To The Point

On the Bright Side . . .

After re-reading last month’s column even I was depressed. There are brighter sides and team efforts that are ongoing that we need to spend some time on. Those include the recent efforts of the American Angus Association (AAA). Probably the largest beef cattle organization in the world, the AAA does all the normal things one would expect of a breed association.

They register cattle, they promote the breed, they do breed research and all the same things other breed associations do. In recent months they have taken a step above. If you haven’t watched the AAA’s “I AM ANGUS” which airs on Monday evenings on the RFD Channel, you have missed something and you need to catch up.

I first watched the program because my friends Minnie Lou Bradley, Bradley 3 Ranch, and Joe Leathers, manager of the famed 6666 Ranch were on the first airing last fall. The segments covered the ranching operations along with information on the breed, the photography was excellent and it was worth watching. But because the program conflicted with Monday night football through the winter, I didn’t ever watch it again.

However, the day after I wrote the last column, a Monday, I was channel surfing. With over 200 satellite channels available, I couldn’t find a thing I wanted to watch. I finally settled on “I AM ANGUS.” I was certainly glad that I did. The program, which is an hour long, not only enlightened about the Angus breed, but it is taking on the issues that will make or break us into the future. In the about 40 minutes that I watched a renowned college professor interviewed on animal welfare issues and positive ways to deal with them, there was some history on Angus breeders and a piece on CJ Hadley, publisher of Range Magazine. Given that the AAA produces its’ own magazine, the Angus Journal, I was pleasantly surprised that the Association not only acknowledged another publication, but celebrated it and the values Range Magazine promotes. The depth of the content and the efforts to educate were tremendous. Hats off to the American Angus Association! Please the take time to watch the program.

We DO Make A Difference

For more than the past year this publication and many other news outlets, including television’s Fox News, sat up and took notice when the Western Legacy Alliance and New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association attorney Karen Budd-Falen began exposing just how many tax payers are going to fund environmental groups via litigation settlements and payments. It seems that it isn’t only the livestock industry that is crying foul (or fowl) anymore.

In early March Greenwire, self-dubbed “the leader in energy and environmental policy news,” ran the following story. “Agency is resurrected to track payments in enviro lawsuits,” by Lawrence Hurley, E&E reporter. In 1995, the Republican-controlled Congress withdrew funding for an obscure agency that had been tasked to track the distribution of cash to environmental groups and others that win certain lawsuits against the federal government.

Now, Republicans complain that environmental groups are gaming the system — because no one is collecting the data. Due in large part to that criticism, the Republican-led House — in the form of an amendment to the continuing resolution — voted last month to suspend payments under the statute, the Equal Access to Justice Act, or EAJA (E&E Daily, Feb. 18). The Senate may also act on the issue as part of the ongoing debate over the budget. But the increased scrutiny of the law, which requires the government to pay attorneys fees when it loses cases under statutes that do not specifically call for attorneys fees to be paid by the government, comes at the time that the little-known agency, the Administrative Conference of the United States, has been reconstituted. The conference, which was dismantled in 1995 when Congress withdrew funding but was back in business last March after funding was restored and staff hired, is required under EAJA to submit an annual report to Congress about the disbursement of funds. Kathy Kyle, the conference spokeswoman, confirmed that the agency does have the job of gathering EAJA data for Congress but conceded it was not coming any time soon.

“We haven’t moved on this yet,” Kyle said. “We haven’t prepared this information or provided any reports. We are just getting started.” The lack of data on EAJA payments has proved to be something of a political lightning rod that has put environmental groups on the defensive. They maintain the criticism is unfounded.
The allegations that environmental groups are gorging on taxpayer money can largely be traced to Karen Budd-Falen, a Wyoming-based attorney and Reagan administration official.

But in the political debate, the role of ACUS seems to have been forgotten. Legislation introduced by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and some of her colleagues last Congress (including one Democrat, former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, South Dakota) to make EAJA more transparent would have given the Justice Department the job of reporting EAJA data to Congress. Lummis said in a statement that reform is still needed but that it is possible ACUS could have a role to play as an alternative to the Justice Department. “I am open to other possibilities and look forward to visiting with the formerly defunct ACUS as I draft a new version of EAJA reform,” she said. All sides agree generally that transparency is preferable.

Transparency would give environmental groups an opportunity to rebut the allegations that they are gaming the system.
“We don’t have any problem with that at all,” said John Buse, legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity, which files lots of lawsuits against the government.
He dismissed much of the rhetoric about the act, saying that EAJA payments constitute about 10-15 percent of his group’s income.

Furthermore, many non-environmental groups and individuals also benefit from EAJA, including people suing the government under the Social Security Act, he added.
“The criticism is entirely politically motivated,” Buse said. “They don’t like the fact that environmental groups are successfully challenging government actions.”

Budd-Falen stands by her critique of environmental groups, which she says are abusing the process in order to make money from attorneys fees, but said that more transparency would largely resolve the issue without the need to eliminate the law altogether.

