How can we keep working lands open and providing all the ecosystem services and landscape values we care about? Chaffee County’s Community Conservation Connection program, implemented by the Central Colorado Conservancy, may have an answer, according to this story by Judith Kohler.
Featured as well is WLA’s roadmap “Redefining Conservation for the 21st Century” suggesting how the administration can address climate change and conservation while staking out common ground with farmers, ranchers and rural communities that depend on those working lands.
The president’s executive order is short on details, but sportsmen’s groups are pushing for it to create more wildlife habitat, and hunting and fishing opportunities. WLA’s policy director Zach Bodhane suggests that habitat leases should be a critical piece of the government’s strategy. Ultimately, he says, leases offer flexibility at a time when all conservation cards should be on the table.
The idea isn’t simply to buy up private property or establish traditional easements. Instead, groups like the Western Landowners Alliance, which represents 15 million acres across the western United States and Canada,see an opportunity to rethink what conservation means.
“Conservation as usual isn’t working, and this is an opportunity to actually do something different and change that trajectory, but it’s going to involve economics and people who live and work on the land,” Lesli Allison, the group’s executive director, told E&E News.
The Biden administration’s announcement today of a package of executive actions on climate and conservation includes several elements that the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) has insisted are critical to making conservation and climate action successful in the West. While many in the rural West are taking a prudent wait-and-see approach, the administration’s directive on engaging people whose livelihoods are tied directly to stewarding land and water was a step in the right direction. In particular, WLA is heartened by the administration’s emphasis on engagement with farmers and ranchers and the interest in creating good jobs in land stewardship and restoration in rural communities and on working lands.
An Oregon rancher reflects upon the potential for holistic grazing to complement conservation.
The Bureau of Land Management is moving from Washington D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado. Ranchers, some of the constituents with whom the agency works most closely, are divided on the BLM’s move “to the field”. Some are enthusiastic about the possibility of a more approachable, and more western agency; other argue that it will make the agency too isolated. Article quotes WLA board member Tom Page and policy associate Jessica Crowder.
A recent study applied a return-on-investment (ROI) perspective to explore better ways to target private-sector conservation engagement under the ESA and identify factors that affect incentives for participation in voluntary conservation. In their study, Epanchin-Niell and Boyd found that incentives may be enhanced through increased availability of programmatic agreements, regulatory assurances, technical and financial assistance, and tailored protections for threatened species.
WLA’s executive director Lesli Allison, writing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, commends congress for taking up National Prescribed Fire Act of 2020, and urges a continued focus on solutions that work across land management boundaries and that empower landowners to use prescribed fire as a tool in wildfire risk mitigation.
A large coalition of landowners and conservationists has landed a nearly $900,000 grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to study ways to reduce the financial and social burden of predator populations on livestock. Maura Bennett of the Ag Information Network of the West and Colorado Ag Today reports.
For grizzly bears to survive, farmers and ranchers need nonlethal tools that can reduce conflict before lethal means are required. But financing and educating people about those tools is the first hurdle. Now, with the help of a Conservation Innovation Grant of more than $886,000 announced last week, landowners and landowner group leaders hope to figure out how to do that.
In drought years like this one, ranchers are faced with a number of tough choices and unpleasant trade-offs, according to Lawrence Gallegos, New Mexico field organizer at the Western Landowners Alliance. Decisions about how many cattle to raise are made early in the year. But if there’s not enough rain later in the year, there’s not enough forage to support the cattle, triggering a cascade of impacts to ranchers and their operations.
Leaders, speakers, and panelists for the “Leaders Respond” session of the 2020 Central Grasslands Roadmap Summit dug in and provided incredibly comprehensive and diverse reflections on the current Roadmap and its overall direction. WLA’s executive director Lesli Allison was among them.
Watch directly on YouTube.
Meatpacking plant closures caused by coronavirus outbreaks, including one at the JBS plant in Greeley, Colorado, sent shockwaves through the food system. But some small producers were ready to seize an opportunity. Long sought policy changes that could make the food system more resilient to such shocks are also gaining traction, as WLA’s policy director Patricia Dowd explains.
COVID-19-driven closures at meatpacking plants have resulted in lower prices for ranchers because of the growing number of cattle in the pipeline. On the other end of the supply chain, people are paying more for meat in the stores and can’t always find what they’re looking for. Grocery stores have put per-customer limits on some meat purchases. Meanwhile, there has been a huge surge in demand by both ranchers and consumers for the services of smaller processing plants around the state. The question that ranchers, processors and agriculture experts are asking is whether current concerns about the health and reliability of the beef supply will produce lasting changes.
Fewer steps in any process can reduce the margin for error, and as the nation is facing significant challenges to its industrial food system highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic, it makes sense to some to rely on a short supply chain.
Kendra Chamberlain at New Mexico Political Report unpacks the controversy over New Mexico’s stream access law, and the pending lawsuit between pro-access groups and the state. She writes, “Groups on both sides of the dispute all have different ideas about what’s at issue, and what’s at stake, but all parties are quick to point out the dispute is incredibly complicated. And while there’s no shortage of opinions on the topic, stakeholders on both sides of the fence seem to agree on one thing: it was a 2014 opinion issued by then-Attorney General Gary King that started the whole thing.”
New Mexico’s two U.S. senators are wading more deeply into a stream access debate that’s been simmering for years. U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both Democrats, this week urged the state Game Commission to repeal a 2017 rule that allows private landowners to restrict public access to water flowing across their land in certain circumstances. Supporters of the rule, such as the Western Landowners Alliance, say it protects sensitive streambeds and enables habitat restoration work on private property.
Ranching can be an isolating profession in a good year. But the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the few staples of social contact women ranchers rely on. A program led by a woman in Garfield County, Montana [WLA’s Amber Smith] is forging new ways of connecting that will likely outlast the pandemic.
Across the West, a growing number of ranchers and farmers are seeking conservation easements to stave off the big-box stores, self-storage complexes and residential construction consuming millions of acres of fertile open space. From Montana’s sagebrush steppe to New Mexico’s Central Flyway, the interest is so strong that state agencies and nonprofits are juggling lengthy waiting lists of applications.
As millions of individuals nationwide attempt to adhere to “stay at home” orders aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, rancher Amber Smith is quick to admit she’s thankful for the extra space on the 53,000-acre ranch where she lives with her family in eastern Montana. But Smith, who heads the Western Landowners Alliance’s Women in Ranching program, acknowledges that the same expansive acreage has long posed its own challenge: isolation.
Not everyone is suited to rural life — or social distancing — but there are some lessons from rural life that might be applicable during the novel coronavirus outbreak. First and foremost, know that it’s OK to be struggling. It’s also OK to ask for help, state officials say. Carrie Haderlie writes for the Wyoming News Exchange that isolation has been a topic at WLA gatherings for several years now.
Amanda Radke visits with fellow ranch mom, Amber Smith, about habits we can adopt to help us deal with the emotional toll of COVID-19. Smith is the Women in Ranching program manager for the Western Landowners Alliance and lives and works on the Antelope Springs Ranch in Cohagen, Montana. She is currently working at home full-time while also homeschooling her two children, ages 7 and 9.
Farmers, ranchers who’ve lost restaurant business are coming up with new ways of reaching customers. This piece shares the stories of several creative Colorado farmers and ranchers responding to the rapid changes in food markets as a result of COVID-19.
The future of New Mexico over the next 100 years will depend on actions taken today to ensure our natural resources continue to provide our most essential needs. The New Mexico Land Conservancy, the New Mexico Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the New Mexico Land Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife and Audubon New Mexico urge New Mexicans to speak up during the current legislative session in favor of the New Mexico Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund Act.
A bill that would dedicate a portion of the state’s record oil and gas revenues to a permanent fund for habitat restoration and sustainable agriculture projects deserves serious consideration from lawmakers, and it’s good to see support for it from a broad coalition of agricultural and environmental groups.
Skyrocketing oil and natural gas production in southeastern New Mexico continues to produce record-setting state revenue. A broad coalition of agricultural and environmental groups believe some of that money should help restore the state’s land and water.
A draft executive order released by Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon lays out rules for how the governor will designate wildlife corridors. Rancher Marissa Taylor served on the advisory group that helped shape the EO. She responded positively to the draft order, with particular praise for its acknowledgement of private landowners’ efforts to preserve migration habitats.
Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy has initiated a working group to develop a U.S. protocol for paying ranchers and farmers to store carbon in their soil.
Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy has initiated a working group, which includes WLA, to develop a United States protocol for paying ranchers and farmers to store carbon in their soil.
There’s a link between the first lady’s hunger initiative and her connection to Wyoming’s agricultural industry, according to Jessica Crowder, policy director for Western Landowners Alliance. “The health of the land and the health of the people who live on the land really are tied to the values that we appreciate in Wyoming,” Crowder said.
Grizzly bear and wolf predation is one of the biggest challenges that ranchers face. Potential solutions can benefit livestock producers, conservationists and wildlife agencies. Over 100 people with a stake in grizzly bear management in Montana convened with the Western Landowners Alliance, Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance and Madison Valley Ranchlands Group at the Alder Firehall Nov. 15.
Montanans care a lot about public land access and conserving wildlife and they like the idea of the state spending more money on those things, according to survey results released this week by the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project.
A series of recommendations sent to the governor Monday laid out a possible blueprint for how Wyoming could protect and preserve its iconic migration corridors for years to come.
Fifth-generation Flying Diamond Ranch builds land stewardship into their business model.
Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) has released a wildlife guide produced by and for landowners and practitioners constructively engaged in one of the greatest conservation challenges of our time—how to share and manage a wild, working landscape that sustains both people and wildlife.
It didn’t appear in many front-page headlines, but Congress just passed a five-year, $867 billion piece of legislation in a bipartisan, landslide vote. In today’s political climate, this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it should be newsworthy.
Defying convention is standard at San Juan Ranch. And with the mounting pressures from prolonged drought, climate change and unsustainably low crop prices, Sullivan and her partner George Whitten’s idiosyncratic take on what it means to be a rancher in the West might save their operation, and also help others inevitably facing the same challenges.
Nearly a year of social distancing and economic disruptions has triggered both subtle and seismic shifts in how Americans are buying or getting food, and Colorado State University researchers from the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics have spent the last several months documenting those shifts. Their efforts are part of a $1 million cooperative study funded by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, in partnership with the University of Kentucky and Penn State University, looking at the pandemic’s effects on local and regional food markets.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that USDA is establishing new programs and efforts to bring financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and producers who felt the impact of COVID-19 market disruptions. The new initiative—USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers—will reach a broader set of producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs, including socially disadvantaged communities, small and medium-sized producers, and farmers and producers of less traditional crops.
Food ID, a San Mateo, California-based startup, has raised $12 million in a Series B round that it says will help improve the safety and transparency of the U.S. meat supply. The funding will be used to commercialize the company’s rapid-result tests that can detect antibiotics in animals and a range of other adulterants.
