This week, fourth generation rancher Robbie LeValley, of Western Colorado, testified before the House Natural Resources Committee on the potential consequences of the Administration’s critical habitat policy.
LeValley’s meeting with the House comes in response to a rule recently finalized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that intends to change the regulations for designating critical habitat. While the Service stated that the rule was intended to add clarity and simplify the critical habitat designation process, LeValley believes that the rule goes beyond mere clarifications and simplification of the process and instead attempts a broad re-orientation of the scope and purpose of critical habitat designations.
“The livestock industry not only plays an integral role in the safekeeping of our federal lands but also in the maintenance of the critical habitat for the species on that land,” said LeValley, chairman of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Federal Lands Committee, in her written testimony. “The federal agencies must move away from the scientifically inaccurate idea that removing, reducing and retiring grazing is the answer to every problem the agencies face on public land. As these new standards are implemented, they will have a negative economic impact on ranchers and rural communities without benefitting habitat and the species that live there.”
In her testimony, LeValley detailed the very real impacts to both habitat protection and operating certainty for her fourth generation family business. The LeValley ranch also serves as a habitat for the Gunnison Sage Grouse, and 1,300 of the ranch’s acres are covered in a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances. The LeValley family first engaged with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Bureau of Land Management to protect grouse habitat through the implementation of several conservation easements in 1995.
“For generations, ranchers have served as stewards of the land,” said LeValley. “Land and habitat thrives because of the knowledge and resources that we put into our land and grazing management decisions. My operation, and the operations of other ranchers proves that managed grazing not only provides for livestock, but for wildlife as well. The time and money that ranchers invest into public land improves water sources, controls invasive species, and removes the fine fuel loads that contribute to catastrophic wildfires that destroy habitat and food sources for wildlife.”
LeValley also detailed the increased uncertainty created by the revised rules, which will expand the Service’s power to classify large areas of unoccupied range as critical habitat based solely on evidence of the “physical and biological features” needed to support a species. She explained her concern that the new rules provide the ability to designate critical habitat based on a site’s potential to support those physical or biological features, even if they do not exist at the time of the designation.