118th Congress Sworn In; California’s 2023-24 Legislative Session Begins Tomorrow
The 118th Congress was sworn in and seated earlier today. Perhaps the most notable among the House of Representative’s early orders of business is electing a Speaker in the newly GOP-controlled chamber. While California’s Kevin McCarthy is the frontrunner for the position, he needs to secure at least 218 votes among the Republican Conference’s 222 members, and a handful of Republicans have threatened to withhold their support for McCarthy. As of this morning, possession of the Speaker’s gavel was not yet clear.
The Senate likewise convened today, though that body will now recess until Jan. 23.
The California State Legislature reconvenes tomorrow, kicking off the 2023-24 Legislative Session in earnest after an initial “organizing session” was held on Dec. 5, 2022. Already 155 bills have been introduced in the State Legislature, with your CCA team sifting through every bill to track and lobby any proposals which may impact California’s cattle producers. CCA will keep you apprised of any major legislative developments in California beginning with next week’s Legislative Bulletin.
2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill Includes Several Key Wins for Ranchers
On Thursday, President Biden signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, a $1.66 trillion package which funds the federal government through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
The funding bill contains several key provisions benefitting cattle producers. For instance, the Act once again extends the Electronic Logging Device exemption for livestock haulers through Sept. 30. The appropriations bill also extends livestock mandatory reporting authority through the end of the fiscal year (CCA’s national partner the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has committed to seeking a full five-year reauthorization of the program during the 118th Congress). The bill also prohibits the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from listing the Greater Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act and limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions “from biological processes associated with livestock production.”
Just as importantly, the Appropriations Act does not include several potential policy riders which were opposed by CCA, including the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act which was strenuously opposed by CCA because it would have imposed rigid government mandates upon the cattle trade.
Of course, the details above merely scratch the surface of the sprawling funding bill. For a broad overview of the legislation, click here; for sector-specific summaries (including agriculture, water development, interior and transportation), click here. For more information, contact Kirk Wilbur in the CCA office.
EPA and Army Corps Finalize New WOTUS Rule
On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) finalized a rule rescinding the Trump-era Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) and replacing it with a new definition of “Waters of the United States”(WOTUS) – that is, the broadly-defined water features over which federal regulators have jurisdiction, including permitting authority. The definition of WOTUS has been a contentious topic for many years, with the Obama Administration expansively defining the term much to the chagrin of ranchers and other landowners, the Trump Administration narrowing the scope of federal jurisdiction via the NWPR and the Biden White House signaling its intent to scrap the Trump-era rule shortly after the president took office.
Fortunately, the Final Rule issued Friday retains elements of the NWPR which exempted various agricultural waters from the definition of WOTUS. Stock ponds and artificial lakes “used exclusively for such purposes as stock watering, irrigation, settling basins, or rice growing” are not deemed waters of the United States under the rule, nor is prior converted cropland, artificially-irrigated lands or ditches.
Unfortunately, the Final Rule expands federal jurisdiction to several other water features which the ranching community had advocated be excluded. For instance, ephemeral tributaries – features which only carry water after a precipitation event – are deemed jurisdictional if they have a “significant nexus” or a “relatively permanent” connection to traditional navigable waters. Isolated water features like vernal pools may be deemed jurisdictional under the same standards. This case-by-case determination creates regulatory uncertainty for cattle ranchers and other landowners and is likely to increase regulatory costs and burdens.
The Final Rule comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering Sackett v. EPA, the outcome of which could bear directly upon the appropriate scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. CCA anticipates that, as with prior efforts to define WOTUS, the Final Rule issued Friday is likely to be the subject of significant litigation. CCA will keep members apprised of developments regarding “waters of the United States” regulation.
Participate in a Caltrans Pilot Study and Earn up to $250
From the California Department of Transportation
California is exploring an alternative to the gas tax and is actively recruiting rural stakeholders to provide input on the policy idea and take part in the pilot.
Fuel taxes fund much of California’s transportation system, including the repair of roads and bridges. However, fuel purchases will eventually decline as California transitions to electric and other clean air vehicles in the future. To address this funding concern, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1077 in 2014 and Senate Bill 339 in 2021 to study a transportation tax based on a per-mile fee, known as a road usage charge.
In 2023, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will conduct further pilot research and aims to recruit participants from two distinct populations: rural and tribal communities. The research pilot, known as the Public/Private Roads Project, will gather essential information for planning how a road charge program could address travel to and from public and private roadways. In addition to recruiting participants for focus groups and attitude survey research, the state is offering incentives of up to $250 for community members to take part in a 7-month pilot launching in March.
