Thirty-six law professors and twenty-nine leading national environmental groups called on Congress today to reject a proposal that would exempt from all environmental laws certain cattle ranchers and corporations that graze their private cattle on public lands. Private cattle owners that literally feed their cows at the public trough on national forests and other federal lands would get a free pass to overgraze some of America’s most valuable natural areas and wildlife under this measure. The proposal is buried deep in the 2003 Interior Appropriations bill currently making its way through Congress. The bill will be voted on by the full House of Representatives this week or next and by the Senate soon thereafter.
“Congress has the power to nip this end run on the American people in the bud,” said Sandra Schubert, legislative counsel for Earthjustice. “In the wake of the mega corporate scandals, let’s hope they do the right thing and kill this special interest proposal.”
These private cattle owners would automatically get a 10-year renewal of their federal permits even if new information shows the grazing is leading wild species to extinction. The US Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service have identified overgrazing of public lands as the leading cause of wild species loss in parts of the Southwest. Although the US Forest Service and the federal Bureau of Land Management have both documented severe damage to public lands caused by too many cattle, no changes to these destructive practices would likely occur under this proposal.
“Many of the wild animals that covered our great country when Lewis and Clark first explored it have been displaced by cows,” said John Horning of Forest Guardians. “In many cases there isn’t enough food for the two to coexist. This proposal would lock in cows over nature on lands belonging to all Americans.”
The problem goes back many years to a time before America had an Endangered Species Act and the other science-based environmental laws now on the books. Cattle grazing in the American west has had devastating impacts on the native wildlife. Once scientific research clearly showed the damage that was occurring, Congress enacted laws to address the problems. Some strong, deeply rooted economic interests that run their herds on public lands have resisted these changes and now have Congressional friends championing their cause with this proposal. They have succeeded in getting Congress to extend their grazing permits in the past, but the current proposal goes far beyond any previous efforts at exempting grazing permits from our nation’s environmental laws.
“There’s a sense that the season of special interest ascendancy has not yet peaked and this proposal is proof positive they still have friends in high Washington places doing their bidding at the expense of taxpayers and Americans who value their environment,” said Schubert
American Rivers * American West * Earthjustice *
Forest Guardians * Greater Yellowstone Coalition *
Natural Resources Defense Council *
US Public Interest Research Group *
Western Watersheds Project