A conference committee of Senators and Representatives will meet tomorrow to reconcile their two versions of the FY 2003 War Supplemental Appropriations Act. The Senate version of the bill has attracted criticism from public interest groups because added to this spending measure for the war in Iraq is a provision that could eliminate environmental oversight of grazing permits on public lands for up to a decade. A coalition of conservation groups opposes the rider because it is damaging to the environment and is completely irrelevant to funding the war effort.
“A grazing provision has no place in a war supplemental,” said Randy Moorman of Earthjustice. “Public land grazing policy has nothing to do with the war in Iraq. To put this or any other anti-environmental riders on this bill is political opportunism at its worst.”
Rare native species ranging from bull trout and wolves in Idaho to Mexican spotted owls in Arizona and New Mexico are likely to suffer if this proposal becomes law.
“Mexican spotted owl populations are already in steep decline across the American southwest, in part due to overgrazing of our national forests,” said John Horning, executive director of Forest Guardians. “Automatically renewing the most damaging grazing leases without fixing them might work for corporate cowboys but it sure doesn’t work for the average American who favors a balance that keeps native species in our national forests.”
According to a letter sent by 15 environmental and regional groups to conference committee members, the rider seeks to grant the National Forest livestock grazing program exemptions from public health and environmental laws including the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. If passed, the provision could allow grazing leases, some of which were granted illegally in the first place, to be extended for up to a decade without any environmental review.
At risk are tens of millions of acres of public lands important for fish, wildlife, and recreation. Without proper environmental protections, grazing in these areas can lead to loss of species, pollution in streams, and soil erosion.
Efforts to loosen environmental oversight of Forest Service grazing permits were included in the FY 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Act, which granted continuation of permits that expired in 2003 without additional environmental review. The Omnibus also required that permits expiring prior to 2003 had to comply with the Rescissions Act, which created a schedule for environmental reviews. The language put forth in the Senate version of the War Supplemental eliminates this requirement for grazing permits expiring prior to 2003. This could exempt some 1600 permits from environmental analysis and prohibit the Forest Service from amending or withholding those permits with grazing practices that damage the environment for up to ten years.
The committee is expected to decide on a final version of the bill tomorrow.
Groups signing the letter and opposing the rider include:
AMERICAN LANDS ALLIANCE * DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE * EARTHJUSTICE * ENDANGERED SPECIES COALITION * FOREST GUARDIANS * FRIENDS OF THE EARTH * NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION * NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL * SIERRA CLUB * U.S. PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP
For a copy of the letter, contact Earthjustice at 202-667-4500, x201