Local legislator wants to increase ranchers' ability to improve Idaho's rangeland - East Idaho News
Rangeland Improvement Act

Local legislator wants to increase ranchers’ ability to improve Idaho’s rangeland

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RIGBY – A bill being proposed in the Idaho Legislature aims to increase the authority of local farmers and ranchers to improve range land across the state.

Rep. Jerald Raymond, R-Menan — who represents District 31 covering Jefferson, Fremont, Clark and Lemhi counties — is introducing legislation he’s calling the Rangeland Improvement Act.

He tells EastIdahoNews.com this bill would give boards in local grazing districts the ability to prioritize projects in specific areas and direct the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to apply for grants to pay for those projects. Examples of rangeland improvement projects could include water distribution, cross-fencing (fences built on grazing land to divide the property into smaller pastures) or predator and invasive species control.

Raymond and his wife, Cheri, own a feedlot near Menan and have worked in the cattle industry for decades. The beef cattle market in Idaho ranks 13th in the nation, according to the ISDA. Rangeland occupies 54% of the land area. Of the 22 million acres in the southern part of the state, the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission says 80% of it is managed by the state or federal government.

For this reason, Raymond says this bill is needed in the Gem State. He points to the Taylor Grazing Act passed by Congress in 1934, which established grazing rights for livestock ranchers across the U.S. and gave authority to the federal government to manage it.

“There’s been a movement for many years for the state to take over either management or ownership of federal lands. We’ll never get to the point where the state takes over ownership of federal lands, but this gives us the opportunity to partner with those who use the rangelands for grazing to improve it,” Raymond says. “Protecting rangelands and open spaces (is crucial to the health of the livestock industry).”

cattle pic
Nov. 2022 file photo

Rangeland fires and invasive grass species are the two biggest challenges ranchers currently face in Idaho, according to Idaho Cattle Association Executive Director Cameron Mulrony. These are issues that can only be handled by the federal government, Mulrony says, and Raymond’s bill wouldn’t change that.

But water projects are something that would benefit from this legislation, he says.

“There’s a lot of space out there where water availability isn’t there. If we can enhance that through this or other programs — that’s just the easiest one that we really can see more utilization and expansion,” Mulrony explains.

Raymond says enhancing water availability would also allow ranchers to distribute cattle where there is more grass and prevent overgrazing, which has a detrimental effect on land and other wildlife in riparian areas (grazing land near a body of water).

“When we overgraze riparian areas, it destroys the visual part of the landscape. You want greenery, you don’t want to see dirt,” says Raymond. “If you overgraze, the grass doesn’t come back like it should and we don’t get that second chance (of grazing) in the same season.”

Virtual fencing, which Raymond describes as an electric shock collar for a cow, is a management tactic that’s becoming a rising trend for cattlemen to keep livestock away from riparian areas. Boundaries are set using a computer program and when the cow steps outside the boundary, it shocks them so they’ll get back inside.

It’s an option available to ranchers that Raymond wants to make more feasible through this bill.

Grant funds for rangeland improvement projects are available from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and the Bureau of Land Management. If a project is beneficial for multiple wildlife species, there are also funding sources from non-governmental organizations like Pheasants Forever or the National Elk Foundation.

“We’re excited to get this piece of legislation passed. I’ve been working on it for quite some time, and it’s taken a while to get the language right,” Raymond says. “Livestock has a huge impact on the economy and we need to make sure that producers can contribute and make money.”

If the bill is approved by the Resources and Conservation Committee, it will be introduced on the House floor. Click here to follow its progress.


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