory irrationality.”

Now that the CFTC is close to being fully staffed, the Commission will have the man-power and time to investigate critical issues that impact the cattle industry, like volatility in the marketplace.

Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Sides with Producers in EPA Release of Information

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency abused its discretion in disclosing farm information from producers across the country. In a long running dispute, EPA in early 2013 released the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and GPS coordinates of concentrated animal feeding operations from more than 30 states to environmental activist groups through a Freedom of Information Request. These groups included Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources

Defense Council.

Following objections by NCBA and other producer groups, EPA reviewed the information on over 80,000 facilities and concluded they had released too much information and requested the return of the electronic documents. Despite this effort, the harm had already been done and the farm information had been disseminated to many activist groups beyond the three groups that made the FOIA request.

In the case brought against EPA by American Farm Bureau and National Pork Producers Council, the Court validated the concerns of producers across the country by determining that EPA abused its discretion in releasing personal information of farmers and ranchers and directed the Agency to refrain from future releases of such information. The Court concluded that “the EPA’s disclosure of spreadsheets containing personal information about owners of CAFOs would invade a substantial privacy interest of the owners while furthering little in the way of public interest that is cognizable under FOIA.”

While this decision cannot recapture the information already released, it does effectively prevent EPA from releasing further private producer information. The case will be remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

Senate Passes Water Resources Development Act with Key Provisions for Agriculture

The U.S. Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act today with an amendment containing an exemption for animal feed products regulated by the EPA’s Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure rule. The bill passed by the Senate will bring much-needed regulatory relief for small and medium sized farms and livestock producers across the country who store oil, or oil products, at their operations.

The amendment to the bill championed by Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) would wholly exempt animal feed storage tanks from the SPCC rule, both in terms of aggregate storage and single-tank storage. Additionally, it exempts up to 2,000 gallons of storage capacity on remote or separate parcels of land as long as those tanks are not larger than 1,000 gallons each.

“When it comes to preventing spills from on-farm fuel storage, producers already have every incentive in the world,” said Senator Fischer. “We live on this land. Our families drink this water.”

In May 2014, Congress acted to ease the burden by exempting producers who had up to 6,000 gallons of aboveground storage and no single tank with a capacity of 10,000 gallons or more. However, that legislation neglected to fully exempt animal feed storage from the SPCC rule. Senator Fischer’s amendment provides that critical relief to our nation’s livestock producers.

The legislation must now be considered and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.


Beltway Beef is a weekly report from Washington, D.C., giving an up-to-date summary of top policy initiatives; direct from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

Public Lands Council Annual Meeting Update

We catch up with Jay Bodner, MSGA  Director of Natural Resources and Montana Public Lands Council Executive Secretary. He gives us an update on what the top issues are at the meeting and how they affect Montana and MSGA members.

Senate Holds Oversight Hearing on Sage Grouse Habitat Management  

Source: National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

WASHINGTON (June 28, 2016) – Today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining held an oversight hearing on the Federal sage grouse plans and their impact to successful ongoing state management of the species. Brenda Richards, Owyhee County Idaho rancher and president of the Public Lands Council, testified on behalf of the PLC and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Richards said that any Federal management plan must first recognize the essential contribution of grazing to conservation.

“Ranchers across the west have a vested interest not just in the health of their livestock, but in the rangelands that support their herds and the wildlife that thrive alongside them,” said Richards. “The businesses they operate form the economic nucleus of many rural communities, providing jobs and opportunities where they wouldn’t exist otherwise. Additionally, ranchers often serve as first responders in emergency situations across vast, remote stretches of unoccupied federal lands. Simply put, public lands ranchers are an essential element of strong communities, healthy economies, and productive rangelands across the west.”

Across the west, roughly 22,000 ranchers steward approximately 250 million acres of federal land and 140 million acres of adjacent private land. With as much as 80 percent of productive sage grouse habitat on private lands adjacent to federal permit ground, this makes private partnership essential in increasing sage grouse numbers. However, concern remains that local stakeholder input is being ignored by the Bureau of Land Management.

“Items such as Focal Areas, mandatory stubble height requirements and withdrawals of permits impose radically severe and unnecessary management restrictions on this vast area in opposition to proven strategies,” said Richards. “Rather than embracing grazing as a resource and tool for conservation benefit, these plan amendments impose arbitrary restrictions to satisfy requirements for newly minted objectives such as Focal Areas and Net Conservation Benefit. Wildfire, invasive species and infrastructure are the major threats to sage grouse habitat and they are all most effectively managed through grazing.”

