WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Following swift, bipartisan action in the Agriculture and Resources Committees, the full House of Representatives today passed Oregon Congressman Bob Smith's "Forage Improvement Act of 1997" (H.R. 2493), legislation to provide greater stability for western family ranchers and better, more scientific management of public lands.
The Forage Improvement Act 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. In so doing, Smith united western and eastern, moderate and conservative Republicans and Democrats, who often disagree on public lands and resources issues, in building an overwhelming 242-182 vote victory.
"I'm absolutely delighted that the full House has agreed with the necessity of providing greater stability for western family ranchers. This is a very moderate, incremental approach, but it is also perhaps the most significant benefit and the most substantial achievement for the western livestock industry in two decades. I'm very proud of the way Members put their personal differences aside and judged this bill on the merits. On that basis it is clearly a winner, and that, very simply, is why we won," said Smith, who in addition to chairing the Agriculture Committee is a member of the House Resources Committee.
"This is just one step in the process, but I'm confident the bill will have similar success in the United States Senate, and I urge them to take the bill up at the earliest possible convenience. I also hope the Administration will re-examine its short-sighted opposition to the bill. Given the number of changes we have made and support for the bill in the House, there really is no reason to oppose this very reasonable measure. It's good for the livestock industry, good for the environment, good for the taxpayer, and good for the management of public lands," 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.
"For years, America's family ranchers have simply not been able to plan financially from year to year," said Rep. Charlie Stenholm, the Agriculture Committee's ranking Democrat. "Today, with passage of this bill, we are increasing revenues for the U.S. Treasury, guaranteeing a stable beef supply for the consumer, and providing ranchers with the stability and continuity they need to plan for their family's future and compete in today's global marketplace."
H.R. 2493 makes many important additions to current law that will help stabilize the western livestock industry, while at the same time the bill does not directly or indirectly change existing environmental laws or regulations.
The bill, as amended by Smith and approved by the House:
(1) Implements and codifies a new grazing fee formula that is easy to understand, simple to track using government figures, and charges a fair price for the "commodity" a rancher buys from the federal government (access to forage). Using current data, the fee would be $1.84 today, a 36% increase. If it had been in place the previous 15 years, this new fee would have generated $52,561,860 in additional revenue for the Treasury;
(2) Provides the option for Cooperative Allotment Management Plans (CAMPs) which allow the Secretary to enter into flexible, cooperative agreements to manage federal allotments with ranchers who have demonstrated that they are good stewards of the land;
(3) Clarifies that subleasing of one's federal allotment is illegal. This remote practice has brought ranchers criticism, and this bill strictly forbids the practice of subleasing - the act of neither owning nor controlling livestock on federal ground;
(4) Increases the focus on science-based monitoring of changes in rangeland vegetation and associated ecosystems conducted by trained professionals. Arbitrary and/or politically-driven assessments of range condition cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. Sound and verifiable science is essential to verify the real health of the public range, and when assessed correctly will better ensure the full ten year term permits for solid ranchers that current statute guarantees; and
(5) Streamlines the National Forest System and BLM regulations for the issues addressed. Currently, the morass of conflicting agency regulations inhibits application of sound range management practices and direction.
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.