Defense Bill Threatens Sage Grouse With Free Pass for Livestock on Public Lands (updated)

WASHINGTON — The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) soon to be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives contains several provisions that would undermine current efforts to protect greater sage grouse on nearly 60 million acres of public lands, and would lead to listing greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. The livestock lobby managed to get their so-called Grazing Improvement Act in the NDAA (§ 3023), and this provision would automatically renew expiring grazing permits on public lands, even if these permits are causing the decline of greater sage grouse and other sensitive wildlife species.

“The proponents of the NDAA’s grazing provisions appear to be embracing a Wile E. Coyote philosophy of public lands management,” said Todd C. Tucci, an attorney with Idaho-based Advocates for the West. “Because the NDAA requires automatic renewal of all grazing within sage grouse habitat – even grazing that is known to harm sage grouse populations and habitat – the livestock lobby’s approach is going to backfire and result in either making the listing of greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act unavoidable, or a “not warranted” listing decision untenable. Either way, the livestock lobby and its allies are walking off the cliff. Beep, beep,” said Tucci.

“This giveaway to the livestock industry should be stripped from the bill,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director with Western Watersheds Project in Hailey, Idaho. “It is long past time for the livestock lobby to begin making the changes necessary to bring grazing on public lands into compliance with cornerstone environmental laws and agency policy.”

“This is a terrible deal for the American public and a devastating blow to the sage grouse,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Livestock grazing spreads invasive species, increases fire risk, and degrades rivers and streams. The solution is not to turn a blind eye to the harm caused to the greater sage grouse and hundreds of other species.”

Provisions to allow voluntary retirement of livestock grazing permits in Oregon and New Mexico, included in the original bipartisan compromise bill, were stripped away when the grazing legislation was incorporated into the NDAA.

“The only environmentally beneficial part of the Grazing Improvement Act– voluntary grazing permit retirement– was removed, making this bill a wholesale disaster,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “This bill would make it harder for government agencies to manage livestock grazing on public lands, and creates new obstacles to restoring damaged habitats where livestock grazing is currently degrading the health of our public lands.”

“A recent government study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that over four million acres of grazing allotments in priority sage grouse habitat do not meet range health standards,” said Steve Holmer, senior policy advisor with American Bird Conservancy. “Under this bill, the allotments could be renewed without any consideration for the harm they are causing to imperiled grouse, clean water, and the recreational use of public lands.”


Advocates for the West uses law and science to restore streams and watersheds, protect public lands and wildlife, and ensure sustainable communities in Idaho and other Western states.

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation organization with a mission to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation.

WildEarth Guardians works to protect wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and the health of the American West, with 65,000 members across the West and nationwide.

– – – –

Update on Dec. 5-

Here is the entire bill for download. It is a huge collection of items, but you can search a pdf file if you use the Adobe Reader to read it (there are perhaps other methods). The lands, parks, wilderness, and privatization portions begin at sec. 3001.  Many of these items deserve a separate story.  It is not just a defense bill with a nasty grazing rider. Conservation groups are divided on the bill. Some right-wing Republicans oppose it too. It easily passed the House and is before the U.S. Senate.


  1. Susan Carter Avatar
    Susan Carter

    Who needs clean streams and rivers? Such idiots!

    1. Donna Sall Avatar
      Donna Sall

      All grazing permits need to be reviewed and not automatically renewed. I’ve been seeing truck loads of cattle dumped out in a areas in the desert around where I live. How do we know if the ranchers are complying to the correct # of cattle and not bringing in more then they should?

  2. Ken Watts Avatar
    Ken Watts

    I have read several articles that say grazing is good for sage grouse. I wonder what the truth is?

    1. Ed Loosli Avatar
      Ed Loosli

      Ken Watts:
      Where have you read that articles that say domestic livestock grazing is good for sage grouse? – The Cattlemen’s Asso. Monthly?

  3. Cody Coyote Avatar
    Cody Coyote

    A Rider appears on the western skyline.

    A federal budget Rider. A continuing resolution Rider.

    More will soon follow, I’m sure. Herding hogs.

  4. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    Senator Jon Tester from Montana authored the infamous “Rider” that removed the gray wolf from the Endangered Species list in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, and now he is once again acting on behalf of the private livestock industry by sponsoring this latest “Rider” which is far more negative than positive for wildlife and wild lands.

