WASHINGTON, D.C. - Oregon Congressman Bob Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and a leader in western livestock issues, today introduced comprehensive public lands grazing reform legislation to bring greater stability for western family ranchers and better, more scientific management of public lands.
Smith introduced "The Forage Improvement Act of 1997" this week and unveiled it at a Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Subcommittee hearing today, pledging to have the bill considered shortly in relevant House committees, including Agriculture. The bill is the product of several months' consultation with state and national livestock associations, individual livestock producers, interested Members of Congress, and environmental groups, and enjoys overwhelming support in the western livestock community.
"Throughout the West, livestock producers are at the administrative whim of bureaucrats who literally hold sway over their lives and livelihoods. It's time to give those producers the ability to tell the banker that they can depend on laws, not the judgments and prejudices of bureaucrats, in the management of public lands and their local economies. When it comes to public lands grazing on 270 million acres, too much is left to bureaucratic judgments, and too little is spelled out in federal law," Smith said.
"I am determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past, nor to expend valuable time and effort on proposals which, while worthwhile, stand no chance of passing the House. There will no doubt be those who criticize the bill from both extremes, the left and right. That the bill gets some criticism from the extreme ends of the political spectrum probably indicates that we have drafted a very reasonable, mainstream bill, and it may well give the bill a better chance of passing. This bill, which is critical to the industry's existence, would be a substantial benefit for family ranchers and for public land management, and I intend to pursue it vigorously. It's about time we took the gun away from their heads," Smith said.
"The bill sets a higher grazing fee, provides for 10-year lease terms, establishes scientific monitoring to provide for more consistent range science, codifies Resource Advisory Councils (RAC) and encourages Coordinated Resource Management, and clarifies subleasing arrangements. But it does so as a matter of law, not as bureaucratic whim. Ranchers would pay higher grazing fees, but would have the security of knowing that the rug won't get jerked out from underneath them," Smith said.
"This bill is critical for California cattlemen and for producers across the West. No one has a greater stake in the sound management of public rangelands than the family ranchers who depend on them for their livelihoods. They are careful stewards of the public range and deserve this very reasonable measure of stability in their lives. Asking the federal government to stick to its word is only fair, and its time the federal government treat them with more fairness," said Rep. Richard Pombo, Chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry.
"Farmers and ranchers across America have a right to a fundamental measure of security, which is long overdue when it comes to grazing on public lands. This bill, which I am proud to support, would be a great benefit to western family ranchers," said Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-TX), the Committee's ranking Democrat.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Pombo represents California's Eleventh Congressional District. Stenholm represents Texas' Seventeenth Congressional District, a sprawling agricultural district in west central Texas.