CCA-Sponsored Legislation Introduced, Seeks Increased Grazing on State Lands to Reduce Fuel Loads
Last Thursday, Assemblymember and Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) introduced CCA-sponsored AB 434, legislation that seeks to eliminate barriers to livestock grazing on much of the 6,930,582 acres of land owned by the state of California. Livestock grazing on state lands can reduce fuel loads and mitigate the impacts of future wildfires.
Coming off of California’s most destructive fire year on record, with more than 4.2 million acres burned across nearly 10,000 fire incidents, urgent action is needed. As research continues to show, ranchers and livestock grazing can be an effective part of this action and solution.
Current law allows the agencies which manage state-owned land—the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the Department of Parks and Recreation (State Parks) and State Lands Commission—to issue grazing permits for certain lands. However, current data shows how under-utilized grazing is on those lands. Of the land that CDFW manages, less than 10% of the acreage is currently leased for livestock grazing, with the figures for the State Lands Commission being substantially lower. Of the 4 million acres the State Lands Commission manages, only 18,215 acres (~0.4%) are leased for livestock grazing across 17 grazing leases. State Parks authorizes few grazing leases on the 1.6 million acres managed by that agency.
While AB 434 would not require state agencies to authorize additional grazing on the lands they manage, it would make it substantially easier for the agencies to authorize livestock grazing. For instance, under existing law, State Parks may not issue grazing leases for any lands which were not grazed within two years of State Parks acquiring the property. AB 434 would remove that arbitrary restriction, allowing State Parks to consider grazing on any park parcels which were historically grazed or where grazing otherwise provides ecological benefits.
AB 434 would also explicitly authorize state land management agencies to issue grazing leases for the purpose of fire fuel reduction in an effort to improve the fire resilience of state lands.
The bill also seeks to provide lessees greater operational certainty, providing for lease terms of five to 20 years and providing that an existing lessee shall have a ‘right of first refusal’ upon lease expiration so long as they have substantially complied with the conditions of their lease. Such long-term certainty will incentivize and facilitate infrastructure development on previously ungrazed lands, giving producers sufficient time to realize a return on their investment with little to no cost to the state.
The bill may be first heard in committee on or after March 7. As AB 434 moves through the legislative process, updates will be provided in future editions of Legislative Bulletin and CCA’s other publications.
CDFA Hosts Climate-Change Solutions Stakeholder Meetings for Livestock and Dairy Producers This Week
This week, the California Department of Food and Agriculture will hold two stakeholder meetings for livestock and dairy producers regarding “farmer- and rancher-led climate change solutions.” According to CDFA, the meetings are intended “to solicit feedback from the public and agricultural stakeholders on farmer-and rancher-led climate solutions that sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gases and enhance biodiversity.”
The meetings kick off this week with two meetings for Livestock and Dairy producers. CCA encourages members to participate in the stakeholder sessions. The first meeting for the Livestock and Dairy sector kicks off today at 2:00pm (register here; agenda available here). The second Livestock and Dairy meeting will be held Friday morning at 9:00am (register here).
According to a press release announcing the meetings, “Each agricultural category will include two meetings of approximately two hours each. The first meeting will include an introductory presentation followed by an opportunity for stakeholder input. The second meeting will allow further discussion and capture additional feedback.”
The meetings are ultimately intended to inform the Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy developed by various state agencies as mandated by Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-82-20, which also established the goal “to conserve at least 30 percent of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030” (often referred to as the “30 by ’30” initiative).
“These outreach meetings are essential to ensure we gain information and knowledge from the people who live and work on the land and the organizations that support them,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “We want to hear from all those interested in discussing farmer- and rancher-led efforts to help ensure climate resilience, greenhouse gas mitigation, biodiversity and food security.”
Stakeholder meetings for producers of annual crops will be held the week of February 15, with meetings for producers of perennial crops being held the week of February 22. For more information, see CDFA’s press release, here.
DIRECT Act Reintroduced in Congress, Would Add Options for Marketing Beef
Last last month, Representatives Dusty Johnson (R, SD-At large) and Henry Cuellar (D, TX-28) introduced the Direct Interstate Retail Exemption for Certain Transactions (DIRECT) Act of 2021, which seeks to create new direct-to-consumer options for beef producers, processors and small meat markets without compromising federal food safety standards.
The Congressmen previously introduced the DIRECT Act in the 116th Congress; CCA reported on the measure in the July 2020 edition of Hot Irons.
Currently, many states have state meat inspection programs that are approved by USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) as “at least equal to” standards set under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Under most circumstances, state-inspected meat can only be sold intrastate. The DIRECT Act would allow processors, butchers or other retailers to sell normal retail quantities (for beef, 300 pounds) of FSIS-approved state-inspected meat via e-commerce to consumers across state lines. Importantly, because these sales would be made electronically, sales are traceable and can easily be recalled if necessary.
“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted an urgent need for our industry to expand opportunities for state-inspected meatpackers,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NBCA) Policy Division Chair Todd Wilkinson. “NCBA acted quickly last year, advocating to allow more beef to be safely sold online across state lines. The DIRECT Act will allow cattle producers and smaller beef processors to more easily evolve to meet the growing demand for e-commerce sales.”