The COVID-19 pandemic disruption of the food system resulted in more consumers purchasing their food directly from farmers and ranchers. The new customers create opportunities for producers to begin direct marketing and scale up their production. Due to public health concerns, online ordering and delivery – if not already offered by the producer – were added to direct marketing models.
Due to the national public health emergency caused by COVID-19, the USDA announced the temporary suspension of past-due debt collections and foreclosures for distressed borrowers under the Farm Storage Facility Loan and the Direct Farm Loan programs administered by the FSA.
“As soon as COVID hit and store shelves were empty, people realized there was an opportunity there that hadn’t been since World War II,” said Jake Feddes, who ranches near Manhattan. “Probably your generation, my generation, we’ve never seen empty store shelves. All of a sudden we did. It really changed perceptions with consumers, but also with producers.”
Sales of hunting and fishing licenses are spiking in much of the U.S. Weary of being cooped up at home — and of masking and social distancing when they go elsewhere — many Americans are taking refuge in outdoor sports that offer safety and solitude. The trend has abruptly reversed a steady decline in hunting’s popularity that once appeared permanent.
Sheep may be considered a “dual crop” livestock source. While that’s usually a good thing for evening-out income, the sheep industry is getting a one-two punch during the pandemic like many in agriculture. Closing restaurants, and turning to sweatpants and remote meetings have changed the entire demand picture for both lamb meat and harvested wool.
Among these funding opportunities, the Agricultural Fund is for Wyoming ranchers and farmers who have lost revenue due to public health orders or incurred COVID-19 related expenses. $90 million available. Up to $250,000 per applicant. Opens November 2 and closes November 18, 2020.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture is making about $1 million in grant funding available for Colorado farmers, ranchers, food hubs and processors to support them in adjusting to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food supply chain. The new Colorado Farm & Food Systems Response Team and fund is focused on small- and mid-size growers, beginning farmers and ranchers, veteran farmers, farmers of color, LGBTQ+ farmers, and female farmers. Apply by November 9, 2020.
Buyers fleeing New York, Los Angeles and other densely populated U.S. cities say they want to leave the coronavirus clusters and social justice unrest behind. Even as the state’s fierce winter looms, the transplants are pushing house prices to record levels. Some are offering millions of dollars in cash for houses and land they have seen only on the Internet.
President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced up to an additional $14 billion for agricultural producers who continue to face market disruptions and associated costs because of COVID-19. Signup for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2) will begin September 21 and run through December 11, 2020.
While two of Colorado’s largest water providers noticed big drops in some water use when the pandemic hit, those savings were erased as people watered their parched grass through a hot, dry summer.
USDA Rural Development has taken a number of immediate actions to help rural residents, businesses and communities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. View the official Stakeholder Announcement here, which includes a list of Opportunities for immediate relief. Visit www.rd.usda.gov/coronavirus for information on Rural Development loan payment assistance, application deadline extensions and more.
Matt Pierson, a Livingston native, is working to connect people who want to help with people who need help. And that’s how the Producer Partnership, a statewide nonprofit helping to feed those in need with donated meat by local livestock producers, started on one of his ranch pastures this spring. The goal for the Producer Partnership is to distribute 140,000 pounds of meat by the end of the year.
The pandemic sweeping through major U.S. cities is now wreaking havoc on rural communities, with some recording the nation’s most new confirmed cases per capita in the past two weeks. The virus is infecting thousands of often impoverished rural residents every day, swamping struggling health care systems and piling responsibility on government workers who often perform multiple jobs they never signed up for. Officials attribute much of the spread in rural America to outbreaks in workplaces, living facilities and social gatherings.
The federal government’s PPP and CFAP relief programs leave out beginning farmers even as the coronavirus decimates their primary sales outlets. Talk to young farmers and one verb comes up repeatedly. Pivot. They have all had to pivot and then do it again as the coronavirus pandemic has decimated their customer bases and traditional supply chains.
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on meat consumption, and the damage may linger for several years, food and agriculture analysts say. A string of reports in recent weeks suggest that meat consumption in the United States and globally has entered a downward trend due to the pandemic and that consumer preferences have changed, even as longer-term forecasts point to strong demand.
On Wednesday, Governor Steve Bullock issued a new directive, which requires face coverings be worn in certain indoor spaces and for certain organized outdoor activities in counties currently experiencing four or more active cases of COVID-19.
Gov. Bullock says the directive requires businesses, government offices, and other indoor spaces open to the public to ensure that employees, contractors, volunteers, customers, and other members of the public wear a face mask that covers their mouth and nose while remaining inside these spaces. The directive also requires face coverings at organized outdoor activities of 50 or more people, where social distancing cannot be maintained.
“To save family farms, ranches, and rural communities from economic collapse, the United States should launch a major effort—a “Race for Nature”—that pays private landowners to protect the water, air and natural places that everyone needs to stay healthy.” The report focuses on expanding conservation easement programs and increasing conservation easements nationwide, setting aside as much as 55 million acres by 2030 under long-term or permanent protections.
The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) outlines key information from President Trump’s Executive Order (EO), titled “Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery from the COVID-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities.” The EO streamlines infrastructure investments by instructing agencies, including executive departments, to use “emergency authorities” for swift implementation of projects.
Are you a farmer or rancher whose operation has been directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic? The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program provides direct relief to producers who faced price declines and additional marketing costs due to COVID-19. USDA is accepting applications now through August 28, 2020. Producers should apply through the Farm Service Agency at their local USDA Service Center.
States are facing significant shortages of conservation officers, who help protect natural resources and wildlife. The COVID-19 global health pandemic has triggered major budget cuts, further threatening funding for environmental conservation and could result in additional cuts to conservation districts that are already cash-strapped and understaffed.
Well into the growing season, many farmers who have lost both revenue and markets as a result of the ongoing pandemic continue to struggle with paying existing farm debt. While broader debt relief efforts are needed to address the unsustainable levels of farm debt that are saddling farmers all across the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced changes to federal farm loan programs that may provide immediate, short-term relief to some farmers.
President Donald Trump’s executive order late last month invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meat and poultry plants open got a ton of media attention, but there’s one big thing that was largely missed: The EO could actually grant USDA the same sweeping authority over, well, the rest of the country’s food production.
Shutdowns and slowdowns of meatpacking plants in the consolidated, industrial system have led to meat shortages at grocery stores and the euthanization and disposal of millions of animals. Meanwhile, small and mid-size slaughterhouses, packers, and butchers are staying open. In many cases, they’re ramping up production.
USDA announced details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to deliver relief to America’s farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to this direct support to farmers and ranchers, USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program is partnering with regional and local distributors to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat and deliver boxes to Americans in need.
The long-running debate about how best to care for national forests — and what to do with timber that’s taken from them — is quietly brewing again as lawmakers look for ways to promote a more intensive approach to forest management. A spending package for the pandemic offers one opportunity.
With the meat processing industry in a tailspin amid Tyson and Smithfield plant closures owing to outbreaks of COVID-19, there is a potential nationwide meat shortage looming. This shortage, coupled with consumer uncertainty during this anxious time, has seemingly contributed to a surge in demand for plant-based alternatives.
Amid massive tracts of wheat and corn destined for global markets, some farmers are planting cover crop mixes including fruits and vegetables designed to be harvested by their communities.
In new plans that offer a national reimagining of how to fight wildfires amid the risk of the coronavirus spreading through crews, it’s not clear how officials will get the testing and equipment needed to keep firefighters safe in what’s expected to be a difficult fire season. A U.S. group instead put together broad guidelines to consider when sending crews to blazes, with agencies and firefighting groups in different parts of the country able to tailor them to fit their needs.
Prices for beef in grocery stores have skyrocketed as many packing plants across the country, almost all of which are managed by such large corporations, attempt to manage outbreaks that infect employees and reduce production. But while consumers pay more for beef, corporations are paying ranchers around 30% less for calves, New Mexico ranchers’ main product. The sudden drop in prices has left many unsure how they will finance the massive costs of running a cattle operation in New Mexico.
From the start of the beef supply chain to the end, COVID-19 has created kinks that, if not straightened out, could lead to limited selection in grocery stores, higher prices for restaurants and consumers and some Colorado ranchers shutting their gates for good.
New documents obtained by ProPublica show public health officials in Grand Island, Nebraska, wanted the JBS meatpacking plant closed. But Gov. Pete Ricketts said no. Since then, cases have skyrocketed.
There’s momentum in Congress to expand the borrowing authority of USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, the Depression-era agency that’s funding part of the department’s stimulus payments to farmers and ranchers (and that’s facilitated the Trump administration’s trade bailout program since 2018). It’s one of the primary funding options on the table as lawmakers consider more agricultural aid in their next coronavirus response package.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, small business owners in all U.S. states, Washington D.C., and territories were able to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advance of up to $10,000. This advance is designed to provide economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue and will not have to be repaid. SBA has resumed processing EIDL applications and will be processing these applications on a first-come, first-served basis. SBA will begin accepting new EIDL and EIDL Advance applications on a limited basis only to provide relief to U.S. agricultural businesses. Eligible agricultural businesses may apply for the Loan Advance here.
Will Harris is at odds with the way most producers get meat to the American public. The Georgia farmer shuns the large production plants that dominate the protein supply chain in the country, raising his “athletes” — hens, pigs and cattle and seven other species — on 3,200 acres near the Alabama border. He raises them holistically, before slaughtering them for meat and selling it to local restaurants, local grocers and home delivery nationwide.
President Trump’s order this week for meat-packing plants to stay open despite the coronavirus pandemic presents challenges, but closing plants comes with its own set of issues. Farmers have been forced to euthanize tens of thousands of pigs, cattle and other livestock, with more on the way as the industry struggles to resume production at levels near pre-pandemic levels. The government can’t compensate farms for those lost animals, though, because they weren’t sick, House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson said yesterday.
The COVID-19 crisis is dramatically changing market access and performance of farmers and ranchers. There is a need for capital to support producers serving non-commodity markets. As a result, several organizations have joined together to create the Colorado Farm & Food Systems Response Team to support farmers and ranchers actively responding to changing market opportunities and food-security challenges in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Applications are due May 4, 2020.
A rash of coronavirus outbreaks at dozens of meatpacking plants across the nation is far more extensive than previously thought, according to an exclusive review of cases by USA TODAY and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. And it could get worse. More than 150 of America’s largest meat processing plants operate in counties where the rate of coronavirus infection is already among the nation’s highest.
The $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to support farmers and ranchers during the COVID-19 pandemic, includes a significant share of the funds for livestock producers who have been hit especially hard. The total aid package includes $16 billion in direct payments for farmers and ranchers, funded using the $9.5 billion emergency program included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and $6.5 billion in Credit Commodity Corporation (CCC) funding.
