USFWS Finalizes “Habitat” Definition, Updates Critical Habitat Exclusions Under ESA
On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published a final rule defining the term “habitat” under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The final rule defines the term “habitat” only for the limited purpose of designating critical habitat under the ESA. It states that “For the purposes of designating critical habitat only, habitat is the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.”
The rule was necessitated in part by the United States Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Weyerhaeuser v. USFWS. In Weyerhaeuser, the Supreme Court clarified that land must logically be “habitat” for a species in order to be designated “critical habitat” for that species. (In doing so, the Supreme Court overturned the designation of 1,544 acres of private land as critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog, finding that without significant changes to the land, such as prescribed burning and tree repopulation, the land could never be populated by the species.)
Two days later, on December 18, the USFWS issued a related final rule outlining regulations for excluding land from critical habitat designations for threatened and endangered species. Most notably, the final rule allows the USFWS to consider excluding federal lands from critical habitat designations in the same manner that it currently considers exclusions of non-federal lands (this is a reversal of a 2016 policy which held that USFWS could not typically exclude federal lands from designations).The rule achieves this end by allowing the USFWS to evaluate the “extent to which consultation would produce an outcome that has economic or other impacts, such as by requiring project modifications and additional conservation measures by the Federal agency or other affected parties, on a case-by-case basis.” This regulation allows the USFWS not only to consider undesirable economic and other impacts that critical habitat designation may entail for federal agencies, but also allows the agency to consider impacts to grazing permittees and other users of federal lands.
As with the “habitat” definition, the critical habitat exclusion rule was partly prompted by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Weyerhaeuser. CCA, which filed an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief in the Weyerhaeuser case, provided input on both regulations in partnership with the Public Lands Council and Western Resources Legal Center.
Both rules become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. The definition of “habitat” will become effective on January 15, 2021, and the final rule for critical habitat exclusion will take effect on January 19, 2021.
LAST CALL: Purchase Your LMRF Raffle Tickets by Tomorrow
CCA’s Livestock Memorial Research Fund (LMRF) is selling tickets for its annual trailer raffle with all proceeds going to the LMRF scholarship fund. This year’s grand prize trailer is a 2021 18’ Swift Built Steel Gooseneck Livestock Trailerand the reserve prize is a utility/ATV trailer. The prizes for this year’s raffle have once again been generously donated by American Ag Credit, CoBank and Farm Credit West.
Raffle tickets are $100 per ticket or $250 for three tickets and can be purchased by calling the CCA office at (916) 444-0845. Call the office by EOD tomorrow, Dec. 22, to pay by credit card and secure your last minute tickets. A virtual drawing to select the winners will take place on Dec. 29. Tickets must be received at the CCA office by Dec. 22 to be eligible to be entered. Best of luck to all who purchase tickets and thank you for supporting the upcoming leaders of California’s cattle industry.
US Forest Service to Update Rangeland Management Directives
On Friday, the US Forest Service released the text of proposed revisions to the agency’s Rangeland Management Directives governing grazing permits and allotment administration. The proposal includes amendments to the Service’s Rangeland Management Manual, the Grazing Permit Administration Handbook and the Allotment Management Handbook.
The revisions to the Rangeland Management Directives would be the first in 30 years and are intended to make the Directives “more usable, modern and conform to recent legislation,” as well as to provide greater clarity and management flexibility. The revisions are intended to address major themes such as facilitating succession planning and conservation flexibility.
The US Forest Service is accepting public comment on the proposed revisions through Tuesday, February 16, 2021. The Service will also host two informational webinars on the proposed revisions via Microsoft Teams, which can be accessed by clicking the webinar attendee links near the bottom of the page here. The webinars will be held Wednesday, January 6 and Tuesday, January 12 from 9:00am-noon Pacific.
CCA staff will review the proposed revisions in collaboration with our national affiliates at the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and will draft written comments on the proposals by the February 16 deadline.
USDA Finalizes GIPSA Rule
On December 11, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service issued a Final Rule, “Undue and Unreasonable Preferences and Advantages Under the Packers and Stockyards Act,” also known as the GIPSA Rule.
