A recent settlement agreement between a major energy company and environmental activist groups could have devastating impacts on the livestock industry. The agreement, between El Paso Corp., Western Watersheds Project (WWP) and Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), seeks in part to create unprecedented federal legislation to allow for the buyout and retirement of federal grazing permits – threatening ranchers’ grazing rights across vast portions of the West.

“It’s unacceptable for El Paso to use any funding for the purpose of eliminating ranchers’ ability to graze on public lands,” said Skye Krebs, rancher from Ione, Oregon, and president of Public Lands Council. “Energy development and livestock grazing are necessary and integral parts of rural western economies, and our industries have had a longstanding history of working together in a close partnership.”

Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) leadership met this week with El Paso Corp. to express opposition to the portion of the agreement dealing with grazing permit buyout and retirement. El Paso has agreed to respond by Aug. 5.

“We’re adamantly opposed to any efforts encouraging the buyout or retirement of grazing permits,” said Mark Roeber, NCBA federal lands chairman. “Ranchers play a critical role in providing food and fiber for the nation and managing our precious natural resources. NCBA and PLC remain committed to ensuring livestock grazing continues as part of the multiple-use tradition of our nation’s public lands.”

Under the agreement, El Paso Corp. agreed to provide 22 million dollars to WWP and ONDA to establish two boards responsible for the distribution and funding of alleged “resource conservation” activities, including the buyout of grazing permits. El Paso Corp. agreed to the settlement in response to pressure from WWP over the development of a 680-mile oil pipeline stretching from Wyoming to Oregon.

“Federal-lands ranching is one of the major economic drivers of rural western economies,” said Krebs. "Ranchers are already faced with the constant threat of frivolous litigation brought by radical environmental groups. This agreement provides a funding source for these groups to continue their activist agenda to end grazing on public lands.”

Ranchers with grazing permits account for over half of all commercial beef cattle in the West.