I am fortunate to look out my living room window to beef and lamb on the hoof, raised in a sustainable grazing system that follows nature’s rhythms. I know that in a food shortage, we can feed a lot of people. But our family won’t be doing it by sending our livestock to huge meat processors. Expanding the network of small meat processing companies (like Laramie’s 307 Meat Company) is desperately needed throughout the country, so that we can reduce the miles that food must travel between the field and the table.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). This new USDA program will take several actions to assist farmers, ranchers, and consumers in response to the COVID-19 national emergency. President Trump directed USDA to craft this $19 billion immediate relief program to provide critical support to our farmers and ranchers, maintain the integrity of our food supply chain, and ensure every American continues to receive and have access to the food they need.
Life has changed immensely in the last month due to COVID-19. As the virus spreads, so too do mitigation efforts: Governors have implemented stay-at-home orders, tribal leaders have set curfews, and millions are unemployed as the economy grinds to a halt under social distancing. High Country News asked readers to tell us how their own lives have been affected.
They are two disasters that require opposite responses: To save lives and reduce the spread of COVID-19, people are being told to remain isolated. But in a wildfire, thousands of firefighters must work in close quarters for weeks at a time. Wildfires have already broken out in Texas and Florida, and agencies are scrambling to finish plans for a new approach.
American Farmland Trust’s Farmer Relief Fund will award farmers and ranchers with cash grants of up to $1,000 each to help them weather the current storm of market disruptions caused by the corona virus crisis. Initially, eligible applicants include any small and mid-size direct-market producers. These are defined as producers with annual gross revenue of between $10,000 and $1 million from sales at farmers’ markets and/or direct sales to restaurants, caterers, schools, stores, or makers who use farm products as inputs.
Virginia-based Smithfield Foods announced Sunday that it is closing its pork processing plant in Sioux Falls until further notice after hundreds of employees tested positive for the coronavirus — a step the head of the company warned could hurt the nation’s meat supply.
This story map lays out the spread of coronavirus through rural counties across America. The spread started slowly, but has been accelerating in April, worrying officials who fear rural counties may be even less well prepared to handle the pandemic than the urban areas that have been hit hardest so far.
Across the country, major meat processors, including Tyson and JBS USA, are starting to shut down plants as employees are getting infected by coronavirus. Consumers are unlikely to see any shortages because of production disturbances. But the closures are devastating for some meat producers, which have remained open during the pandemic.
Following passage of the CARES Act, this guide provides farmers and ranchers with information on the three main programs they should be aware of, how to calculate how much they can apply for depending on what type of business they own and where to find additional resources during these challenging times.
USDA’s NRCS New Mexico assistant state conservationist for programs announced today that sign up for fiscal year 2020 Joint Chiefs Initiative has been extended. All New Mexico agricultural producers who would like to be considered for financial assistance under the Joint Chiefs Initiative need to apply by Friday, May 1, 2020. While producers can apply year-round for EQIP assistance, this extended application cutoff announcement is specific to the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed and Taos Valley Watershed Coalition Joint Chiefs Initiatives.
In places where social distancing was already a way of life, the relentless pandemic has begun to reshape the economy. Many rural areas in Oregon and across the country remain relatively untouched by the pandemic’s most insidious effects. But it’s spreading. At least one case has been reported in almost 60 percent of the country’s rural counties, threatening what tend to be poorer and more vulnerable areas. Even where it remains scarce, though, awareness of its impact has crept in to daily life.
Farmers have seen a drop in business from restaurants as that industry cuts down on expenses in a takeout and delivery only model because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Growers in Colorado say they are adjusting to a new approach as well that sells directly to the consumer.
The U.S. coronavirus stimulus bill would add $14 billion to the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corp spending authority, and authorize another $9.5 billion for U.S. farmers hurt by the fast-spreading pandemic, according to a copy of the bill’s text.
The Senate advanced its Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act (CARES Act) in a vote late Wednesday night in the third tranche of assistance offered by Congress as it attempts to respond to the economic fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19). For farmers, the final $2 trillion package includes some specific requests, such as additional lending authority to for the Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC) and livestock and disaster assistance.
The Department of State is taking steps to reduce delays in the processing of H-2A workers caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department of State suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates on March 20, creating alarm about potential delays in H-2A worker availability. A March 26 move by the Department of State should ease that potential bottleneck, especially for workers from Mexico, the source of the majority of U.S. guest agricultural workers.
Montana added four new cases of the coronavirus Thursday night, including the first in a rural eastern Montana county. There are now 16 cases within the state’s borders.
The patient from Roosevelt County is a woman in her 70s, who acquired COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, through international travel, according to a press release from Gov. Steve Bullock’s office Thursday night.
Even if we’re self-quarantined or engaging in some serious social distancing, we’re still a community. And as more and more of us settle into this new normal, we’re bound to find that we’re hungry for ways to feel like we’re making a difference — even as we spend hours on end within the confines of our homes.
A bipartisan group of 24 senators is asking FEMA to coordinate with USDA and the Interior Department to deploy federal workers trained in emergency response to rural communities overwhelmed by the pandemic. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are “uniquely qualified,” the senators wrote. Link is to PDF of the letter. Thanks to Politico’s MorningAgriculture report for the tip.
How COVID-19, formerly known as the 2019 novel coronavirus, will play out and how long it will take to come under control are unquantifiable. The cattle market fears the disease will spread and slow the global economy, which will trim beef demand. No one can predict the what, when or where of the next outbreak and its impact on cattle prices.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA will open enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with higher payment rates, new incentives, and a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation. Additionally, USDA is announcing investments in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture, including $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials. Secretary Vilsack made the announcement today at the White House National Climate Task Force meeting to demonstrate USDA’s commitment to putting American agriculture and forestry at the center of climate-smart solutions to address climate change.
The Oregon House has unanimously voted to eliminate sunset dates from the landowner preference program, which provides hunting tags for elk, deer and antelope based on property acreage.
Lawmakers have extended the program several times since it was first enacted nearly four decades ago to reward access to habitat for wildlife, but House Bill 2068 makes the program permanent.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is unveiling new action-based frameworks to increase conservation work to address threats facing America’s working rangelands. These frameworks are designed to benefit both agriculture and wildlife in sagebrush and grassland landscapes of the western United States.
Ranchers around the nation are keeping a close eye on a proposed Colorado animal-cruelty initiative. Animal-welfare advocates are trying to place the Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation (PAUSE) initiative on the ballot in November 2022. Critics say the measure would ban artificial insemination and other commonly accepted veterinary and animal care practices in Colorado and would ban the slaughter of livestock that have not yet lived more than one-quarter of their anticipated lifetime, which for cattle is about five years.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide by May 26 whether to relist the bird under the Endangered Species Act to comply with a court order spurred by three conservation groups suing the agency in 2019.
As drought worsens in the West, a coalition of more than 200 farm and water organizations from 15 states that has been pushing to fix the region’s crumbling canals and reservoirs is complaining that President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure proposal doesn’t provide enough funding for above- or below-ground storage.
Rural water users are panicking over a proposal to create a market for the sale and purchase of water rights in Nevada, unconvinced by arguments that the concept would encourage conservation. A legislative hearing about two proposals to allow water rights holders to sell their entitlements pitted state water bureaucrats against a coalition of farmers, conservationists and rural officials.
In a five-year status review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended that grizzly bears in the lower 48 states remain protected under the Endangered Species Act — drawing immediate complaints from officials in Wyoming and western states. “The grizzly bear in the lower-48 states is not currently in danger of extinction throughout all of its range, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future,” the report, released late last month, concludes.
The Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners continues to oppose gray wolf reintroduction into the Western Slope, a plan narrowly approved by Colorado voters in November. Commissioners passed a resolution March 23 called “Making Montezuma County A Sanctuary From Wolf Reintroduction.”
The nonbinding resolution is a position statement that says bringing wolves to the county threatens the livestock industry, poses a danger to the local economy and could transmit diseases to pets and humans.
Two Indigenous communities in New Mexico are suing the U.S. EPA over a revised federal rule that narrowed the types of waterways that qualify for federal protection under the half-century-old Clean Water Act, saying the federal government is violating its trust responsibility to Native American tribes.
A bill targeted at stopping nonprofit groups like American Prairie Reserve from purchasing agricultural land has divided traditional allies — Republicans and ag producers.
A federal judge has blocked a Nevada project that would expand livestock grazing across 400 squares miles (1,036 square kilometers) of some of the highest priority sage-grouse habitat in the West and accused the government of deliberately misleading the public by underestimating damage the cattle could do to the land.
The ruling comes as scientists continue to document dramatic declines in greater sage-grouse populations across 11 western states — down 65% since 1986 and 37% since 2002, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally helped pay for a Colorado program to kill dozens of mountain lions and black bears in an experiment to determine if the predators were partly responsible for declining mule deer populations, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Marcia Krieger in Denver found that Fish and Wildlife failed to do a required analysis of the program’s environmental effects, possibly so it could fast-track federal funding for most of the $4 million program.
Historic heavy usage of Rio Grande water has left New Mexico in a particularly difficult position ahead of the impending drought. Right now, a New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission hydrogeologist says, the state is unable to store any more water from the river due to restrictions under the Rio Grande Compact, and owes a debt of 100,000 acre feet downstream to Texas. This piece questions whether farming can continue in much of the state in the future.
The Wyoming Legislature passed a bill March 29th that strips the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission of the authority to close any of Wyoming’s 22 winter elk feedgrounds and gives that power to the governor.
The bill requires the Game and Fish Department and Commission to submit any proposal to close a feedground to the Wyoming Livestock Board for review before it heads to the governor.
“In Montana, conservative legislators have proposed a bill that would bar nonprofit organizations from purchasing land from willing sellers at a fair price. If enacted, the law would be a brazen violation of the Montana Constitution, which recognizes “acquiring, possessing, and protecting property” among the “inalienable rights” off-limits to government interference,” write Jonathan Wood and Brian Yablonski in this opinion piece opposing Montana HB 677.
The Biden administration’s ambitious plan to create a multibillion-dollar bank to help pay farmers to capture carbon from the atmosphere is running into surprising skepticism, challenging Agriculture Department officials to persuade the industry to get behind the massive climate proposal.
Several bills are headed to Mr. Gianforte’s desk that would allow for more killing of wolves in the state to drive down their numbers. Practices that are being proposed include the use of spotlights at night, which is considered unethical because it temporarily blinds the animal; hunting animals by luring them with bait like wild game or commercial scents; night vision scopes and widening use of neck snares that catch and choke animals to death. Other controversial predator proposals allow hunting black bears with hounds, a practice outlawed a century ago, and placing limits on where wandering grizzlies can be moved, which conservationists say could lead to more bear deaths.
A bill removing grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the Endangered Species List was introduced today by Senator Cynthia Lummis. The bill titled The Grizzly Bear State Management Act of 2021 was drafted alongside Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, Senators Mike Crapo and James Risch of Idaho, and Senator Steve Daines of Montana.