    1. WM Avatar

      Just keeping you straight on the facts and the law there, Ed (often a challenge in your posts). The Tester Congressional wolf rider did NOT include WY. The rider codified the previous federal delisting regulation of FWS, that MT Federal Judge Molloy rejected because the rule did not include WY, and was unlawful because, according to him, the ESA did not allow delisting unless it was the entire geographically defined Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) Distinct Population Segment (DPS). Some of us think Molloy’s was a bad ruling for wolves and could have been avoided, had the plaintiffs in that case not raised that technical aspect of the law.

  5. R.k.Sharpe Avatar

    With the U S Fish and Wildlife and the State of Wyoming appealing the federal judges ruling/decision, a the Wyoming governor,who wants to use legislature to ensure wolf management ,and a looming spending bill in Congress that needs to be passed in order to run the country, all adds up to make the perfect storm to those looming “Riders”.

  6. Yvette Avatar

    Additionally, largely because of John McCain there will be 2,400 acres of federal land to an Australian mining company. This land is San Carlos burial, medicinal and ceremonial land. This unpopular deal has apparently been attached to the National Defense Authorization Act.

  7. West of the Cascades Avatar
    West of the Cascades

    I am struck by the screeching Republicans (like Ted Cruz) that are decrying the “federal land grab” in the NDAA, and came across this article – – describing their horror that “half a million acres of land” will be restricted from productive use.

    Half a million acres. 781 square miles. About five times the size of the City of Portland, Oregon (141 square miles). Smaller than Ada County, Idaho, where Boise is located (1,060 square miles).

    And for that much land “protection,” many regional and national environmental groups (and the Pew Charitable Trusts) are willing to leave 262 million acres of public lands to predation by livestock for the indefinite future and give away historical tribal lands to mining and logging interests. And that “compromise” is still not enough for the Ted Cruzes of the world.

    I haven’t been this horrified by a potential Act of Congress since the statutory wolf delisting.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    In Yette’s link above, it begins “WASHINGTON — When Terry Rambler, the chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, woke up Wednesday in Washington, D.C., it was to learn that Congress was deciding to give away a large part of his ancestral homeland to a foreign mining company.”

    This truth is that the Congress now, especially the Republicans in it, do not represent American citizens of any kind, except the richest, and the big corporations. Whether they are foreign or domestic, it makes no difference.

    1. Louise Kane Avatar
      Louise Kane

      +1 and it will stay that way until citizen’s united mucutcheen especially are repealed and campaign financing regs are reformed. Is that possible, even?

      a law should also be passed to eliminate non germane riders, they are sneaky devices to bypass transparency and public comment.

  9. snaildarter Avatar

    Yep the GOP cleverly uses race and religion to trick average citizens into voting against their own best interest. Money is power and it can also be a tyranny.

    1. WM Avatar

      And some of us have labeled modern Republicans the party of the rich and the dumb never a truer statement as the Senate slips further to the right this last election.

      Even political pundit and “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd made the observation that, “The collective IQ of Congress goes down every two years.”


      1. Louise Kane Avatar
        Louise Kane

        yes, IQ down ignorance way up, one newley elected claim to fame being a hog brander

        1. julie Avatar

          Ain’t she the limit? Palin 2.0.

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    I have updated the story.

    So to make it easier for those readers who are following comments, here is what I wrote in the update.

    Here is the entire bill for download. It is a huge collection of items, but you can search a pdf file if you use the Adobe Reader to read it (there are perhaps other methods). The lands, parks, wilderness, and privatization portions begin at sec. 3001. Many of these items deserve a separate story. It is not just a defense bill with a nasty grazing rider. Conservation groups are divided on the bill. Some right-wing Republicans oppose it too. It easily passed the House and is before the U.S. Senate.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Section 3023 is the grazing rider. Those members of Congress not familiar with grazing permit renewals (almost all) will almost certainly gloss over it.

    2. Louise Kane Avatar
      Louise Kane

      This came to me today and provides information on where to contact Harry Reid. I did not know about the Tongass National Forest issue. As noted this is home for the Alexander Archipelago wolves. These assaults are very discouraging. I feel like how dare they sneak riders like this that contain irreversible land use decisions in them to bills that have nothing to do with land use. It makes me feel such rage.

