While a few of President Obama’s cabinet nominees remain to be confirmed, others — such as Ken Salazar (pictured) — will exert enormous influence on landowners and have been hard at work since hours after the inauguration. Read more
The 111th Congress, with the strongest Democratic majority in years, was seated on January 6 and already the body is at work on legislation of significant importance to landowners nationwide. Read more
BY JOSEPH GUINTO
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2007
When the U.S. Supreme Court convened in October, the men (and woman) in black did not discuss landowner water rights. And for a pair of longtime Idaho ranchers—and perhaps other landowners—no news might mean bad news.
For the moment, the court has made no decision on whether to take up the case of Joyce Livestock vs. the United States. Earlier this year, Joyce and LU Ranching won a ruling against the federal government in Idaho’s Supreme Court in a potentially precedent-setting case of grazing rights.
Ranchers have long been subject to the rules set by the Bureau of Land Management under the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act. That act allows federal officials to set the terms under which ranchers can use public lands, including whether and how much water can be used.
But in 2005, Joyce and LU challenged that law as it applied to Idaho’s Snake River Basin. They argued that because they had operated in the area for more than 100 years—long before the Taylor Act—they had established water rights that the government could not remove.
By February of this year, their case reached the Idaho Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the livestock firms. But the court did not allow the companies’ claim to have the U.S. government pay their $1.3 million court fees. Idaho’s Supreme Court said the government did not act frivolously. The ranchers argued that the Equal Access to Justice Act—a law intended to prevent the government from running roughshod over small businesses and individuals by prolonging expensive litigation—entitled them to court costs. But the Idaho court said it had no jurisdiction to rule on that claim, leaving the U.S. Supreme Court as the last resort.
With the court’s docket already set until next year, precedent-watchers will have to wait on a final outcome.
BY JOSEPH GUINTO
PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2007
A program the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls “one of the largest systematic changes ever faced by the livestock industry” may be in trouble. The National Animal Identification System, which has been praised by some large livestock companies and panned by many individual landowners, was criticized in a government audit this summer. The Government Accountability Office concluded the NAIS might be “in danger of losing momentum.” At the same time, the U.S. House of Representatives didn’t include new, direct funding for the program in the version of the farm bill it passed. (At press time, the Senate’s version of the farm bill was unavailable.)
The NAIS has been plagued by controversy ever since the USDA announced it four years ago. Th e program was designed to track livestock by location. It asked landowners to register their properties—an address will usually do, but some instances require latitude and longitude coordinates—and register all animals kept on their property. Landowners would also have to log the animals’ whereabouts from birth until death and even implant radio frequency identification tags to help track the animals.
Despite how Orwellian that sounds, the intention behind the NAIS—improving food safety—is unassailable. The USDA insists the program will allow the government to track disease outbreaks among livestock bound for the food chain. Th at ability—to track and potentially limit animal-borne diseases—could make U.S. food products more desirable on the world market, especially since other countries have adopted similar programs. No surprise, then, that the NAIS has found considerable favor with large livestock producers in the United States.
It hasn’t been as popular, though, with some individual landowners. Though the NAIS is a voluntary program, its big-brother aspects have raised the ire of hundreds of landowners who either keep livestock as pets or for limited commercial use. Opposition groups like the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and the Liberty Ark Coalition have been formed to stifle the NAIS. One Liberty Ark member called the NAIS “one of the most all-encompassing attacks on our right to farm and keep pets as has ever been fomented.”
The government has clearly been listening to that opposition. State governments, that is. Legislation has been proposed in 12 statehouses that would ban or limit states’ participation in the NAIS or similar programs. Those proposals come even as the USDA is funding grants to state and local governments that develop their own registration programs. The USDA has already handed out $35 million in grants.
But that money didn’t help 16-year-old Brandi Calderwood. She was ejected from the Colorado State Fair’s junior livestock sale this summer because the fair’s board had voted to require entrants to be in compliance with some aspects of the NAIS. Though Calderwood did register her animals, the board believed she erred in correctly identifying their location. That’s the kind of bureaucratic mess opponents of the NAIS say will spread nationwide should the program be made mandatory. But the GAO says that if it remains a voluntary program, “that may affect [the USDA’s] ability to attract the necessary levels of participation” to make the program eff ective at limiting animal disease outbreaks. Initially the program was to be mandatory, but responding to opposition from some industry groups, the USDA made the program voluntary in 2006. NAIS has more than 400,000 registrants, and the USDA hopes all livestock owners will be registered by 2009.