The U.S. government should be prepared to support prices farmers receive for carbon credits but avoid setting up a federally run carbon market that would compete with nascent private markets, a senior Agriculture Department official said Tuesday.
A priority for the USDA in the coming years will be judging the feasibility of setting up, executing and paying for a federal carbon bank to help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reward them for their actions, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.
This week the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee heard testimony on two bills that passed out of the Senate earlier this month with near-unanimous Republican support. Senate Bill 267 would allow for the“reimbursement for receipts of costs incurred relating to the hunting or trapping of wolves.” Another measure, Senate Bill 314, would remove bag limits, authorize hunting with bait and legalize nighttime wolf hunting (a practice known as spotlighting) on private land.
Federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken could be enacted this spring as a federal judge in 2019 called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide by the end of May. The lesser prairie chicken is a species of grouse native to southeast New Mexico and parts of West Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) announced the availability of up to $317 million for Forest Health, Fire Prevention, Forest Legacy and Forest Health Research grant projects. CAL FIRE is soliciting applications for projects that prevent catastrophic wildfires, protect communities, and restore forests to healthy, functioning ecosystems while also sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Lee Nellis expands on his previous essay about the limits of collaborative conservation by offering “specifications” for a new Western myth. He proposes four public policies we would adopt if were were guided by a new myth: 1) separate landowner incomes from commodity production, 2) remove public lands from partisan politics and places them in trust, 3) grant citizenship to wildlife and 4) end land speculation.
While delivering estate-planning presentations across Montana, Marsha Goetting, Montana State University Extension family economics specialist, saw a pattern among some attendees. When it came to understanding state and federal taxes after death, many people were misinformed.
Goetting said there was a time when the federal estate tax affected many Montanans and, as a result, tax minimization became a major goal for families in their estate planning. But now, the federal estate tax affects less than 1% of deceased persons’ estates because Congress increased the amount of the federal estate tax exemption and indexed the amount yearly for inflation until 2026.
Traditional sources of conservation funding are dwindling, and some believe national park visitors should step up. Lawmakers are looking at ways to increase conservation revenue from the millions of tourists who visit national parks each year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to 23 national conservation practice standards through a posting in the Federal Register. The proposed revisions will publish March 9 with comments due April 8.
NRCS is encouraging agricultural producers, landowners, organizations, Tribes and others that use its conservation practices to comment on these revised conservation practice standards. NRCS will use public comments to further enhance its conservation practice standards.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest $285 million to help the Forest Service address critical deferred maintenance and improve transportation and recreation infrastructure on national forests and grasslands.
This $285 million investment is made possible by the newly created National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, established in 2020 by the Great American Outdoors Act. These funds will allow the Forest Service to implement more than 500 infrastructure improvement projects essential to the continued use and enjoyment of national forests and grasslands.
The Colorado agriculture industry was rattled when it came to their attention their governor, Jared Polis, signed a proclamation for March 20 to be a #MeatOut day. To fight against the MeatOut movement, CCA and the livestock industry is coordinating with restaurants, grocery stores, and other retail fronts to feature a meat product on March 20 to support the beef and meat industries.
Despite President Joe Biden signing an executive order to “consider suspending, revising, or rescinding the agency actions” made during the Trump administration, environmentalists continue their efforts to halt projects. Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch recently filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for Arizona seeking to halt the renewal of grazing permits in the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico.
Farmers and ranchers may have received a Cash Rents and Leases survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). This survey provides the basis for estimates of the current year’s cash rents paid for irrigated cropland, non-irrigated cropland, and permanent pasture. If you received the survey, we encourage you to complete it by June 21. This survey can be completed and returned by mail, over the phone, or at agcounts.usda.gov.
(Subscription) The grizzly bear questions will only get tougher for Interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland. If confirmed, the New Mexico Democrat will confront legal, scientific, management and, yes, political challenges concerning grizzlies far more specific than the Republican queries that pressed her during her two-day confirmation hearing.
The nation’s 574 federally recognized tribes are gaining momentum in their long drive to co-manage the country’s national parks and other public lands — and they’ve got a new occupant in the White House who may help make it happen.
The Bureau of Land Management announced that an attorney who previously worked on agency issues for environmental groups will serve as the new deputy director.The U.S. Department of the Interior said Nada Culver, who was appointed to the Denver position, will effectively run the agency for the short term, replacing former agency director William Perry Pendley.
Legislation that would have overhauled New Mexico’s wildlife management agency stalled in a Senate committee yesterday after a lengthy debate in which opponents warned that proposed changes to the distribution of hunting tags would devastate guides and outfitters and cost rural communities jobs and revenue.
The meat industry is bad for farmers, workers, consumers, animals, and the environment. It should be the next target in Democrats’ antitrust push.
Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the Senate Energy Committee, announced that he would vote to confirm Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico to head the Interior Department, most likely ensuring that one of President Biden’s most embattled cabinet nominees will be confirmed to office.
Currently, under the Federal Crop Insurance Program, producers unable to plant a crop due to adverse weather conditions are eligible to receive a small indemnity but prohibited from growing a cash commodity due to a missed window in the growing season. A new bipartisan, bicameral bill – the Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters with Cover Crops Act (FEEDD Act) — would create a clear emergency waiver authority for USDA to allow producers to graze, hay or chop a cover crop before November 1st in the event of a feed shortage due to excessive moisture, flood, or drought.
An Idaho state House panel yesterday introduced legislation allowing the use of snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, powered parachutes and other methods to hunt and kill wolves year-round and with no limits in most of the state.
The Senate easily confirmed Tom Vilsack, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Agriculture Department, by a 92-7 vote. The confirmation gives Vilsack a second spin in the same role he held for the entirety of the Obama administration.
The USDA announced the appointment of Gloria Montaño Greene as Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) and the appointment of Zach Ducheneaux as Administrator of the Farm Service Agency (FSA). They will begin their positions on Monday, Feb. 22.
Imposing hefty taxes on speculative water sales, requiring that water rights purchased by investors be held for several years before they can be resold, and requiring special state approval of such sales are three ideas that might help Colorado protect its water resources from speculators.
In a bid to reduce wildfire risk, the House has advanced a bill making it easier for residents to burn brush and wood debris on their property. The bill, passed unanimously Thursday, removes severe liability provisions written into territorial law 20 years before New Mexico became a state.
After the worst fire season in the nation’s history, state leaders are looking to take a more aggressive track to reduce fire risks in state and national forestlands across Wyoming, with solutions ranging from aggressive invasive species management policies to identifying potential ways to increase logging activity on federal lands.
Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson unveiled an energy and infrastructure proposal that would end litigation over endangered salmon in the Northwest, authorizing the removal of four dams on the Snake River in Washington beginning in 2030. The ambitious $33 billion plan serves as a new vision for the Northwest, providing the chance for a fresh start.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is extending the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) General Signup period, which had previously been announced as ending on Feb. 12, 2021. USDA will continue to accept offers as it takes this opportunity for the incoming Administration to evaluate ways to increase enrollment.
The Biden administration delayed a ruling finalized in the Trump administration’s last days that would significantly weaken bird protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Biden administration’s one-month delay of the new rule will allow for the re-opening of a 20-day comment period for the public to engage with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Without public involvement or notice, Utah legislative leaders unveiled plans for a new $9 million state agency, the Colorado River Authority of Utah, to advance Utah’s claims to the Colorado River in hopes of wrangling more of the river’s diminishing flows, potentially at the expense of six neighboring states that also tap the river.
Ag producers around the country watched the 2020 U.S. presidential elections with mixed emotions and little clarity as to which candidate was really theirs. With the results now firmly in and U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House, farmers and their related business partners are already feeling more confident that they at least understand the direction this administration will be taking over the next four years.
This could be the year the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act becomes law — at least that’s what Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are betting on, now that their party controls both chambers of Congress. The three are reintroducing the Colorado public lands bill; it would protect over 400,000 acres in the state through new wilderness, recreation and conservation areas.
The Biden administration is sticking with a decision to remove the gray wolf from Endangered Species Act protections, at least for now. In a brief letter to an environmental attorney sent Thursday, a senior Fish and Wildlife Service official reiterated the reasons the wolf merited the delisting accomplished during the Trump administration.
Addressing climate change is the focus of one of the Biden administration’s latest executive orders, which pauses new oil and gas leasing on public lands or offshore waters, seeks to more than double the amount of land conserved in the United States, and looks to involve the agriculture sector in the federal government’s efforts.
One of the latest Biden administration plans introduces a new framework that will shape U.S. policy to tackle climate change by allocating about $10 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to proactively address natural disasters related to climate change.
Former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Martha Williams was appointed on Wednesday as second-in-command at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Biden Administration. As principal deputy director of FWS, Williams will oversee a federal agency tasked with managing wildlife and habitat across the country.
The Biden administration wasted no time in pledging a wholesale review and potential reversal of its predecessor’s actions on the Endangered Species Act and other hot-button environmental laws.
Two northwest Montana lawmakers are considering a number of bills that could moderately or significantly change the way Montana manages wolves.
The USDA is making available $12 million for use in making payments to forest landowners with land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in exchange for their implementing healthy forest management practices.
Pending litigation over the Trump administration’s delisting of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act could complicate Colorado’s efforts to reintroduce the wolf to the state.
The Trump administration has cut designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl by millions of acres in Oregon, Washington and California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that it would remove 3.4 million acres of critical habitat protections for the bird, including all of what’s known as the O&C Lands, which is big timber territory in Western Oregon.
The Trump administration has completed a review of plans to ease protections for a struggling bird species in seven states in the U.S. West, but there’s little time to put the relaxed rules for industry into action before President-elect Joe Biden takes office
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released the final rule for its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The rule updates USDA’s partner-driven program as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill and integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has allocated $250,000 to protect Montana livestock from grizzly bear depredation in 2021. The money pays for federal Wildlife Services agents to use lethal and non-lethal control of grizzly bears suspected of attacking cattle and other livestock. In 2020, ranchers reported 148 possible grizzly kills or injuries of livestock, of which 124 were confirmed.
An environmental group has no legal standing to challenge the specifics of recovery plans for endangered species, a U.S. district judge in Montana has ruled, rejecting the the Center for Biological Diversity’s challenge over the details of a recovery plan for grizzly bears in the continental United States.
State officials last week released the final version of a new forest action plan that prioritizes forest management and restoration efforts on 3.8 million acres across Montana. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation released the completed 2020 revision to the Montana Forest Action Plan last Tuesday.
A set of guidelines for managing the Colorado River helped several states through a dry spell, but it’s not enough to keep key reservoirs in the American West from plummeting amid persistent drought and climate change, according to a U.S. report.
President-elect Joe Biden chose Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to serve as the first Native American Cabinet secretary and head the Interior Department, a historic pick that marks a turning point for the U.S. government’s relationship with the nation’s Indigenous peoples.