According to the latest data from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ August 2015 report – Greater Sage Grouse Population Trends: An Analysis of Lek Count Databases 1965-2015, the number of male grouse counted on leks range-wide went from 43,397 in 2013 to 80,284 in 2015.  That’s a 63 percent increase in the past two years and contributes to a minimum breeding population of 424,645 birds, which does not include grouse populations on unknown leks.

“The results of these voluntary, local conservation efforts around the west are undeniable; habitat is being preserved and the sage grouse populations are responding,” said Richards. “Proper grazing specifically addresses the biggest threats to sage grouse habitat, while reduced grazing allows these threats to compound. To arbitrarily restrict grazing when it’s needed most is a recipe for failure. Local input and decades of successful, collaborative conservation efforts must be the starting point for future Federal involvement, not an afterthought as it is now being treated.”

Public lands ranchers encourage the BLM and Federal agencies to work with them to continue to conserve and protect sage grouse habitat.

A copy of Richards’ testimony submitted to the Subcommittee can be found HERE.

Sage Grouse not listed as Endangered Species

sageGrouseOn Tuesday, September 22, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services announced that the greater sage grouse would not be listed as an endangered species. This is a significant accomplishment following extensive work by officials, industry and conservation groups in 11 states who have worked to form plans for conservation of the bird’s habitat.

Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made the announcement on Tuesday via video. Click here to watch and read her statement.

Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Public Lands Council and Montana Association of State Grazing Districts are supportive of the recent decision. Even with sage grouse not listed under ESA, our organizations will still be working on this issue on our members’ behalf, at both the state and federal level.

At the state level, Montana has developed state legislation and a state plan, which will be operational by January 1, 2016. In order to accomplish this accelerated time schedule, we will be participating in all facets of the program, such as:

  • Attendance at the Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team (MSGOT) meetings
  • Further developing program rules for mitigation and habitat exchanges
  • Development of landowner incentives

The MSGOT will hold two more meeting this fall, with the next being November 17 in Helena. Click here to learn more about Montana Sage Grouse Management.

In addition to the state plan development, our organizations will be also working on the federal level. On the federal side, BLM has just released their Resource Management Plans (RMP) for the state. These plans provide the direction for public land and federal minerals managed by the Bureau of Land Management and provide a framework for the future management direction for the planning area.

With the release of these RMPs, we will be:

  • Reviewing these plans as it relates to impacts to livestock grazing
  • Work with the agency to ensure livestock grazing is not impacted by sage grouse decisions
  • Clarify specific criteria and requirements within the document and how they will impacting livestock producers.

Montana’s leadership provided statements regarding the DOI and USFWS announcement on Tuesday:

Our organizations also request input from our members on areas of possible concerns or program areas where livestock producers can receive some benefit. Please contact the MSGA office if you have any further questions. Stay tuned to MSGA News updates and emails for more information as it becomes available.

USDA Invests an Additional $211 Million for Sage Grouse Conservation Efforts

PLC LogoWASHINGTON – Yesterday, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Natural Resources Conservation Service will continue its partnership with ranchers to invest in efforts for the conservation of Sage Grouse habitat. The four-year strategy will invest approximately $211 million in conservation efforts on public and private lands throughout the 11 Western states. The Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association appreciate the NRCS’s commitment to a continued partnership with ranchers.

“Ranchers across the West appreciate the continued partnership with NRCS through the Sage Grouse Initiative,” said Brenda Richards, PLC president and rancher from southern Idaho. “As the original stewards of our Western lands, ranchers work day-in and day-out to maintain healthy rangelands and conserve our natural resources for the generations to come. The Sage Grouse Initiative has proven itself to be a win-win for livestock producers and the grouse, and the partnership through 2018 will support the continuation of the successful conservation efforts already underway.”

The sage grouse is found in eleven states across the western half of the United States, including California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming and encompasses 186 million acres of public and private land. In 2010, the Sage Grouse Initiative launched and has helped ranchers implement increased conservation efforts on their land, benefiting both the grouse habitat and rangeland for livestock ranchers.

The Sage Grouse, due to frivolous lawsuit and litigation, is currently at risk of being listed under the Endangered Species Act. However, the ESA has become one of the most economically damaging laws facing our nation’s livestock producers and is great need of modernization. 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 NCBA and PLC believe the rather than listing the grouse under the ESA, efforts like the Sage Grouse Initiative will benefit the bird more and prove that listing is not the answer.

