WASHINGTON, D.C. - Acting swiftly to bring greater stability for western family ranchers and better, more scientific management of public lands, the House Committee on Agriculture today passed Chairman Bob Smith's (R-OR) "Forage Improvement Act of 1997", sending the bill for further action in the House Resources Committee.
The Committee also passed three other measures: H.R. 1779, introduced by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), which makes a minor adjustment in the exterior boundary of the Devils Backbone Wilderness in the Mark Twain National Forest; H.R. 1789, introduced by Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-TX), which reauthorizes the Dairy Indemnity Program; and H.R. 2366, also introduced by Rep. Stenholm, which transfers to the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to conduct the census of Agriculture. All were non-controversial measures.
The Forage Improvement Act, introduced last Wednesday, 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.
"This bill is critical to the livestock industry's existence. It would be a substantial benefit for family ranchers and for public land management, and I intend to pursue it vigorously in the Resources Committee and on the House floor. I'm delighted the Committee acted swiftly, and without amendment, to move this common sense reform," Smith said.
"The bill sets a higher grazing fee, continues 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," said Rep. Richard Pombo, Chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry.
"Among the improvements made by this bill is the requirement to use sound, verifiable science to monitor grazing allotments, the inclusion of Resource Advisory Councils to encourage public participation, and the establishment of a fixed grazing fee which will provide stability for ranchers, while giving the Treasury an equitable price for the use of Federal lands," 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.