The Outdoor Restoration Force Act would set up a $60 billion fund to support a range of projects from wildfire mitigation to river clean-ups. The money would be split, $20 billion for state and local governments and $40 billion for federal efforts at the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking public input on Nonindustrial Private Forest Land (NIPF) related to technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS invites input on this technical guidance through January 19, 2021.
Two years ago, Ken Salazar co-founded the Salazar Center for North American Conservation. It is his hope that with the country more polarized than ever, Americans can find common ground on the most pressing environmental problems — climate change, land use, water quality and quantity — and that the center can bring together diverse ideas and people.
Following public opposition, the Custer Gallatin National Forest has abandoned a controversial portion of its proposed south Crazy Mountains land exchange, but will move ahead with the rest. The agency is proposing a trade of 1,920 acres of federal lands for 1,877.5 acres of private lands owned by Wild Eagle Mountain Ranch and Rock Creek Ranch.
After days of speculation and anonymous sources, President-elect Joe Biden officially announced that he has asked Tom Vilsack to return to serve as the agriculture secretary after serving eight years during the Obama administration.
The USDA is increasing incentive payments for practices installed on land enrolled in the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). USDA’s FSA is upping the Practice Incentive Payment for installing practices, from 5 percent to 20 percent. Additionally, producers will receive a 10 percent incentive payment for water quality practices on land enrolled in CRP’s continuous signup. FSA administers CRP on behalf of the Commodity Credit Corporation.
The USDA NRCS announced today that a sign up for fiscal year 2021 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is underway. All New Mexico agricultural producers who would like to be considered for financial assistance under general EQIP or special conservation initiatives need to apply by January 8, 2021.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is seeking volunteers to fill two openings on the Habitat Partnership Program State Council. The Council is the oversight body for the Habitat Partnership Program (HPP), which works through 19 local committees to resolve conflicts between agricultural operators and big game as well as assisting CPW to achieve management objectives for deer, elk, pronghorn and moose. The deadline for nominations to be received is February 19, 2021.
California’s water managers yesterday preliminarily allocated just 10% of requested water supplies to agencies that together serve more than 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland. The state Department of Water Resources cited the dry start to the winter rainy season in California’s Mediterranean climate, along with low reservoir levels remaining from last year’s relatively dry winter. Winter snow typically supplies about 30% of the state’s water as it melts.
Malta-area rancher, president of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, and WLA member Leo Barthelmess penned an op-ed for the Northern Ag Network that lays out all the reasons why landowner voices are so important on the issue of how Montana can better support the working lands that support wildlife movement and migration.
Gov. Mark Gordon has selected seven members to serve on the state’s first local migration corridor working group to offer guidance on one of the most critical big-game migratory pathways in the region, located in south central Wyoming.
(Subscription Required) The Trump administration yesterday announced it has finalized its plan to extend one of the largest dams in Northern California, one of its most ambitious and controversial water projects. At issue is a proposal to raise the 600-foot Shasta Dam by about 18.5 feet, to store more water. The dam impounds one of the largest reservoirs in the state, and that water is then shuttled to farmers in California’s Central Valley.
The Trump administration announced plans Thursday that ease protections for sage grouse in the West, prompting an outcry by critics who say the move paves the way for widespread mining and drilling and ignores a federal court ruling. U.S. officials plan to formally publish supplemental environmental impact statements (SEIS) on Friday for the management of greater sage grouse habitat on public lands in seven states.
The USDA Forest Service today announced the publication of a final rule implementing key changes to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The changes include new tools and flexibilities to tackle critical land management challenges as part of a broader agency effort to better serve the American people through timely, high-quality management decisions affecting infrastructure, permitting and restoration of natural resources on their national forests and grasslands.
The Biden transition team is in the early stages of developing a shortlist of potential nominees to lead the BLM. Public lands advocates have floated a number of possible contenders for BLM director in the Biden administration: Steve Ellis, who held the highest-ranking career position at BLM during the Obama administration; Nada Culver, a lawyer with the Audubon Society; and Neil Kornze, who led the agency under former President Obama.
The USDA announced the 2021 signup periods for general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and CRP Grasslands offers. General signup for CRP will be open from January 4, 2021 to February 12, 2021; signup for CRP Grasslands runs from March 15, 2021 to April 23, 2021. Both programs are competitive and provide annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes.
The BLM Wyoming State Office plans to offer 383 parcels totaling about 483,017 acres in an oil and gas lease sale the week of March 15, 2021. This includes 285 parcels nominated for the March sale as well as 141 parcels totaling about 244,086 acres that the BLM deferred from lease sales earlier this year because they overlap Greater Sage-Grouse priority habitat.
Federal protections for greater sage grouse and wild horses could become major points of contention for Senate and House appropriators working to finalize fiscal 2021 funding legislation in the lame-duck session. The Senate Appropriations Committee’s $35.81 billion Interior-Environment spending bill released today includes language forbidding the Interior secretary from using any appropriated funding “to write or issue” a rule listing the greater sage grouse for protection under the ESA.
Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) has announced the introduction of the Save Our Forests Act to address chronic staffing shortages in National Forests, to improve risk mitigation and response to wildfires. The legislation directs the Chief of the Forest Service to fill vacancies in National Forests for recreation and management planning staff, authorizes funding to fill positions, and prioritizes filling vacancies in National Forests facing a high risk of wildfires.
The state of Washington will take over management of most wolves within its borders early next year, after the U.S. government announced that gray wolves in the Lower 48 states would be delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act.
More than 45 years after gray wolves were first listed under the ESA, the Trump Administration and its many conservation partners are announcing the successful recovery of the gray wolf and its delisting from the ESA. U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced that state and tribal wildlife management agency professionals will resume responsibility for sustainable management and protection of delisted gray wolves in states with gray wolf populations, while the USFWS monitors the species for five years to ensure the continued success of the species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday will announce a new rule to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states. The move will hand wolf management back to individual states and tribal governments.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the final rule for its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The rule updates USDA’s flagship program as directed by the 2018 farm bill and integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others.
The USDA is issuing $1.68 billion in payments to agricultural producers and landowners for the 21.9 million acres enrolled in CRP, which provides annual rental payment for land devoted to conservation purposes. CRP participants with contracts effective beginning on October 1, 2020, will receive their first annual rental payment in October 2021.
President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday to make his pledge to help plant, restore, and conserve a trillion trees a reality. The executive order puts some federal government muscle behind Trump’s announcement in January that the United States would help plant a trillion trees as part of a World Economic Forum initiative designed to address climate change.
A decadeslong battle over a northern New Mexico river has taken another turn, as a panel of federal appellate judges has reversed a lower court ruling by determining that the aboriginal rights of Indigenous communities were not extinguished by Spain when it took control centuries ago of what is now the American Southwest.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has denied protection to wolverines under the Endangered Species Act, frustrating conservation groups who argue the species faces an existential threat from the climate crisis. According to the ruling announced on Thursday, the FWS considers wolverine populations in the lower 48 states to be stable and threats against wolverines to be less significant than they previously thought. The agency is consequently withdrawing a proposal to federally protect the species.
USDA today released the final rule for its Conservation Stewardship Program. The rule makes updates to the popular conservation program as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill as well as integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others. NRCS received more than 600 comments on the interim final rule published Nov. 12, 2019.
Citing the government’s repeated reversals and refusals to protect a cousin of the greater sage grouse the last two decades, conservationists are suing again to try to force the federal listing of the bistate sage grouse along the California-Nevada line. The Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court in San Francisco last week against the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wyoming Game and Fish Director and Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President have penned a joint editorial calling for changes to grizzly bear protections under the ESA citing a booming population and expanded range.
The centerpiece of Joe Biden’s plan to help farmers address climate change is a “dramatic” expansion of the Conservation Stewardship Program, but he’ll quickly find skeptics on Capitol Hill and among environmental groups if he gets elected and tries to carry out the proposal. “You are not going to be able to double the size of CSP or EQIP without increasing the staff at the local level,” said Coleman Garrison, director of government affairs for the National Association of Conservation Districts
The Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020 would require the U.S. Forest Service to pick forests in three western states on which to carry out landscape projects to reduce fire risk. It includes numerous provisions to speed up removing dead trees and other fuels from public lands, including a couple that would loosen up existing environmental regulations. It would exclude removing fuels along Forest Service roads, trails and transmission lines from environmental review, and raise the threshold for what is considered “new information” requiring an Endangered Species Act review of some land management actions.
The BLM is completing contracts with ranchers in four states to place as many as 5,000 wild horses and burros rounded up off federal rangelands onto private pastureland. As part of a strategy to reduce overpopulation of wild horses and burros on public lands, the BLM announced today that it will award the first of seven contracts for new wild horse off-range pastures in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington.
A “one-pager” describing a proposal soil health program for Colorado which outlines the need, legislative proposal, and background on the Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils stakeholder engagement process.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protecting as threatened the Wright’s marsh thistle. Along with the litigation-pressured Endangered Species Act listing, the federal agency proposed designating as critical habitat 159 acres in Chaves, Eddy, Guadalupe, Otero and Socorro counties in New Mexico.
Gray wolves stood on the top of nature’s food chain in Colorado over eight decades ago, but were eradicated from most of the western united states by the 1930s. Now after 80 years, the reintroduction of gray wolves will be on the ballot for Colorado. Voting yes to proposition 114 means getting the first wolf paws on Colorado ground by 2023.
A federal judge in Montana has ordered William Perry Pendley, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, to leave the position after finding that he had served unlawfully as acting director for 424 days. Mr. Pendley was also prohibited from using any authority to make decisions about federal lands. “Pendley has served and continues to serve unlawfully as the Acting B.L.M. director,” the judge, Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, wrote in a 34-page ruling he issued on Friday.
Facing opposition from six states that rely on the Colorado River for water for their cities and farms, Utah asked the federal government to delay a fast-track approval process for building an underground pipeline that would transport billions of gallons of water to the southwest part of the state. Utah cited the need to consider roughly 14,000 public comments on a draft environmental impact statement, released in June by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, for the Lake Powell pipeline project.
The question on Colorado’s November ballot marks the first time that voters, not the federal government, would direct state wildlife managers to script a recovery plan for wolves.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project said yesterday they intend to file a lawsuit contending that several federal agencies are relying on an outdated plan to save the Gunnison sage grouse, a rare bird found only in Colorado and Utah.
Idaho senators say grizzly bears in the GYE are a conservation success story and Congress should remove them from the threatened species list. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling in July reversing the delisting of the great bear because of a lack of “concrete, enforceable mechanisms” to “ensure long-term genetic health of the Yellowstone grizzly.” Now a bill making its way through the U.S. Senate’s committee process may remove the bear from the protected list, at least in the Yellowstone area.
USDA’s NRCS today announced a $50 million investment in 10 conservation projects across 16 states through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA). Through these projects, partners will contribute more than $65 million to amplify the conservation work that can be performed on agricultural land and privately owned forests across the nation.