The regulation establishes four criteria for the Secretary of Agriculture to consider when deciding whether a packer “has made or given any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person or locality” in violation of the Packers and Stockyard Act. Those criteria include whether the preference or advantage:
- Cannot be justified on the basis of a cost savings related to dealing with different producers, sellers, or growers;
- Cannot be justified on the basis of meeting a competitor’s prices;
- Cannot be justified on the basis of meeting other terms offered by a competitor; and
- Cannot be justified as a reasonable business decision.
According to analysis by CCA-affiliate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the final GIPSA Rule is preferable to a 2010 Proposed Rule which would have proved costly to the beef industry. Given that Secretary Vilsack—who was Secretary of Agriculture at the time of the 2010 Proposed Rule—is set to reprise his role as Agriculture Secretary under the incoming Biden Administration, NCBA will be encouraging the new administration to leave the Final Rule in place.
The Final Rule is set to take effect on January 10, 2021.
ONLY 10 Days Left to Participate in the KSU Grazing Management Survey
The U.S. beef industry protects natural resources and biodiversity while simultaneously feeding the world. But as you know, the world does not always recognize all the great work producers do, with activists and others working to create a negative impression of the beef industry. Your assistance is needed to correct that impression. You are invited to complete a short, anonymous survey designed to gain new information on the current adoption and use of grazing management plans in the U.S. beef industry.
All responses will be kept in strict confidence, with the data analysis being released in summary form only with no identifying information included.
The survey should take approximately 20 minutes to complete and includes questions related to your cattle operation and grazing management practices. The study is being conducted by Kansas State University faculty and graduate student researchers.
To take the survey, click here. The survey is open through December 31.
With your help, the U.S. beef industry will be better positioned to communicate our efforts to produce beef in a sustainable and efficient manner.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact Ashley McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org or Cassie Aherin at Kansas State University at email@example.com.
Rangeland Summit Goes Virtual for 2021, Dates Set for Jan. 26-29
The 2021 Rangeland Summit is set to take place January 26-29, this time as a virtual event. The event—hosted by the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition and University of California Cooperative Extension—consists of four afternoons (1p.m. to 3:30p.m. each day) with speakers and experts presenting around the theme of “Hi and Lo Tech on Rangelands Supporting Ecosystem Services.” To view the agenda and full list of speakers, click here.
Registration is required to participate and is now open for the event. To attend all four days of the Summit, the registration cost is $75. One-day registrations can also be purchased for $25 each day. Additionally, the Summit is offering special student discounts at $15 per session or $40 per day.
Access information for the meeting will be sent out upon registering. To register, click here. Stay tuned for additional information on the event, as well as more details to come on the 2021 Photo Contest, sponsored by Point Blue Conservation Science.
FSA Announces ECP Signups for 41 Counties Impacted by Wildfire
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is currently accepting Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) applications in 41 California counties affected by this year’s wildfires. Applications will be accepted until January 28, 2021.
ECP provides emergency funding and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to help repair land and structures damaged by natural disasters such as wildfire. For example, ECP funds can be utilized for a variety of fencing projects, including “livestock cross fences, boundary fences, cattle gates, or wildlife exclusion fence on agricultural land.”
FSA is now accepting ECP applications in Alameda, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Lassen, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Plumas, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba counties.
FSA recommends that anyone seeking to utilize the ECP first apply with a county FSA office before undertaking repair or rebuilding, as “FSA’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and environmental compliance review process must be completed before any actions are taken.” You can find contact information for your County FSA office here.
ECP funding can cover up to 75% of total repair/rebuilding costs, not to exceed $500,000, and producers may have the option of receiving an advance of up to 25% of the expected repair costs prior to beginning work.
According to an FSA press release, “FSA County Committees will evaluate applications based on information provided and if applicable, an on-site inspection of the damaged land, taking into consideration the type and extent of the damage. Submission of an application does not guarantee that cost-share funding will be provided.”
More information about FSA disaster recovery programs, including ECP, is available at www.fsa.usda.gov/disaster.