Grazing reform "reformed'
After waging a
defensive battle for more than two years, public-lands ranchers and
their allies in Congress have gone on the offensive.
The Livestock Grazing Act of 1995, introduced
May 25 by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., would kill Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt's two-year effort to reform grazing practices on 270
million acres of land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
Babbitt agreed in December to wait six months before implementing
his reform package so that Congress could have its say.
Domenici's bill prevents the BLM from curtailing
grazing unless it can show "imminent and irreversible damage to the
land." It would also let ranchers hold on to permits even if they
prevent public access to their allotment, fail to pay grazing fees,
illegally kill endangered species or cut and remove vegetation
Cathy Carlson of the
National Wildlife Federation says the bill gives ranchers an
"historic grazing preference right." That means the government
might be forced to compensate ranchers who are told to graze fewer
cows to protect the land, she says. The bill calls for an increase
in the grazing fee from the current $1.65 per cow-calf pair to
In return for their
cosponsorship of his bill, Domenici accepted an addition from Sens.
Bryon Dorgan and Kent Conrad, both Democrats from North Dakota. It
would turn over management of several million acres of national
grasslands from the Forest Service to the Secretary of Agriculture
and local grazing associations. "This would turn national
grasslands into national cow pastures," says Kirk Koepsel of the
Domenici, the powerful chair of the
Budget Committee, says his bill will provide stability for ranchers
across the West and save them from Babbitt's "onerous proposal,"
which is slated to become final on Aug. 21. He has promised to push
through his bill and a companion bill in the House before then. -