The Fish and Wildlife Service declared today the western population of yellow-billed cuckoo still warrants federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. In a noteworthy defeat for mining and ranching organizations, the federal agency rejected a petition to strip away the bird’s status as a threatened species.
Six states in the U.S. West that rely on the Colorado River to sustain cities and farms rebuked a plan to build an underground pipeline that would transport billions of gallons of water through the desert to southwest Utah.
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources announced an 18-member work group to conduct a study of how to strengthen Colorado’s water anti-speculation law. Currently, Colorado water law prohibits speculation by requiring water to be used for a beneficial purpose. The purpose of a recent bill that created the work group was to make sure that Colorado’s water speculation law has enough legal teeth to “go after” any speculative behavior.
At last, farmers and foresters might have a seat at the carbon market table. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House to create incentives and remove barriers for farmers and foresters to receive credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing soil organic matter – carbon.
The Trump administration plans to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the nation by the end of the year, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service said yesterday. “We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year, and I’d say it’s very imminent,” Aurelia Skipwith told the Associated Press.
The EPA announced a new Colorado-based office that will oversee Western land cleanup. The Office of Mountains, Deserts, and Plains will focus especially on mining cleanup and will provide oversight, guidance, and technical assistance
Bold water conservation strategies and changes in long-standing law and water policies are needed to slow the alarming shrinking of the Great Salt Lake, according to recommendation released Tuesday by an advisory panel. Upstream diversions have long prevented vast quantities from replenishing the lake, reducing the lake by half its normal size with further declines predicted.The council’s latest report describes 12 “actionable” measures that could keep the Great Salt Lake from evaporating into a dusty playa.
The Shared Stewardship Agreement establishes a framework for federal and state agencies to promote active forest management, improve collaboration, and respond to ecological challenges and natural resource concerns in Wyoming.
Wyoming has finalized initial state spending cuts of 10%, or $250 million, as part of efforts to address an over $1 billion budget shortfall due to the coronavirus and downturns in the coal, oil and natural gas industries. The cuts follow a freeze in state hiring and large contracts announced in April. They are still “just the tip of the iceberg,” Governor Gordon said. They will be followed by a second round of cuts totaling another $250 million.
In Utah, mountain goats are among the most interesting wild ungulates, but Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials’ effort to expand the nonnative species’ range is drawing criticism because the goats could harm the fragile alpine environments and rare plant communities.
The BLM has taken an additional step forward in implementing a strategy focused on removing excess wild horses and burros from federal rangelands. BLM announced yesterday that it has completed an environmental assessment evaluating the addition of three privately contracted off-range corrals, and the expansion of an additional one, to hold thousands of additional wild horses and burros rounded up and removed from federal herd management areas in the West.
A citizen-led council’s work writing the state’s long-term vision for grizzly bear management nears the end. Members of the governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council tweaked recommendations addressing bear distribution, outdoor recreation and proposed hunts, reaching a consensus on all items except hunting. The council will present its final report to the governor’s office Sept. 1.
The working group will review the effectiveness of corridor designation on the migratory herd and evaluate the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s draft risk assessment report. It will also make recommendations about additional opportunities for conservation as well as examine the impacts of all restrictions on development and use of lands encompassed in the designated corridor. To apply to serve on the working group apply through this form. Applications are due September 18, 2020.
President Trump on Tuesday signed the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $900 million annually in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks. The legislation would also provide billions of dollars over five years to address a maintenance backlog at national parks.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service are proposing to define “habitat” in the Endangered Species Act for the first time, in response to a 2018 Supreme Court decision.
Ballot measure to widen wolves’ comeback could threaten partnership between conservation community and agriculture. Colorado’s statewide wolf-reintroduction ballot initiative is rankling rural communities, rekindling old conflicts over the purpose of public lands. It’s straining the hard-won partnership that ensures, if not pure nature, the conservation of open landscapes in the face of Colorado’s population growth and development boom.
As of March 1, approximately 95,000 federally protected wild horses and burros were estimated to roam on BLM-managed public lands in the West — more than three and a half times what the land can sustainably support and the most ever estimated by the BLM in a given year. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond highlighted the BLM’s challenging mission to preserve and protect these animals in an op-ed published last week in the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Federal regulators have thrown a significant curveball at a coalition that has been planning for years to demolish four massive hydroelectric dams on a river along the Oregon-California border in order to save salmon populations that have dwindled to almost nothing. Federal regulators refused to let the current owner fully transfer the impoundments to a nonprofit to carry out the demolition.
Low runoff, top-of-the-thermometer temperatures and little rainfall have translated into a dismal summer on the Rio Grande, with large river stretches south of Albuquerque already dry. But water managers are finally breathing a sigh of relief. The state of New Mexico has received permission from neighboring states to access up to 38,000 acre-feet of water, or more than 12 billion gallons, that is currently stored under the Rio Grande Compact agreement.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed its initial review of a petition to list the dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service has concluded that the petition presents substantial information indicating listing may be warranted. Accordingly, the Service will now begin an in-depth review of this species to determine whether it should be listed under the ESA.
House Democrats have proposed planting trees on tens of millions of acres of land to help head off climate change. On federal land, though, the goal raises a question: How many of those trees will one day be cut down?Reforestation on land overseen by the Forest Service isn’t strictly about planting new trees. The agency’s mixed missions of protecting wild areas and watersheds while providing timber supplies are bound to keep playing out as Democrats push the agenda, according to congressional and industry sources.
The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) today announced the acceptance of more than 1.2 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands during the recent signup period that began March 16 and ended May 15. The number of acres offered during this signup period was 1.9 million acres, over 3 times the number offered during the last signup period in 2016.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday affirmed a 2018 Montana District Court decision that struck down federal efforts to remove Yellowstone grizzlies’ “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act. The delisting in 2017 turned over management of the species to the states surrounding Yellowstone National Park, allowing the states to plan bear hunts.
The Trump Administration has taken action throughout 2020 to narrow the scope of which wetlands and waterways are protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The recently limited rule took effect on June 22, 2020, which in essence, opens the doors for developers anxious to get to work ahead of future legal action and the 2020 presidential election. Colorado’s position as being the sole state refusing to comply with the WOTUS rule is significant, and is worthwhile to monitor.
The Senate has approved a bipartisan bill that would spend nearly $3 billion on conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands, a measure supporters say would be the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century.
The Klamath Basin battle over irrigation rights and private property has been in a legal dispute for 18 years. The Klamath “takings” case (Baley v. United States) stems from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cutting off irrigation water to the federal Klamath Project, located in Northern California and southern Oregon, in 2001. Klamath water users sued the United States to assert that Klamath Project water users have a Fifth Amendment property interest, which entitles them to compensation for the 2001 shutoff. The case will now go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today issued a memorandum to Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen providing direction that will serve as a blueprint to help modernize the agency’s systems and approaches to ensure national forests and grasslands continue to meet the needs of the American people.
The Trump administration’s proposed narrowing of Migratory Bird Treaty Act protections will have a “likely negative” impact on birds that includes “increased” mortality, according to a Fish and Wildlife Service study made public today.
The agriculture industry would be able to participate in a growing carbon credit market under bipartisan legislation introduced recently that would funnel money to farmers who use sustainable practices. The legislation tasks the U.S. Department of Agriculture with creating a certification program to assist farmers and forest landowners in “implementing the protocols and monetizing the climate value of their sustainable practices.”
President Donald Trump will sign an executive order directing agencies to waive the requirements of environmental statutes like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in order to expedite federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines and other projects, according to four people briefed on the matter. The president cites the current “economic emergency” in his rationale for the order.
U.S. senators on Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill that would direct the Agriculture Department to help farmers, ranchers and landowners use carbon dioxide-absorbing practices to generate carbon credits, a rare collaboration on climate change. The proposed Growing Climate Solutions Act directs the USDA to create a program that would help the agriculture sector gain access to revenue from greenhouse gas offset credit markets.
The BLM is proposing to streamline rules governing timber harvests, sales and other forest management activities in the name of reducing wildfire risks across the West. The BLM announced a proposal to establish a new categorical exclusion (CX) under the National Environmental Policy Act, which would streamline the agency’s review of routine timber salvage projects and operations.
The EPA issued a report Tuesday detailing summertime water temperature problems on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers and assigning significant responsibility to federal dams. The report said dams on both rivers play a role in raising water temperatures above 68 degrees — the state water quality standards of Washington and Oregon, and the point at which the water becomes harmful to salmon and steelhead. The causes of the increasing water temperatures are known as Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL. A draft TMDL is now out for public comment through July 21, 2020.
Federal land managers say it will take two decades and cost more than $1 billion over the first six years alone to slash wild horse populations to sustainable levels necessary to protect U.S. rangeland. The BLM’s latest plans envision capturing 200,000 mustangs over the next two decades, building corrals to hold thousands more than current capacity and adopting regulations allowing the permanent sterilization of horses roaming federal lands.
More than 200 miles of the Pecos River, its tributaries and other parts of the upper reaches of the northern New Mexico watershed would be protected from future degradation under a petition being considered by state regulators. A coalition of farmers, ranchers, environmentalists and local officials filed the petition last month, seeking an “Outstanding National Resource Waters” designation for the river, nearby streams and surrounding wetlands. The Water Quality Control Commission agreed Tuesday to consider the request and set a public hearing for November.
Colorado and other Western states will be hard pressed to shield their rivers and streams under a new federal Clean Water Act rule finalized last month, largely because hundreds of shallow Western rivers are no longer protected, and writing new state laws and finding the cash to fill the regulatory gap will likely take years to accomplish, officials said. Though many agricultural interests and water utilities support the new Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, as it is known, Colorado Attorney General and director of the state’s Water Quality Control Division, said they will take legal action to protect streams that are no longer subject to federal oversight.
In a game-changing decision for struggling Southern Resident orcas and endangered salmon, Washington state will exercise its authority—for the first time ever—to require federal dam operators to keep the Columbia and Snake rivers cool enough for salmon survival. Washington state issued Clean Water Act 401 Certifications that require eight federal dams on the Lower Columbia and Lower Snake rivers to meet safe limits for temperature and oil pollution.
Attorneys for the U.S. government and the state of Wyoming urged an appeals court yesterday to throw out much of a judge’s ruling that blocked the first grizzly bear hunts in the Lower 48 in almost three decades. The case is before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It involves more than 700 grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park that had their protections stripped away and then restored by a judge in Montana just as hunting was scheduled to begin.
Environmentalists have failed to convince the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that grazing authorizations unlawfully harmed bull trout on seven allotments in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest. The appellate court has rejected allegations from the Oregon Natural Desert Association and Center for Biological Diversity that more than 100 federal grazing decisions — including permit approvals and operating instructions — violated the forest’s management plan over a decade.