One of the objections to making the NAIS mandatory was that the USDA had not yet said how much the program would cost individual livestock owners. The GAO also criticized the USDA for not conducting a cost-benefit analysis on the program to prove that “the potential benefits of the program outweigh the costs.”
The USDA just awarded a contract to several universities to do an independent cost-benefit analysis on the NAIS. And with the House apparently not in the mood to directly fund the program this year, that study, due back early next year, may prove to be both the figurative and literal bottom line on the future of the NAIS.
October 1, 2007 by Joseph Guinto
Filed under Cattle, Conservation, Feature, Federal Policy, Field Reporters, Great Plains, Joseph Guinto, Magazine, October 2007, Public Land, Recreation, Regional News, Topics
BY JOSEPH GUINTO
PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2007
More than 5,000 acres of federal land in North Dakota’s Badlands could go up for sale. That’s up to Congress. The property is supposed to be offered as a unique offset to a purchase made by the U.S. Forest Service. Last spring, the Forest Service ended a years-long controversy by spending $5.3 million on a 5,200-acre ranch across the Little Missouri River from the Elkhorn Ranch, a property once owned by Theodore Roosevelt and considered by many as the nation’s “cradle of conservation.”
Roosevelt retreated to the ranch in the late 1880s and emerged three and a half years later as an avowed environmentalist who would, as president, go on to add millions of acres to the government’s holdings for use as national forests, parks, and wildlife refuges. But adding to the government’s holdings was just what the Forest Service didn’t want to do when it bought the neighboring Blacktail Creek Ranch. After all, the government already owns 1.2 million acres in North Dakota. Some local ranchers and officials vehemently opposed taking a working ranch out of production just so Roosevelt’s property could continue to enjoy an unspoiled view.
So, in a unique compromise, the Forest Service said it would buy the Blacktail Creek Ranch and sell an equivalent amount of land it already owns in North Dakota, but that it would sell that land only to about 40 ranchers who currently own property in Billings County, where Elkhorn Ranch is located. And that’s where Congress gets involved. Or not. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota and a proponent of the ranch purchase, says he doesn’t support legislation with such restrictions.
When Smokey Bear says, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” he really means it. After several years of historic wildfires in the West that have strained firefighting budgets, burned thousands of acres, and destroyed homes, lawmakers in Washington and at the state and local levels are preparing to ask landowners to help combat the blazes before they begin. Read more
Whether you’re tearing it up in an off-road vehicle or all torn up about their impact on the land, you’ll probably want to know about the tongue-twisting new advocacy group known as Rangers for Responsible Recreation. The group, backed by Washington, D.C.-based lobbying outfit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), may be the most influential so far to push for broader regulations on off-roaders riding on public lands. And their efforts could have a spillover effect on private properties. Read more
The State of Independence has liberated landowners in a case that may set a national precedent. Earlier this summer, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell signed a law granting new protections to landowners who open their property to sportsmen and others for recreational purposes. Read more
BY JOSEPH GUINTO
PUBLISHED JULY 2007
The White House accelerated funding for its Healthy Lands Initiative this year, allocating some $3 million to the Bureau of Land Management. The money must be spent on restoring or maintaining natural habitats on federal lands, and more will be made available in 2008.
But the sum isn’t nearly what one lobbying group is seeking for refuges. The Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), which unites an array of environmental, hunting, and scientific organizations, wants the budget for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System doubled by 2013. CARE has long pushed for more monies to go toward the nation’s wildlife refuges. Yet even with bipartisan support, they’ve won only modest increases. The Fish and Wildlife Service says funding for the refuge system has increased from about $300 million a year in 2001 to $383 million today, but the agency says that’s not enough to keep up with federally mandated raises for employees and deteriorating conditions at many refuges.
CARE agrees. Last spring, the organization released a lengthy report that offered a breakdown of what CARE sees as funding shortfalls for and shabby upkeep at wildlife refuges. The report concludes that the nation’s refuges are at a crisis point. The group wants funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System increased by $55 million next year with continued increases each subsequent year.
Many members of Congress have endorsed CARE’s efforts, including Rep. Jim Saxton (R-New Jersey). Still, at the moment, there is no legislation working its way through the Capitol that would give the refuge system the funding CARE is seeking.
Remember that little place in the woods where you used to get off spectacular hip shots while hunting birds on the wing? Well, there’s a strip mall there now. That’s an increasingly common issue for hunters, whose once-prized spots are being encroached on by urban and suburban sprawl. But some in Congress think they have a way to offset those land losses. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, would provide $20 million annually to bolster state programs that pay landowners to open their properties to hunters. Read more