      ALERT! A Department of Defense bill is about to pass — and with it, a slew of riders attached to it, that are terrible for our public lands and wildlife. via The Wildlife News

      Please call Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and urge him to strip the damaging public lands “riders” from the Defense spending bill. His office number is:
      (202) 224-3542

      The Senate will vote tomorrow on an extremely controversial rider containing numerous damaging provisions to public lands, wildlife, water and the climate. Tell him that the poison pills in the bill are too high a price to pay for a few conservation gains.

      Title defense appropriations bill includes several harmful proposals, including:
      – Exchanging National Forest land to a foreign-owned mining company seeking to operate a mine on land sacred to the Apache;
      – A giveaway of 70,000 acres on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to Sealaska Corporation (the Tongass is home to the Alexander Archipelago wolves), notorious for its scorched-earth logging practices;
      – Automatic renewals of all grazing permits in sage grouse habitat—even grazing known to harm sage grouse; and
      – Privatizing tens of thousands of acres of federal lands for mining and logging.
      We need greater protection for our public lands, but this package’s cost — in the damage it will do to other public lands in the tradeoff — is simply too high. (directions from Center for Biological Diversity)


      1. Yvette Avatar

        Thank you, Louise! I will be calling tomorrow.

  11. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    I just got a fund-raising email from the National Parks Conservation Association saying – Please support the Defense Bill and its Riders, as they are great for adding to our National Park system. The “conservation” organizations are indeed split, which is exactly what the Rider’s authors were hoping for.

  12. Scott Slocum Avatar

    Here’s an opportunity to comment, for the record, on H.R. 4435: the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015:

    1. Scott Slocum Avatar

      And here’s a Petition opposed to Rio Tinto Mining in Tonto National Forest:

  13. Yvette Avatar

    This article from Russia Today is the best one I’ve read on the rider to the Defense bill that will give San Carlos Apache ancestral land to a foreign mining company.

    Apache Chairman, Terry Rambler’s comments in this article explain the damage that will be done. This may seem like only another loss for America’s Indigenous people, but really, it is a loss for all of us. Especially now that the conservatives are poised to push for federal land grabs.

    But Rambler said NEPA is no match for Resolution Copper’s intent.

    “This is what will happen – the law in one area says there will be consultation, but the law in another area of the bill says the land exchange will happen within one year of enactment of this bill,” Rambler said. “So no matter what we’re doing within that one year, the consultation part won’t mean anything after one year. Because then it’s really theirs after that.”

    Basically, NEPA will only protect lands that remain in federal hands. The rest is fair game, according to federal law.

    “We would only have to do NEPA on any activity that would take place on remaining federal land,” said Arizona Bureau of Land Management official Carrie Templin.

    It will be to the long term benefit to all of us if you will do what you can to speak out against this gift of federal land (exchange of land is what I read it to actually be) to a foreign mining company.

    1. Ed Loosli Avatar
      Ed Loosli

      This is the only the latest blow by the U.S. Government in the history of Geronimo’s people:

      Following the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the U.S. took over large tracts of territory from Mexico, including areas belonging to the Apache. Spurred by the discovery of gold in the Southwest, white settlers and miners streamed onto Apache lands. Geronimo’s father, Cochise, signed a peace treaty with the U.S. government, but within just a few years, Cochise died, and the federal government reneged on its agreement, moving the Chiricahua Apache north so that white settlers could move onto their former lands. This act only further incensed Geronimo, setting off a new round of fighting. Geronimo proved to be as elusive as he was aggressive. However, authorities finally caught up with him in 1877 and sent him to the San Carlos Apache reservation. For four long years he struggled with his new reservation life until he escaped in September 1881.

      Out on his own again, Geronimo and a small band of Chiricahua Apache followers eluded American troops. Over the next five years they engaged in what proved to be the last of the Indian wars against the U.S. Government.

      Finally, in the summer of 1886, Geronimo surrendered, the last Chiricahua Apache to do so. Over the next several years Geronimo and his people were bounced around, first to a prison in Florida, then a prison camp in Alabama, and then Fort Sill in Oklahoma. In total, the group spent 27 years as prisoners of war. On his deathbed in 1909, still a prisoner of war, Geronimo said, “I should never have surrendered, I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

      1. Yvette Avatar

        + Ed Loosli

      2. Scott Slocum Avatar

        Question: is there a federal treaty protecting this area of the Tonto National Forest that could be used to prevent the probable destruction of the landscape by the proposed mining?