California water agencies yesterday sued the state over endangered species protections they claim threaten their ability to provide water to more than 25 million residents and thousands of acres of farmland. The lawsuit is an extraordinary step, underscoring that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) now has multiple crises on his plate: the coronavirus pandemic and a rapidly devolving water war.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has rekindled an Endangered Species Act debate with its proposal for a large, multistate critical habitat for the western yellow-billed cuckoo. The Army Corps of Engineers cautions that the proposal could complicate operations of a key California dam. Tribes have worries of their own. Some bird lovers, meanwhile, want more than the proposed 493,665 acres spanning seven Western states.
Gov. Jared Polis, even as COVID-19 swept across the state, gave his stamp of approval to five major pieces of water legislation, paving the way for everything from more water for environmental streamflows to a new study on how to limit water speculation. Three of the new laws address water for streams, fish and habitat, allowing more loans of water to bolster environmental flows, protecting such things as water for livestock from being appropriated for instream flows, and using an existing water management tool, known as an augmentation plan, to set aside water rights for streams.
Property rights advocates today filed one of the first lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s Clean Water Act rule, arguing that the regulation does not go far enough in limiting the law’s reach. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers last week finalized the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, opening the door for what is expected to be dozens of lawsuits. Most challenges are expected to come from environmental groups and blue states arguing that the rule improperly guts much of the law.
A new U.S. Supreme Court ruling puts groundwater science at the center of decisions about how to regulate water pollution. Today, in a closely watched case with extensive implications, the court ruled six to three that the federal Clean Water Act applies to pollution of underground water that flows into nearby lakes, streams, and bays, as long as it is similar to pouring pollutants directly into these water bodies.
Idaho hasn’t given up on a three-way potential land swap and cash deal involving a private timber company and the Forest Service that is running into opposition from the Nez Perce Tribe. Republican Gov. Brad Little said the potential deal could increase Idaho’s state-owned lands with timber-producing forests that make money mainly for public schools. The tribe is concerned it could lose access rights for fishing, hunting and other activities it has with the U.S. government if Idaho ends up owning what is now federal land.
The Trump administration published a final rule Tuesday rolling back Obama-era environmental protections. The final rule, written by the Engineers Corps and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), redefines the scope of waters federally regulated under the Clean Water Act, passed under President Obama in 2015.
Washington’s wolf population grew at least 11% between 2018 and 2019, despite the death of 21 wolves from hunting, lethal removal and predation. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists documented a minimum of 108 wolves in 21 packs and 10 breeding pairs in 2019. The state’s annual wolf survey, published Monday, sets a minimum number of wolves and packs in the state and guides management decisions for the year to come.
Water from two rivers that span parts of New Mexico and Arizona would be diverted and stored under a project proposed by the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity. The BLM and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission are gathering public comments on an environmental review of the proposal. The fight over the Gila River has prompted protests and legal fights over the years. Environmentalists have suggested the effort to divert water would result in a $1 billion boondoggle, but supporters argue that the project is vital to supplying communities and irrigation districts in southwestern New Mexico with a new source of water as drought persists.
California took a major step yesterday toward giving mountain lions protection as an endangered species. The California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to approve Southern California and Central Coast mountain lions as candidates for California Endangered Species Act designation. That launches a yearlong status review by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which will prepare a peer-reviewed status report. The commission will make a final decision at the end of that period.
The USDA Wildlife Services (WS) program has identified 12 states where it will implement nonlethal strategies to reduce or prevent depredation on livestock by wildlife. The fiscal year 2020 budget allocated $1.38 million for nonlethal predator damage management and research to the program that is part of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) agency.
The Fish and Wildlife Service today increased the number of species covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, even as the agency prepares to narrow the law’s protections. In the first revision of its kind since 2013, FWS added a net total of 67 bird species to the protected list, which now numbers 1,093.
The Fish and Wildlife Service today reopened a debate over the best way to protect the Mexican wolf. Facing legal pressure, the agency announced plans to revise the “nonessential experimental population” designation and management of the wolves living in Arizona and New Mexico. The plans require drafting an environmental impact statement supplement.
Scientists say the Trump administration’s proposed program to cut down trees to gain an upper hand over wildfire and protect sage-grouse may in fact do the opposite: increase the wildfire threat and risk ecosystem “collapse.” The proposed plan, which the BLM published last week, aims to reshape the ecology of sagebrush ecosystems across 38.5 million acres of federal land in six states to reduce the severity of wildfires and help restore sagebrush.
The candidate conservation agreement with assurances (CCAA) potentially applies to over 26 million acres managed by energy companies and departments of transportation across the United States. Via the agreement, public and private partners can voluntarily adopt conservation measures that are beneficial to the monarch butterfly, which is currently being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
The next deadline for Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) applications to be considered for funding this year is May 29, 2020. Through CSP, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps farmers, ranchers and forest landowners earn payments for expanding conservation activities while maintaining agricultural production on their land. CSP also encourages adoption of new technologies and management techniques.
Draft PEIS Available for Public Comment: April 3 – June 2, 2020. The BLM has prepared a Draft Programmatic EIS for Fuel Breaks in the Great Basin. The Programmatic EIS analyzes several options for carrying out fuels reduction and rangeland restoration projects. The project area covers nearly 223 million acres and includes portions of California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. The project’s purpose is to enhance the long-term function, viability, resistance and resilience of sagebrush communities in the project area. Functioning and viable sagebrush communities provide multiple-use opportunities for all user groups as well as habitat for sagebrush-dependent species. The BLM is inviting the public to review and comment on the Draft Programmatic EIS.
USDA’s NRCS is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to 49 national conservation practice standards through a posting in the Federal Register. The proposed revisions posted this week with the public comment period closing April 23, 2020.
Wildlife advocates yesterday asked a U.S. judge to force the government into deciding whether the snow-loving wolverine should be federally protected as the rare predator becomes vulnerable to a warming planet. The request comes in a lawsuit filed in Montana almost four years after U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ordered wildlife officials to take swift action to protect the animal.
A federal appeals court yesterday rejected the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for the endangered jaguar. Reversing a trial judge’s 2017 opinion that had been hailed by environmentalists, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the federal agency was “arbitrary and capricious” in its decisionmaking.
Congress is rushing to respond to the novel coronavirus on multiple fronts, including eyeing a new $45 billion White House request to bolster agencies and a far broader $1 trillion package that would include help for the ailing airline industry.
Due to the COVID-19 emergency relief effort, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has exempted livestock haulers from compliance with federal Hours of Service rules that limit drive time until at least April 12. Drivers wishing to haul under this exemption are suggested to print out and keep in their cab a copy of the Expanded Emergency Declaration, available here. The Expanded Emergency Declaration provides relief to those drivers hauling “food” and “immediate precursor raw materials… that are required and to be used for the manufacture of … food.”
The Department of Agriculture aims to keep offices around the country open as it responds to the novel coronavirus outbreak, even as employees are given more opportunity to work from home.
According to a Facebook post from Montana FWP Prairie Bear Monitor, people may now legally shoot grizzly bears with paintballs if they come too close to homes or other possible areas of threat, such as barns, grain bins or schools.
Longtime Wyoming researcher Arthur Middleton wondered what that could look like in practicality. So he assembled a team of economists, lawyers and biologists to run the numbers and probabilities of what would be the impact of either raising park fees for conservation efforts outside of park boundaries, or levying some form of tax to help pay for those efforts. What they found could be a basis for a statewide, or regional, conversation for conserving those wildlife that call Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the surrounding three states home.
One day after President Trump tweeted his support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to take steps today to bring to the floor legislation that would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and address the national parks maintenance backlog, senators said.
Legislation proposed Friday by Natural Resources Committee ranking member Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) would require Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to remove gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection.
A federal judge’s order nixing yet another attempt by the Trump administration to revise greater sage grouse protections may prove to be a costly bureaucratic mess. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush yesterday threw out rule changes adopted by the BLM in 2018 that shortened public comment times and administrative protest periods involving oil and gas lease sale parcels that overlap sage grouse habitat. Bush’s order requires BLM to conduct a “notice-and-comment rulemaking” to adopt these changes and comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws.
Biologists looking for endangered species on private property would be required to keep much of what they find secret under a proposal poised for quick approval by the Arizona Legislature. Opposition has unsuccessfully argued that if the new policy becomes law it will hinder public monitoring of recovery plans for endangered plants and animals. Supporters say the shield is needed to protect private property rights.
Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) introduced legislation that would set a national goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions from the U.S. agriculture sector by 2040. The Agriculture Resilience Act also introduces sweeping changes to federal conservation and agriculture programs to reach that goal.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a noticeably shrunken but still sprawling critical habitat for the threatened western yellow-billed cuckoo. In a long-awaited revision today, the federal agency proposed designating approximately 493,665 acres across seven Western states as critical habitat. The move would extend ESA protections to parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.
The Bureau of Land Management is now formally referring to wild horses and burros as an “existential threat” to federal lands, mirroring acting BLM chief William Perry Pendley’s controversial characterization of growing herd sizes.
This well-reported article from Elizabeth Stewart-Savery covers all the angles of the wolf reintroduction controversy in the state. A comprehensive and nuanced introduction to this important issue at a time of outsized rhetoric.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday, environmental groups have accused the U.S. Forest Service of failing to keep livestock and wild horses out of streams and other wetlands on forest land in southeastern Arizona, resulting in damage to habitat required by the New Mexico jumping mouse, an endangered species found only in the Southwest.
The state of California has opened another front in its expanding war with the Trump administration over environmental protections, this time with a legal challenge to new water management rules designed to aid farmers. In a lawsuit filed yesterday, California officials contend the administration violated laws including the ESA and the Administrative Procedure Act with two biological opinions concerning water project management.
On February 20, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted nine proposed modifications to wolf hunting and trapping for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, extending wolf hunting opportunity, opening more areas to wolf trapping and extending trapping seasons.
The USDA will redouble its efforts on carbon sequestration and reducing farming’s environmental impact, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said today — without referencing global climate change. Perdue said the department would encourage more practices that limit carbon emissions, a goal that would also improve soil health and boost farm productivity as the world’s population continues to grow.
Bipartisan proposals before the Washington Legislature would help scientists learn about storing carbon in agricultural soils and invest in GPS-guided tractors and climate-friendly cattle feed.
The BLM will publish six draft supplemental environmental impact statements (SEISs) on Friday for management of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat on public lands in seven Western states, highlighting the collaborative process undergone in 2019 to develop plans that reflected the needs of western communities and Greater Sage-grouse habitat. Public comments will be accepted through April 6, 2020.
Amid mounting cries of California homeowners being denied wildfire insurance in high-risk areas, state lawmakers want to require insurance companies to cover all existing homes, as long as they meet new safety standards. The measure would also require insurance companies to give homeowners financial incentives for fire safety upgrades.