“The Endangered Species Act is outdated and has proven itself ineffective,” said Philip Ellis, who ranches in Wyoming. “Of the 1,500 domestic species listed since 1973, less than two percent have ever been deemed recovered. With this partnership, voluntary conservation efforts have increased, ranchers remain on the land, and wildlife habitat is thriving. In fact, Interior Secretary Jewell announced this year that through working with ranchers and other stakeholders in Nevada and California, the Bi-State Sage Grouse population was no longer at risk and was not listed under the ESA. This is prime example of how land management and conservation efforts should be made, in partnership with those that know the land the best.”

Learn more about the USDA NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative programs here.

Grazing Districts Hold Annual Meeting, Podcast with Public Lands Council

masgdThe Montana Association of State Grazing Districts (MASGD) held their annual meeting on June 17th at Fort Keogh in Miles City. The meeting started with a joint Board of Directors meeting with the MASGD and the PLC, followed by a Grazing District Secretary appreciation lunch.

During the lunch, the Board recognized the secretaries for their valuable service to the districts. The Board also had a special recognition to Jennifer Cole, who is now retired, but was instrumental in the formation of the Missouri River Basin Grazing District in Alzada.

For the general business meeting, there were over thirty-five members in attendance. Informational updates were provided by Dustin Van Liew, Executive Director for the National Public Lands Council; Mark Petersen, Research Leader for Fort Keogh; Lila Taylor, Board of Livestock; Fred Wacker for MSGA, Richard Stuker, MT Fish and Wildlife Commission and Floyd Thompson, and Todd Yeager from the Bureau of Land Management.

The Grazing District members also received congressional updates from Jesse Anderson with Senator Tester’s office and Alex Sterhan with Congressman Zinke. Larry Ahlgren of Winnett and Dan Kluck of Malta were elected for a second term on the Board of Directors.

The 2016 annual meeting is tentatively scheduled for June in Malta, MT.

After the Grazing Districts meeting, we had the opportunity to sit down with Dustin Van Liew to learn more about the work Public Lands Council does in Washington D.C. as well as here in Montana.

Public Lands Council Logo

Federal Spending Bill Includes Important Provisions for Producers

WASHINGTON – The House Interior appropriations bill passed through committee on Tuesday, June 16, 30 to 21. The Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association strongly support the bill, which allocates how federal dollars are spent for the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and related agencies during fiscal year 2016. The bill included language that would help provide relief from the regulatory burdens that continue to hamper the productivity and profitability of farmers and ranchers across the country.

From language that blocks the listing of the Sage Grouse, to requiring alternative allotments where ranchers are impacted by drought or wildfire without the need to complete extensive environmental analyses and many others, Dustin Van Liew, PLC and NCBA federal lands executive director, said the provisions are important to keeping livestock producers in business.

This bill would maintain the current grazing fee, fund the range budgets at the same levels as fiscal year 2015 and prohibit funding for the creation of de facto wilderness areas under Secretarial Order 3310. These are all critical in maintaining the viability of federal lands grazing and multiple use.

“This bill contained several priorities for public lands ranchers,” said Van Liew. “Our industry supports the current federal grazing fee formula, which is based on market criteria and accurately reflects the costs of operating on public lands. We also support maintaining range budgets so the agencies can retain staff and work to reduce backlogs, managing the additional burdens of red-tape and frivolous litigation.”

The bill also continues to block listing of the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act through September 30, 2016.

“Due to a closed-door settlement between United States Fish and Wildlife Service and radical environmental groups, arbitrary deadlines have been set for making hundreds of decisions on species in all fifty states to be listed under the Endangered Species Act,” said Van Liew. “We encourage Congress to provide direction to the agencies to defer to state sage grouse management plans so that land management agencies cannot continue to make decisions that will negatively impact livestock grazing. Research shows that livestock grazing is one of the only tools available to benefit sage grouse habitat; reducing fuel loads and preserving open space.”

Scott Yager, NCBA environmental counsel, commended lawmakers for including language that would help reign in the EPA’s attempt to control even more land and water on private property.

“This committee took the much needed step of defunding the implementation of the EPA’s waters of the United States final rule,” said Yager. “The final rule released by the agency does not satisfy the concerns of cattle producers or land owners. The provisions contained in this legislation send a clear signal to the EPA that they need to start over, working with Congress, land owners, and the states to draft a rule that will work for everyone.”

The committee took a positive step, in line with last year’s bill, by including a provision to withhold funding to any rule that would require mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems. The committee additionally continued to include language preventing EPA from requiring Clean Air Act permits from livestock operations based on greenhouse gas emissions.