Signups Extended for FSA’s Conservation Reserve Program
Last week, USDA’s Farm Service Agency announced that it is extending signups for the Conservation Reserve Program (CPR) beyond the initially-announced deadline of February 12. FSA did not announce a new deadline for applications, but rather stated that “USDA will continue to accept offers as it takes this opportunity for the incoming Administration to evaluate ways to increase enrollment.”
“Through CRP, farmers and ranchers establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland,” a February 5 press release announcing the start of signups explains. “Farmers and ranchers who participate in CRP help provide numerous benefits to their local region and the nation’s environment and economy.”
“This signup for the Conservation Reserve Program gives producers and landowners an opportunity to enroll for the first time or continue their participation for another term,” FSA State Director Connie Conway said in the press release. “This program encourages conservation on sensitive lands or low-yielding acres, which provides tremendous benefits for stewardship of our natural resources and wildlife.”
To learn more about the program, eligibility and get additional information on this enrollment period, click here.
CRP celebrated 35 years of operation in December 2020 and is one of the largest private-land conservation programs in the country. For more information on signing up for the program contact your local County FSA office. You can find contact information for your County FSA office here.
US Forest Service to Revise Rangeland Management Directives
In December, 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.
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.
Biden Regulatory ‘Freeze’ Halts Some Trump Admin. Regulatory Reforms
In the hours after President Biden’s inauguration on January 20, his Chief of Staff Ron Klain issued a memo to the heads of all executive agencies titled “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review.”
For Trump Administration regulations which have not yet been submitted to the Federal Register, or which have been submitted to the Federal Register but not yet printed, the memo encourages agency leadership to hold or withdraw those rules until such time as a Biden appointee can review and approve the rules.
For Trump Administration regulations which have already been published in the Federal Register but which have not yet taken effect, the memo urges agency heads to delay implementation of those rules for 60 days, and suggests those agencies “consider opening a 30-day comment period to allow interested parties to provide comments about issues of fact, law, and policy raised by those rules, and consider pending petitions for reconsideration involving such rules.” If no substantial issues are raised, the rules should be allowed to take effect, the memo says. But if the agency determines after a 30-day comment period that further review is needed, they may refer the rules back to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
A number of late-term Trump Administration regulations could be impacted by the regulatory freeze. For instance, a final rule previously reported in Legislative Bulletin which clarifies that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not criminalize incidental take of migratory birds—scheduled to go into effect on February 8—could be halted under the memo. CCA affiliate the Public Lands Council also reports that “the BLM’s recently-finalized sage grouse supplemental Environmental Impact Statements, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for the spotted owl, and both Endangered Species Act rules that were finalized at the end of last year (critical habitat exclusions and “habitat” definition),” among other rules, could be impacted by the regulatory freeze.
CCA and our national affiliates at the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association are preparing to re-engage with administrative agencies should they re-open 30-day comment periods for Trump Administration regulations impacting the ranching industry. CCA will continue to keep you informed about these regulatory developments.
FSA Extends ECP Signups Through March 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. The deadline for ECP applications has been extended to March 31 (applications were initially set to close on January 28).
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 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 https://www.farmers.gov/recover.
Opportunity to Participate in a Wolf-Livestock Depredation Survey
Through a new study, Colorado State University, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection branch and the Western Landowners Alliance are collaborating with livestock producers across the West to better understand the real impacts of wolves on livestock.
“The goal of our research is to address a fundamental concern of the livestock community that the impacts of wolves are underestimated, and therefore available depredation compensation is not representative of the lived experiences of landowners operating on landscapes with wolves…,” the researchers state on the homepage of the survey’s website.
As part of the study, the research team has created a survey and is seeking producer participation. “We would like you to take this survey to help our team better understand wolf depredations from the livestock producer’s perspective. Your participation will help us identify what would constitute a fair compensation program, and your responses are critical as we strive to bring local knowledge to the larger conversation surrounding wolves in the West,” the team explains in the introduction to the survey.
If you are interested in sharing your perspective on wolf-livestock depredations and participating in the study, you can learn more about the research and take the survey by clicking here.
Invitation to Attend the Society for Rangeland Management’s Annual Meeting Next Week
The Society for Rangeland Management (SRM) invites you to join their Rangelands New Frontiers Virtual Annual Meeting happening February 15-18. The four-day event includes workshops, poster presentations, networking and more, all centered around topics related to rangelands.
Additionally, there will be three Plenary Sessions focused on highlighting the challenges and opportunities present on rangelands. Plenary Session topics are: February 15, Valuing Ranching and Conservation; February 16, Adapt (or Succumb) To Climate Change on Rangelands; and February 17, Wicked Problems in Wildland Fire.
Registration costs for the event are $100 for SRM members and $50 for SRM students and young professional members. While an additional $25 is added to registrations for non-members, SRM is offering CCA members the chance to register at the SRM rate, regardless of membership with SRM. Contact Katie in the CCA office for more information on how to register at the $100 rate. SRM advises those interested in participating to register by February 12.
To learn more about the 2021 SRM Virtual Annual Meeting, click here.
Participate in the Water Board’s Strategic Plan
The California Water Board’s Central Valley Region 5 is working on a strategic plan “to guide the Board’s priorities for the next 5-7 years.” As part of the process, the Board is inviting all to take a survey and give their input on the plan. To take the survey by February 22, click here.
To see the boundaries the Region covers, spanning from parts of Modoc County down to sections of Kern County, click here.