Fourth generation Nevada rancher J.J. Goicoechea, DVM, told members of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands that recent actions by federal land management agencies are diminishing water rights and restricting access to forage on federal lands.
Goicoechea, who is a practicing veterinarian and current president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA), testified on behalf of NCA, the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association during a field hearing in Elko, Nev., titled Explosion of Federal Regulations Threatening Jobs and Economic Survival in the West.
Goicoechea said a major challenge for ranchers across the West is dealing with the U.S. Forest Service on the issue of privately held water rights. The crux of the problem, he said, is that the agency is in many areas implementing a new policy of denying permits for privately owned water improvement development and maintenance unless the agency is granted partial ownership of the water right. He said the agency’s continued unwillingness to allow water improvements places the health of the range at risk, threatens ranchers’ ability to retain the water rights and ultimately results in the federal government taking private property.
“The agency’s continued action presents a major threat not just to the resource but to ranchers. These actions create the prospect of losing our water rights. Nevada water law states that the water must be put to ‘beneficial use.’ In the case of stock water, that use is for watering livestock. If the water cannot be used to water livestock, it will no longer be a valid right,” Goicoechea said. “The fact that the Forest Service would facilitate the loss of personal property rights in this manner flies in the face of the principles upon which our nation was founded; in my view constituting a federal regulatory taking of private property."
Goicoechea also urged the lawmakers to work with ranchers and the federal land management agencies to enact meaningful reforms to the Endangered Species Act, an act he said has resulted in a less than two percent species recovery rate over the past 40 years. He said ranching should be considered part of the solution to prevent the listing of the greater sage grouse on the Endangered Species List.
“Listing the sage grouse as endangered would have such far-reaching and potentially devastating impacts across the West that the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have embarked on a sage grouse conservation initiative, unprecedented in its size and scope, in an attempt to preempt the bird’s listing,” he said. “But will the cure be worse than the illness? Unfortunately, the agencies’ plans fail to recognize that grazing is responsible for retaining expansive tracts of sagebrush-dominated rangeland, stimulating growth of grasses, controlling the spread of noxious and invasive weeds and reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire. These services can only be provided by ranches that are stable and viable. The best strategies for agencies to employ are those that work for ranchers and sage grouse alike.”