When Congress withdrew funding to ACUS in 1995, “Congress was not understanding this little bit of it,” she said in relation to the agency’s reporting duties.
What seems clear, however, is that even if ACUS is once again in action, the relevant agencies may not have kept track of the data in a way that is useful.
Michael Mortimer, an assistant professor at the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech University, filed several Freedom of Information Act requests with five agencies that revealed “incomplete and inconsistent” data.

The best source of data was the [U.S.] Forest Service, with the Bureau of Land Management “less complete,” and the National Park Service offering “no information,” Mortimer said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice’s records were “inconsistent with the other services,” he added.
As for the ACUS’s potential role, Mortimer said he is interested most in “which organization is best situated to collect the data and report it.”

In his view, DOJ may be best placed because it litigates the cases and could, in theory, do the job “faster and cheaper.” Budd-Falen said it would be a “great start” if ACUS started gathering data, but she holds out hope that EAJA could be amended in certain ways to prevent larger environmental groups from being eligible for attorneys fees.

With Congress looking to cut spending, it is not clear, though, how much of a future ACUS has. Lummis, for one, said she would “take a careful look at the benefits and drawbacks of resurrecting ACUS” during the appropriations process. In the meantime, environmentalist Buse said he welcomed even the possibility of Republicans advocating for another layer of bureaucracy at a time when most are calling for less government. “Let’s go with the irony,” Buse said. “Let”s all recognize that there are good government functions.” It is worth noting that the ACUS made it past the cuts in the most recent Continuing Resolution funding the United States government — and I am not sure the Republicans, or anyone else has ever said all government was bad. Conservatives have advocated for less government and necessary government. In today’s world some oversight is called for. If the Center for Biological Diversity — the group that was found guilty of libel — finds that to be irony, so be it. It is also worth noting that Karen Budd-Falen was most definitely a child prodigy when she served in the Reagan Administration.

What Will Be Left?

The range livestock industry has been reeling over announcements in late 2010 by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar that seem to be no more than thinly veiled attempts to turn the natural resource rich, but sparsely populated Western United States into a vast de facto wilderness area/national park. Land use restrictions could make the term “multiple use” one of those that falls out of the dictionary and access to federally designated lands available only to those who have the ability to pack all of their needs on their backs — a real-life elitist playground. There is the potential of even more such designations. In early March Salazar announced “a draft vision plan to guide the growth and management of the National Wildlife Refuge System.”

Entitled “Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation,” the document “offers nearly 100 draft recommendations to protect and improve the world’s premier system of public lands and water set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants for the continuing benefit of the American people.” The draft document will be available for public comment until Earth Day (imagine that), April 22, 2011.

This process “goes hand-in-hand with many of the priorities identified through the America’s Great Outdoors national dialogue, including greater access to recreation and connecting a new generation of conservationists to the outdoors.” There are 553 national wildlife refuges with at least one in every state and U.S. territory spanning more than 150 million acres of land and water, including more than 20 million acres of designated wilderness.

Among the draft vision’s recommendations are:

  • To engage youth in an array of work and volunteer programs;
  • To review the Appropriate Use Policy, so a wider variety of nature-based experiences may be possible;
  • Within the next 10 years, to increase the number of minorities and people with disabilities who work for the Refuge System, in part by reaching high school and college youth from diverse communities and exposing them to Service conservation careers.
  • To develop a five-year plan to “green” the Refuge System;
  • To encourage a ‘Friends’ group for every staffed refuge; there are now about 230 Friends groups;
  • To develop standards for credibility, efficiency and consistent application of science in planning and management;
  • Working with state fish and wildlife agencies, to prepare a strategy to double youth participation in hunting and fishing by 2020, paying special attention to individuals of all ages with disabilities.
    To submit your comments on these latest bright ideas, go to http://americaswildlife.org .

Legislative Wrap

The 2011 Regular Legislative Session will not really wrap up until April 8 when we learn which bills Governor Susana Martinez signs, vetoes or pocket vetoes. Watch next month for a detailed analysis of what passed or failed. Suffice it to say that the range livestock industry and all of agriculture didn’t have too bad a time. Some bills passed, some others made it to the Governor’s desk.

Thanks are due not only every member of the Legislature, but also many, many NMCGA members who made the time to help out, including all of the bill readers who followed legislation at home while Nikki Hoover, Joe Culbertson, Jack Chatfield, Ernie Torrez, Jose Varela-Lopez, Gerald Chacon and Alfredo Roybal spent lots of hours holding chairs down on behalf of the industry. That’s in addition to the full time representation of President Elect Rex Wilson and Michelle Frost.

Unanswered Questions

At press time a topic of great controversy were the contracts for the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish’s (NMDGF) A+ Antelope Program. Work is being done to clarify and resolve the issues of concern. Contracts don’t have to be returned until April 29. Hopefully by that time concerns will have been addressed.