Cattle graze

Grazing turnout for most ranchers will not be delayed if the partial federal government shutdown continues, a public lands expert says.

The partial government shutdown should not impact when most ranchers will turn out their cattle on public lands this spring.

“The headline is, by and large, you will get to turn out,” Ethan Lane, executive director of Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen's Beef Association public lands, said in the "Beltway Beef" podcast.

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have provided information on what they’re planning to do and made clear that permittees will be able to turn out cattle  on schedule, he said.

The agencies are statutorily obligated to administer the grazing program, he said.

“We’re expecting the agencies to proceed with the grazing program and allow for turnout in these areas despite the lack of some key elements of that process,” he said.

The biggest of those elements is the federal grazing fee, which is usually announced about this time of year. That fee is calculated in consultation with the National Agricultural Statistics Service, which is closed due to the shutdown, he said.

This year’s annual fee will likely be delayed, and the baseline statutory fee of $1.35 per animal unit months will be applied by the Forest Service with BLM expected to follow a similar model, he said.

A second bill to make up the difference will be sent to ranchers once the government agencies re-open, he said.

Once the initial bill goes out, ranchers can pay it and turn out, he said.

“There are obviously going to be a lot of what-ifs and exceptions to that rule,” he said.

Some grazing allotments might be in an area with a threatened or endangered species or some sort of unique situation. But the Forest Service is advising that ranchers continue what they were planning to do this year, and BLM is expected to take a similar position, he said.

“Now there are going to be some areas where that’s not going to cover it, whether it’s because you’re under a court order because of litigation or some other kind of extenuating circumstances,” he said.

But in that regard, PLC and NCBA are hearing the agencies are looking for opportunities to bring back specific employees to perform specific tasks. So in those circumstances, turnout is kind of going to be on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Pre-turnout meetings and monitoring services won’t happen during the shutdown, so ranchers need to pay attention to detail when they turn cattle out and document, photograph and monitor and record everything, he said.

Litigation is inevitable with some of the radical, environmental groups, he said.

“So we want to make sure we’re prepared. We want to make sure we’re building the best record possible, he said.

He also warned ranchers against doing whatever they want because “no-one’s watching the store.”

“Do what you know you are authorized to do. Do what you were expecting to do. But do it based on receipt of a bill and payment of that bill,” he said.

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