Caltrans wants the voices of rural community members and business owners at the table as this policy idea on replacement funding is being explored. The agency wants to understand how the concept fits into your day-to-day and what unique challenges and opportunities it may provide rural communities. Caltrans encourages CCA members to sign up to participate. For more history and information on California Road Charge visit https://caroadcharge.com/ or contact Lauren Prehoda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CDFW Confirms Three More Livestock Depredations by Whaleback Pack
Between Dec. 20 and 23, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) issued seven “Livestock Loss Determination” reports for suspected livestock kills by wolves – primarily in Siskiyou County – between the dates of Nov. 20 and Dec. 12. While four of those reports found that cattle were attacked by coyotes or domestic dogs (or, in one case, had “died of natural causes”), three livestock kills were confirmed as wolf depredations.
The first confirmed wolf depredation in the new reports occurred on the morning of Nov. 20 on private land in Eastern Siskiyou County. That morning, ranch employees discovered a 600-pound calf carcass, calling in Siskiyou County wildlife officials to investigate the suspected wolf kill. While the ground was too frozen for wolf tracks to be seen, the size of tooth marks in the calf carcass and the location of wounds around the legs, groin, left shoulder and throat allowed investigators to confirm the kill as a wolf depredation.
On Nov. 29, another suspected wolf depredation was reported and investigated by Siskiyou County wildlife officials alongside CDFW staff. Investigators determined that a 150-pound calf had been killed during the night of the 28th. Because the carcass had not been fed on, investigators were able to conduct a thorough investigation, finding the wounds on the calf carcass consistent with a wolf attack. Additionally, there were “abundant” wolf tracks in the vicinity.
Finally, on Dec. 4, CDFW and Siskiyou County wildlife officers investigated the carcass of a 150-pound calf suspected to have been killed by wolves. While the “carcass was fully consumed,” an intact hide enabled a “thorough investigation.” The size and location of tooth marks on the hide and the nearby presence of one wolf track “indicated that the calf was killed by wolves.”
Because CDFW has failed to collar any wolves in the Whaleback Pack, the reports do not explicitly address whether the attacks were by that pack, though it is almost certain that the Whaleback Pack was responsible for the depredations. In total, nine wolf attacks upon cattle have been confirmed in the Whaleback Pack’s territory since Sept. 3.
Curtailments Statewide Temporarily Suspended or “Conditionally Curtailed” by SWRCB
Due to recent precipitation, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has suspended virtually all water rights curtailments throughout the state.
On Wednesday, the SWRCB announced that curtailments have been lifted within the Russian River Watershed through at least Jan. 16.
According to an SWRCB email from Dec. 22, all curtailments within the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed remain “temporarily suspended” through at least tomorrow, Jan. 4. The SWRCB will issue another update tomorrow, and water rights holders are encouraged to monitor the Delta Watershed Curtailment Status list for the most up-to-date information.
The SWRCB has also announced that all curtailments within the Scott River watershed are suspended until at least tomorrow so long as the minimum flow rate of 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) is met at the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Fort Jones gage. Within the Shasta River watershed, curtailments have been lifted for all water rights with a priority date of April 1, 1912 or earlier. All other water rights within the Shasta River watershed are “conditionally curtailed,” meaning diversion under those rights may only be made in order of priority when the minimum flow requirement of 125 cfs is met at the USGS Yreka gage. Scott and Shasta River watershed livestock watering limits – which limit diversion for range cattle to no more than 150 gallons per head per day (measured at the point of diversion) – remain in effect through March 31 regardless of curtailment status.
The SWRCB has issued no curtailment status update for the Mill Creek and Deer Creek watersheds. The minimum flow rate of 50 cfs has been exceeded for both Mill Creek and Deer Creek in recent weeks, however, and “Flows…in excess of the required minimum flows…may be diverted pursuant to the priority of the right” according to curtailment notices sent out to water rightsholders in October.
CCA will continue to keep members updated on the status of curtailment orders imposed by the SWRCB.
New Episode of Stories from California Cattle Country
Stories from California Cattle Country, “San Miguel and Parkfield with Kevin Kester” is out now. To listen to the episode, click here. Stories from California Cattle Country is produced by The California Cattlemen’s Foundation with support from the California Cattle Council. If you want a glimpse into our travels, follow the podcast’s Instagram account @calcattlecountry.