PLC and NCBA encourage the full House to take up this bill without delay.

Looking Ahead For Montana Sage Grouse Stewardship | Podcast

PodcastOn this week’s podcast, we’ll continue our conversation with Stockgrowers Executive Vice President, Errol Rice, to find out what happens in policy work after the legislative session ends in Helena. Plus, we’ll have a recap on sage grouse stewardship and what conservation of this bird’s habitat means for ranchers in the western states.

Learn more about Senate Bill 261, which establishes Montana’s sage grouse stewardship plans, that was signed by Governor Bullock last week.

Have questions or suggestions for future podcast topics? Connect with us via our Contact form.

Montana Stockgrowers Addresses Policy Focus and Priorities during Legislative Session

Errol RiceBy Errol Rice, MSGA Executive Vice President

Three overarching policy areas were paramount to Montana Stockgrowers during the 2015 Montana State Legislature – adequate funding for the Department of Livestock, passage of the CSKT Water Compact and the Sage Grouse Conservation Act. Each brought varying degrees of controversy and unwavering points of view by lawmakers and constituents, but we made the lift. There is still work to be done.

Fundamentally, there are three different approaches MSGA could have taken on these issues. We could have just simply reacted and waited to see if we’d be forced to respond to new and unanticipated policies. We could have only monitored and gleaned information to anticipate policy changes. We could have undergone direct participation in the process and shaped policy to minimize threats and advance opportunities. We chose direct participation in the process. This approach is the most costly in terms of resources, but the results in my opinion have yielded the greatest benefit to our industry.

The Department of Livestock budget came together after weeks of negotiations between livestock interests, House Appropriations and the Senate Finance committee. MSGA worked hard on the appropriations process. For months, leading up to the session we have been offering feedback and briefings to legislators on the tightening of costs and revenue projections, adjusting fees, recalibrating Board governance, human resource policies and procedures, and building a long-range plan. MSGA has also focused on vetting and making recommendations to the Bullock administration about appointments to Department’s Board.

The Governor’s nomination of Lila Taylor is a game changer. We supported and stewarded her candidacy through the process. Lila brings over forty years of industry experience along with a foundation in legislative appropriations and sharp understanding of how to serve on high-level boards.

She has served on the Board of Regents and the Montana Board of Public Education just to name a few. We also supported the confirmation of Nina Baucus and reappointment of Brett DeBruycker. Both of whom are stalwarts to the successful future of the DOL.

The CSKT water compact was a very complex policy matter that required intense due diligence by the water committee, Board of Directors, legal counsel and our lobbyists. We had to establish a high degree of confidence that the compact protected historic water rights both on and off the Flathead Reservation. Ratifying an agreement of this magnitude is of course going to draw a level of skepticism by some people.

There are almost no public policy decisions that enjoy unanimous support from all constituents, but as a matter of mitigating our industry’s risk exposure from tribal water claims, this compact needed passage. This proposal still has to go before the U.S. Congress for authorization and this could take years. After that, the CSKT’s tribal council must formally approve it. Following the tribe’s approval, the Montana Water Court must consider it.

In the meantime, the tribe must file their water rights by June 30th of this year. Those claims will be put on hold while Congress takes up the compact. MSGA will continue to be fully engaged at all levels of the compact’s life cycle moving forward.

Since April of 2013 MSGA has been working to develop a Montana solution for the conservation and management of sage grouse with the intent of avoiding a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act. A listing by the USFWS would have a devastating impact to Montana’s livestock economy.

The passage of Senate Bill 261, solidified a mechanism for private landowners to maintain, restore and expand sage grouse habitat. Furthermore, it offers incentives for private landowners to participate as well as provide mitigation options for project developers such as coal, oil and natural gas to meet their regulatory obligations. MSGA has been at the forefront of getting Montana’s plan structured the right way for grazing interests.

Montana’s livestock industry is profoundly affected by public policy decisions. Anybody can be a part of this process but MSGA will continue to build from the bottom up to access key policy makers, providing credible technical information and influence. Political advocacy is not always easy and it is a competitive endeavor but we have to play to win.

I read a piece recently by Stanley McChrystal, who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan and now advises CEOs on leadership. He said that political chiefs handling national security in Washington would benefit from a bit of white-water rafting together. That would build personal relationships that promote cooperation during times of crisis.  This is important from my point of view in that political advocacy is not always about making a statement but actually showing that we can develop meaningful relationships and lead on major issues affecting our industry.