Most eastern Montana towns were founded for agriculture and became known early in the western movement at the place for livestock. Today many are still dependent on Ag. Livestock needs to graze, and rights to graze on public lands were threatened by a lawsuit from conservationists who wanted to stop grazing on federal lands.
Twenty-seven national and state organizations whose members engage in livestock grazing on the Nation’s federal lands praised the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups that threatened livestock grazing on federal lands.
Represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), organizations from the eleven western states that reach from the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean, plus their national affiliates, were granted the right to intervene in the case in the federal district court for the District of Columbia where five environmental groups filed a lawsuit in June 2010.
Grazing, which historically has been permitted since American settlers came West, has been a mainstay of the regional economy and a mechanism for saving open space and western wildlife. The conservation groups had demanded that the federal agencies that manage federal grazing land such as BLM conduct expensive environmental studies, which would have led to lawsuits to end grazing, perhaps forever.
William Perry Pendley, attorney and president of the Mountain States group said “We are delighted we were able to participate as parties in this case to ensure that all arguments were made to defend the rule of law. Statute after federal statute provides for and preserves this essential western activity and way of life.”
The 1934 Taylor Grazing Act authorizes federal agencies to issue permits to graze live subject to “payment annually of reasonable fees” to be “fixed or determined from time to time” in order “to stabilize the livestock industry dependent upon the public range.” The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), did not alter this concept; in fact, FLPMA required an “equitable” grazing fee achieved by taking into account various factors to ensure “the reasonableness of such [a] fee.”
In 1978, the Public Rangelands Improvement Act (PRIA) provided directions governing grazing fees, including that the fees be “equitable,” “prevent economic disruption and harm to the western livestock industry,” and consider the cost of livestock production and the ability to pay. Today, the grazing fee is equal to the $1.23 base set by the 1966 Western Livestock Grazing Survey multiplied by the Forage Value Index (computed annually using National Agricultural Statistics Service data) added to the Combined Index (Beef Cattle Price Index – the Prices Paid Index) and divided by 100.
In 1986, President Reagan ordered continued use of the PRIA formula, an Executive Order set aside as contrary to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In 1988, after conducting environmental analyses, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service issued rules to continue the PRIA formula’s use. The PRIA formula is used annually to set fees.
The Court’s action protects the status quo.