        It looks like the USFS approved test drilling with goals including no significant interference with traditional Tribal uses of the land. I don’t see an assessment or approval for full-scale copper mining.

        1. Yvette Avatar

          As for any treaties, probably not as I think the San Carlos Apache have exhausted all federal laws that may have stopped this transfer of land. I was beating my head wondering how this was able to get past NEPA. A new article in Indian Country Today helped me understand.

          “Despite changes to require consultation with affected tribes and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance, the provision still mandates the transfer of tribal sacred areas into the private ownership of Resolution Copper regardless of the results of the consultation or information and recommendations resulting from the NEPA process,” Rambler said. “A mandatory conveyance defeats the purpose of tribal consultations and the NEPA process that are designed to help provide information before decisions are made. In [the land swap bill] the outcome is pre-determined, rendering tribal views and public comments meaningless. Further, [it] would not require Resolution Copper to mitigate impacts on tribal sacred areas after conveyance and contains no repercussions/penalties on Resolution Copper for harm/destruction to tribal sacred areas.”

          “after conveyance” makes sense. Once the land transfer to this foreign company is complete that land won’t be federal land, and will no longer be under the purview of these federal laws.

          This article has links worth looking at and a petition. Apparently, Sally Jewell is not happy with this and Chairman Rambler is still trying to stop it.

          Once this land goes out of the federal status it seems there isn’t anything anyone can do legally. What protections it has will be nullified.

          I think this is just the beginning of the federal land fights all of us will be facing for the next two years. This swap was not even popular with Republicans. McCain is paying off campaign contributions.

          The giant mining company and its subsidiary have spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress and making donations to legislators including McCain, according to the Federal Elections Commission, and Open Secrets.


          1. Yvette Avatar

            I wonder if there are any endangered species of critical habitat in the targeted area that could also raise people’s hackles? I know that should have been reviewed under NEPA.

          2. Ida Lupines Avatar
            Ida Lupines

            There must be some way this can be stopped – see what happens when people aren’t paying attention? I’m sure there are grounds for a lawsuit. I hope Sally Jewell can do something.

    2. Scott Slocum Avatar

      One of my favorite images of all of this is what the readers of Russia Today–all over the world–must be thinking.

  14. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    Most everyone commenting here is acting that federal environmental laws, like the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act do not apply once the land is privatized – This is not the case. And also, I am sure the State of Arizona also has there own set of environmental land-use laws that apply to privately owned land. Of course Pres. Obama could say he will VETO this entire Defense Bill and send it back until all these “RIDERS” are taken out. I’m not holding my breath on Pres. Obama coming though.

    1. Joanne Favazza Avatar
      Joanne Favazza

      Not holding my breath either, Ed.

  15. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Here is one of the latest news articles on this:

    “Oil Industry Supports, Enviros Oppose NDAA Federal Lands Deal”

  16. Nancy Avatar

    “The Fish and Wildlife Service would be banned from adding the greater sage grouse to the endangered species list — a victory for the gas and oil industry, which covets even more of America’s threatened Western landscapes than it already has access to. And so it goes — special industry giveaways, large and small, one after the other”

  17. Yvette Avatar

    This defense bill must be stopped until the riders are removed. The Sage-grouse must be protected and for those that don’t understand or care about the sage-grouse then there are plenty of other bad riders that may stir their support. It’s my opinion that if we mixed bag of Americans can ever drop our differences and come together on the larger issues we will be a force to reckon with. We experienced a taste of this with the ‘Cowboy and Indian Alliance’ on the KXL pipeline. If ever there was an important issue for us to join forces it is the riders attached to the NDAA.

    Watch this 11 minute video on the proposed land swap of the Oak Flat area. It was done a few years ago, but this video is informative and it shows exactly what will be lost for all of us, not just the San Carlos Apache. Hikers, campers, mountain climbers, outdoor enthusiasts and Native Americans have an issue in which to join ranks.

    This is what will be given to a foreign mining company and this is what will be forever lost.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Press Release