In a controversial record of decision signed today, the Trump Administration commits to delivering additional irrigation water to farms south of the California’s ecologically sensitive and hydrologically crucial Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Today, the Department of the Interior announced another round of $3.2 million in grant funding for 11 western states, bringing the Department’s and other stakeholders’ support of big game species habitat conservation and scientific research for migration corridors and winter ranges to more than $22 million. These grants are a part of the Department’s ongoing efforts to execute on Secretary’s Order 3362.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced plans to fund 11,000 miles of strategic fuel breaks in Idaho, Oregon, Washington state, California, Nevada and Utah in an effort to help control wildfires. The fuel breaks are intended to prop up fire mitigation efforts and help protect firefighters, communities and natural resources.
The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) in partnership with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) has begun developing the Wildlife Corridors Action Plan (Plan) in accordance with New Mexico Senate Bill 228, the Wildlife Corridors Act (Act). Public meetings will be held state wide and public comments will be accepted through April 18, 2020.
Utah House Bill 125, which expands the use of hunting predators to manage ungulate herds such as elk and deer, is one of the predator wildlife management bills moving through this year’s legislative agenda.
A federal judge yesterday ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service must redo an endangered species analysis that allowed other agencies to approve the Rosemont Copper project in the Coronado National Forest. The site lies within the range of America’s only jaguars, northern Mexican gartersnakes and other endangered species in the Santa Rita Mountains outside Tucson.
President Trump’s $4.8 trillion fiscal 2021 budget request released today proposes major cuts to energy and environmental programs to help shore up national security spending.
Legislation granting an emergency water right when crews are trying to clean up spills in Idaho waterways passed the House on Tuesday and is headed to the governor’s desk. The House approved the measure the state Department of Environmental Quality says is needed to prevent someone from contending their water right is being violated due to an emergency cleanup.
When the Bureau of Land Management moves its Washington-based headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., this year, more than half of the senior leaders there may be as new as the office itself. BLM has been scrambling to fill more than a dozen high-level positions in the new agency headquarters.
Most states across the West have adopted some sort of water sharing program that provides more flexibility for users in time of need, or in time of excess. Called “water banking,” the strategy essentially allows water right holders to allow others to use their water and make revenue from it. On Wednesday, Utah inched closer to implementing its own program via a legislative proposal, that if passed, would institute a 10-year pilot project.
The Trump administration’s controversial narrowing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act will reduce environmental protections that can be expected from industry, the Fish and Wildlife Service predicted today. In proposed new regulations that have immediately prompted heated debate, the federal agency today acknowledged diminished private mitigation as one likely result of limiting the law’s coverage to the intentional killing of migratory birds.
The House Natural Resources Committee voted today to approve a suite of bills along party lines, including legislation that would overturn the Trump administration’s controversial rules revising the Endangered Species Act. The full committee also voted to approve two bills that would advance the establishment of wildlife corridors on federal and Native American lands nationwide.
Idaho’s top wildlife official on Tuesday requested authorization from state lawmakers to spend $408,000 to count wolves. The expense would become part of the agency’s annual budget to keep a running tally of the number of wolves in the state. Idaho stopped counting wolves in 2015 after it was no longer required to do so by USFWS following the lifting of protections for wolves under the ESA.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has long talked about the importance of water to the arid state, even campaigning on the idea of creating a 50-year plan to guide management of the finite resource. Her administration is now asking lawmakers for more money and manpower to start what some experts say will be a multiyear endeavor.
California’s first attempt at regulating a precious resource — groundwater — begins Friday, and experts expect a rocky start. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which requires critically overdrafted basins to balance their pumping and get on a “sustainable” path by 2040, could fundamentally reshape water use and agriculture in California. Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland are expected to be forced out of production.
Despite lower rental rates, enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program is “competitive” this year, a USDA official said at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on Tuesday. The 2018 farm bill raised the cap on the number of acres to be enrolled in the CRP from 24 million to 27 million.
The state budget proposal delivered earlier this month by California Governor Gavin Newsom includes billions of spending on natural resources and the environment.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has extended the public comment period on its interim rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).Comments will now be accepted through March 20, 2020.
The final Waters of the U.S. rule unveiled by the Trump administration today eliminates Clean Water Act protections for the majority of the nation’s wetlands and more than 18% of streams, and replaces regulations set in the Reagan administration.
Some areas in Idaho would be declared wolf-free zones and other areas where the animals have killed livestock would have increased wolf-killing opportunities under legislation proposed yesterday by state Sen. Bert Brackett. The state Senate Resources and Environment Committee voted to clear the way for a hearing on the measure.
Environmentalists are asking federal wildlife managers to use the Endangered Species Act to protect a fish found only in the Rio Grande in Texas and the Pecos River in New Mexico. WildEarth Guardians filed the petition with the Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday, saying it is part of a campaign focused on vulnerable species found in rivers and streams across the West.
A humpbacked Colorado River fish that’s been federally protected for more than half a century has escaped from the edge of doom, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. In what officials are calling an Endangered Species Act success story, the federal agency is proposing to downlist the humpback chub from endangered to threatened status. The move would retain protections for the fish but also signify its “partial recovery” and ease some regulatory requirements.
The Bureau of Land Management has published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to consider proposed revisions to the agency’s grazing regulations. The proposed revisions aim to “update, modernize and streamline the grazing regulations and provide greater flexibility for land and resource management.” Comments on the proposed revisions may be submitted in writing until February 28, 2020.
In one of the most significant changes proposed by the new executive order, Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife managers won’t be the only people at the decision-making table when it comes to migration corridors. The governor will also have help from landowners and others on the ground and the state will support the formation of local working groups to help inform the designation of new corridors.
A new bill introduced in the Wyoming Legislature this week would create a new compensation program for ranchers whose livestock is killed or damaged by gray wolves outside of game hunting zones. the legislation would create a $90,000 fund to compensate ranchers for any losses related to gray wolf attacks, and would be active for two years.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks this week released a document nearly eight years in the making that outlines how bison could be restored in the state as publicly managed wildlife
The Trump administration is expected to finalize a rule limiting which waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act this month.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is calling for a major expansion in the state’s wildfire response plans in a new legislative concept. The draft proposal outlines the governor’s long-term vision for how the state should adapt to wildfire, reduce wildfire risks on forestland and improve fire suppression.
The grizzly bear’s future as a protected species will get another gander, as the Fish and Wildlife Service today initiated a full-bore study of the iconic animal. The review will mark the federal agency’s first comprehensive update on the grizzly bear since 2011 and could lead to proposed revisions of its Endangered Species Act status.
One day after a measure to introduce wolves was placed on this year’s ballot, CPW announced that a wolf pack was spotted, photographed and video recorded by hunters in Colorado back in October.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) want the Interior Department to create a five-year pilot program promoting native plant species to preserve ecosystems and help reverse land and water degradation. Their new bill, S. 3150, aims to prevent and eradicate devastating invasive species through greater use of native plant material for federal land maintenance and restoration.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks public comments on its interim rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), USDA’s premier conservation easement program that helps landowners protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. Comments will be accepted through March 6, 2020.
It’s official, wolf reintroduction will be decided on Colorado’s 2020 ballot. On Monday, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office announced the campaign had gathered an estimated 139,333 valid signatures — above the 124,632 signatures needed to earn a place the 2020 ballot. If it passes, the measure would require state wildlife managers to reintroduce wolves to Western Colorado by the end of 2023.
California regulators said Tuesday that they have streamlined the state’s permit process to make it faster to approve tree-thinning projects designed to slow massive wildfires that have devastated communities in recent years.
The Interior Department is moving to formally define “habitat” in the Endangered Species Act, part of an anticipated second wave of changes to the bedrock conservation law under the Trump administration. According to a notice published Monday, the addition to the ESA is undergoing interagency review.
Lawmakers introduced a flurry of bills before leaving the capital for the holidays, including legislation to delist the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act. S. 3140 would direct the Interior Department to issue a rule removing the gray wolf from federal protections.
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today released a discussion draft of legislation to establish a new tax credit for farmers and ranchers, state and local governments, and tribes, to sequester carbon in agriculture, forestry, rangelands, and wetlands.
Surface water rights in the state of New Mexico are typically granted to individuals for diverting water from streams and rivers to irrigate crops and support food production. Now, the state has granted its first water rights permit to keep water in a river.
A debate recently heated up in Montana caused by the complexities of tying elk conflict reduction to access to private land.
A new study found that shade provided by solar panels increased the abundance of flowers under the panels and delayed the timing of their bloom, both findings that could aid the agricultural community.
The study, believed to be the first that looked at the impact of solar panels on flowering plants and insects, has important implications for solar developers who manage the land under solar panels, as well as agriculture and pollinator health advocates who are seeking land for pollinator habitat restoration.
Genetic testing results recently confirmed a large canine killed Jan. 28, 2021, near Ueling, was a gray wolf. The female wolf had been legally shot by coyote hunters, who contacted the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Genetic testing showed the animal originated from a population of wolves found in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
“This is the third confirmed instance of wolf presence in Nebraska since the early 1900’s,” said Sam Wilson, Game and Parks Furbearer and Carnivore program manager. “Wolves can disperse great distances from their nearest populations in the northern Rocky Mountains or Upper Great Lakes. While we don’t have any evidence of resident wolves or reproduction in Nebraska, we can expect young wolves in search of new territory to cover long distances and make it to Nebraska from time to time.”
Germany’s wolf population has risen sharply in recent years — as has the amount of farm animals killed. Wolves are a protected species, but farmers are fed up. Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner recently announced the launch of Germany’s new federal center for livestock and wolves.
“Just as the wolf is entitled to protection, so are our livestock,” Klöckner said. “We need them to maintain and preserve our cultural landscape.” The return of the wolf, she said, should not “lead to the existence of livestock being threatened in some regions of Germany.”
The U.S. Bureau of Management is accepting public comments through the end of April on plans to remove some 3,500 wild horses from public land in southwestern Wyoming. The federal agency seeks to allow between 1,500 and 2,165 wild horses in areas of the Red Desert outside Rock Springs. An estimated 5,105 wild horses currently live in those areas.
The roundups could begin as soon as July and be completed this year or occur over several years. The horses would be sent to holding facilities where they would be prepared for adoption. Horses that don’t meet adoption criteria would be sent to off-range pastures.
Wildlife advocates recently sued federal officials in a bid for greater protections for monarch butterflies, northern spotted owls and eight other species. The lawsuit comes after federal officials said the species named in the lawsuit need protections, but that other imperiled plants and animals have higher priority.
In order to save one endangered species, California scientists are having to relocate another iconic creature that is, regrettably, eating it. The California department of fish and wildlife is in the process of moving mountain lions over 100 miles away from struggling populations of bighorn sheep, which are unique to the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The United State Geological Survey (USGS) released a groundbreaking report today showing that Greater-Sage Grouse populations have declined 80 percent since 1965, a more dramatic decline than previously thought. There are more than 350 different species of wildlife and plants as well as hunters, ranchers, and whole communities that depend on a healthy sagebrush steppe.