The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), Partnership of Rangeland Trusts (PORT), the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) joined the Public Lands Council (PLC), the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and American Sheep Industry (ASI) in submitting comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on an interim final rule on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
The groups urged USDA to support ranching and conservation in the west by making EQIP available on both private and public lands. From an environmental standpoint, public and private lands in the west cannot be distinguished.
"EQIP is one of the most important and widely used conservation programs to which our members have access,” said Skye Krebs, PLC President and rancher from Ione, Oregon. "The ability for ranchers to make improvements on public lands while benefiting their operation is important to the greater Western landscape.”
Although EQIP is principally intended to serve production agriculture and address natural resource concerns on private lands, in many western states, production agriculture occurs on private, state and federal lands. "Federal permittees control more than 110 million acres of the most biologically diverse private lands in the West,” Krebs explains.
In the interim final rule, land eligible for EQIP funds includes publicly-owned lands where, "the conservation practices to be implemented on the public land are necessary and will contribute to an improvement in the identified resource concern that is on private land.” This language will foreclose the possibility of enrolling public land in EQIP.
The conservation and ranching groups propose changing the language to the following: "The conservation practices to be implemented on the public land are necessary to improve the condition of resources on the public land as well as benefit the private land.”
"Natural resources should be addressed comprehensively on federal, state, and private lands,” Krebs explains. "Where an entire environmental system stands to benefit, conservation and stewardship shouldn't stop at a property boundary.”
For questions or comments, e-mail Kim Watson
, editor Beef Today.