On Tuesday, President Trump signed into law the Great American Outdoors (GAO) Act over opposition from CCA, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Public Lands Council and 45 other livestock groups nationwide.
Livestock groups had opposed the GAO Act for two primary reasons: first, it facilitates significant federal acquisition of land without Congressional oversight of such acquisitions, and second, it is likely to exacerbate maintenance backlogs which already plague federal lands.
Under existing law, Congress annually evaluates proposed federal land acquisitions for funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund during the appropriations process and determines the appropriate level of funding for such acquisitions. Under the GAO Act, however, the federal government will automatically receive $360 million in mandatory funding annually for the purchase of lands throughout the country.
As we wrote in a June 8 letter urging the Senate to reject the bill, “The federal government already owns more than 640 million acres, controlling a vast majority of the American West. More federal ownership is irresponsible, and in some places it will soon be impossible. In Nevada, federal agencies currently own more than 85 percent of the landscape, leaving precious little to support private enterprise.”
Moreover, the GAO Act will exacerbate maintenance backlogs on federally managed lands. A persistent concern of California’s public lands ranchers has been the failure of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to properly repair and maintain roads and other critical infrastructure on our federal lands. While the GAO Act seeks to address this issue by funding maintenance efforts on existing federal lands, it exacerbates the maintenance backlog problem over the long-term.
While CCA is disappointed that the GAO Act has been signed into law, we will continue to work with our affiliate the Public Lands Council to minimize any deleterious impacts of the legislation as it is implemented by the Trump Administration and federal agencies.
Ranchers Encouraged to Complete USDA Survey
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the release of its annual Producer Satisfaction Survey aimed at helping the agency “understand what it is doing well and where improvements are needed, specifically at the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Risk Management Agency (RMA).”
While 28,000 agricultural producers will receive surveys directly from USDA in the coming weeks, the survey is open to all farmers and ranchers (including those not directly receiving a survey), and USDA is encouraging all farmers and ranchers to complete the survey.
The survey can be accessed at www.farmers.gov/survey.
“We want to hear from our customers so we can learn what we’re doing right and where we’re missing the mark,” USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said. “Good data is critical to good decision-making. The more responses we receive, the better we can understand what we need to do to improve our services to America’s farmers, ranchers and private forestland owners.”
According to a USDA press release, the survey is 20 questions and “takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.” USDA expects the survey to be open for at least six weeks.
LAST CHANCE: Support Beef in USDA/HHS Dietary Guidelines, Comment by August 13
On July 15, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) submitted their 2020 scientific report to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The report will form the basis of USDA and HHS’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
USDA and HHS will be taking public comment on the scientific report until August 13. CCA affiliate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has established a simple online portal for submitting comments, and CCA urges all members to submit statements emphasizing the benefits of beef in Americans’ diets. With anti-meat activists already mobilizing to downplay the importance of beef and other meats to a healthy diet, it is essential that USDA and HHS hear from as many pro-beef voices as possible.
While the NCBA site provides a sample comment recommending beef as the lean meat of choice for promoting a healthy lifestyle, CCA encourages members to draft their own, unique letters in support of beef’s role in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans; the agencies will be more responsive to unique comment submissions from ranchers.
“Study after study shows that beef plays an important role in a balanced, healthy diet across the lifespan,” said NCBA President Marty Smith. “NCBA has made it a priority to protect the scientific credibility of Dietary Guidelines and promote accurate information about the nutritional advantages of beef as part of a balanced diet.”
USFWS Proposes New Definition of “Habitat” Under ESA
On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) formally published a proposed rule to define the term “habitat” under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). While the term “critical habitat” is currently defined under federal regulations, “habitat” itself is not currently defined.
The USFWS proposes to define “habitat” as “The physical places that individuals of a species depend upon to carry out one or more life processes. Habitat includes areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species.”
While the proposal has been met with predictable alarm from environmental organizations, it is necessitated by the United States Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Weyerhaeuser v. USFWS. Weyerhaeuser concerned critical habitat designation for the dusky gopher frog. In its designation, the USFWS included 1,544 acres of private land in Louisiana that the agency acknowledged could never be inhabited by the species without significant changes to the land, such as prescribed burning and tree repopulation. In Weyerhaeuser, the Supreme Court clarified that land must logically be habitable by a species in order to be designated critical habitat and overturned the USFWS’ designation of critical habitat.
In response to Weyerhaeuser, the USFWS is now proposing to define “habitat” as “areas with existing attributes” sufficient to support a species.
