A congressional hearing was recently held to examine challenges faced by ranchers seeking to graze livestock on federal land and to identify opportunities for more productive range management practices.
During the hearing, cattle and sheep producers warned Congress that environmental laws are increasingly being misused by fringe activist groups and pose a growing threat to grazing on federal lands. Their testimony came at a hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy and Environment.
Testifying on behalf of the American Sheep Industry Association was Dillon sheep and wool producer John Helle.
“It gives me a great opportunity to kind of vent some of the issues that I think are broken in the system that we’re stuck in the middle of because of a lawsuit,” said Helle. “There are things I think are broken, and I’m a big believer in a participatory government and coming to D.C. to participate in the process to help make things go better.”
The hearing was chaired by U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., and comes in response to mounting challenges faced by ranchers who graze livestock on federal land and the opportunities for productive range management practices.
“I’ve been hearing from ranchers across Montana that are dependent on grazing on public lands and have been for generations that frivolous litigation has been restricting their access to those lands even though they’ve been the stewards over all these years,” Gianforte said.
The hearing was also an opportunity for ranchers like Helle to talk about the benefits of livestock grazing on public lands.
“Having us federal lands ranchers out there, is giving the public a lot of great benefits,” said Helle. “We’re stewards of the land, we protect open space and we help build an economy.”
Helle said it’s his hope that one of the outcomes of the hearing will be greater emphasis of resolving multi-use conflicts at the local level versus the federal level.
“When we take things to the court or we take things and make broad decisions coming out of D.C., those aren’t necessarily the best ways we manage,” he said.
For members of Congress like Gianforte, the goal of these hearings is to understand where the issues are to develop public policy.
“In this case, we need to provide ways that ranchers can have certainty to the grazing allotments that have been part of their family operations for generations,” said Gianforte.
Access to public lands for grazing is important for ranchers in western states. Recent data shows that grazing on federal land contributed at least $1.5 billion to the economy and supported over 18,000 jobs nationally.