CCA, which filed a “friend of the court” brief in the Weyerhaeuser case, supports USFWS’ efforts to provide clarity over what constitutes “habitat” under the ESA, and will submit comments in support of the proposal prior to the September 4 deadline.
Working Rangelands Wednesday – Grazing as a Management Tool to Reduce Fire Fuel Loads
Wednesday, August 12 at 1pm PDT Working Rangelands Wednesday will focus on using managed grazing to reduce fire fuels. This session will cover the scientific fundamentals, pragmatic implementation and feature successful case studies on the use of grazing as a management tool to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires from multiple perspectives.
- Peggy Moak, rancher with local county government background in Butte County
- Anthony Stornetta, Rancher and Air and Wildland Battalion Chief for Santa Barbara County Fire
- Calli-Jane DeAnda, Executive Director, Butte County Fire Safe Council
- Tracy Schohr, Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor for Plumas, Sierra and Butte Counties, UC Cooperative Extension
This webinar will consist of a short presentation from each panelist, followed by ~20 minutes of discussion and moderated Q&A from participants.
Register here to receive a zoom link the morning of the webinar. Please note, this is not a direct link to the webinar– you must register in advance. If you are not able to view the webinar live or want to watch previous Working Rangelands Wednesdays sessions, visit the UC Rangelands YouTube channel.
Governor Releases Final Water Resilience Portfolio
Governor Gavin Newsom released his 2020 Water Resilience Portfolio late last month, outlining 142 water policy priorities for his administration, such as the Governor’s plan to build a single tunnel underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
In early February, CCA submitted extensive comments in response to a draft of the Water Resilience Portfolio, issued by the California Natural Resource Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Fortunately, the final Water Resilience Portfolio addresses some of CCA’s initial concerns.
For instance, the draft Water Resilience Portfolio included a goal for phasing in “telemetered diversion data” for “diversions of 500 acre-feet or more per year.” Currently, under 2015’s SB 88, only diversions greater than 10,000 acre-feet per year must be measured with expensive telemetry devices. CCA and other agricultural organizations objected, noting the high cost of telemetry equipment and the effectiveness of existing measurement and reporting requirements. While the final Portfolio still suggests expanding telemetry requirements, it now directs the natural resource agencies to “analyze the costs and benefits” of telemetry in light of “existing monitoring and reporting requirements.”
Several positive priorities outlined in the draft Portfolio and highlighted by CCA remain in the final Portfolio. For instance, the Portfolio proposes to “accelerate state permitting of projects that protect and enhance fish and wildlife and water supply reliability—such as Sites” Reservoir. Of course, among the 142 priorities are also several potential threats to the agricultural community, including a number of goals that increase reporting requirements and costs for producers.
The natural resources agencies acknowledge that the Portfolio is an “aspirational document”—on its own, it has no regulatory effect. But as the agencies undertake regulatory actions to implement provisions of the Portfolio, CCA will engage to protect the interests of California’s agricultural water users.
Ranchers and their Conservation Work Highlighted in New NRCS Videos
California ranchers partner with USDA’s NRCS as the caring stewards of tens of thousands of acres of working lands, providing not only healthy beef and lamb but also sustainable supplies of clean water, wildlife habitat, and iconic California vistas and recreation.
Conservation practices are the building blocks used to accomplish this stewardship.
Now, 27 of those practices can be viewed as two-minute videos featuring actual ranchers and their land, alongside local NRCS conservationists explaining how the practices work. Roughly a third of the new video series—called Conservation at Work—are primarily geared for rangeland.
The practices—like prescribed grazing management, or fencing or livestock pipeline, are often packaged together. Jointly they optimize the distribution of grazing animals across the landscape. Similarly, the videos feature one practice at a time, though they are usually combined to achieve desired goals.
Other video practices most relevant to rangeland can be viewed here: Brush Management, Forage and Biomass Plantings, Trails and Walkways, Water Well and Watering Facility.
2020 CCA Scholarship Application Available Now
Applications for the 2020 CCA Scholarships are being accepted now through October 1. In 2019, CCA awarded almost $50,000 in scholarships to students studying agriculture, although scholarship amounts and quantities vary year to year.
Current CCA members (producer, feeder or YCC) that are currently enrolled (or accepted for fall 2020) at a university or college are eligible to apply. Past recipients of the CCA scholarship program may also apply again this year. For a complete list of awards and to download the application visit calcattlemen.org/scholarship. Contact Katie in the CCA office at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.