From Congress to Courtrooms NCBA is Defending You

| February 22, 2023

By Todd Wilkinson, NCBA President

Today, cattlemen and women across the United States face turbulent times. The return of long standing issues like “Waters of the United States,” and new Endangered Species Act (ESA) listings are just two examples of misguided, ineffective, and poorly implemented policies coming from federal regulators in Washington.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is leading the fight against these harmful regulations, not only in the halls of Congress and federal agencies, but in the courtroom as well. Currently, NCBA is engaged in two lawsuits against federal authorities: the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently announced Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) final rule and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) listing of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

On December 30, 2022, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers announced the final “Revised Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’” rule. Scheduled to take effect in March 2023, this rule will create new uncertainty for farmers, ranchers, and landowners across the country. Immediately after the final rule was released, NCBA and a coalition of national associations filed a lawsuit to stop the rule from taking effect. Rather than clarifying the WOTUS definition, this new rule allows EPA inspectors and the Army Corps of Engineers to exert federal authority over small creeks or ponds that might only hold water right after a rainstorm — a far cry from the oceans, large lakes, and rivers that traditionally fall under the EPA’s purview. Worst of all, the rule would impact our ability to effectively manage water features on our property, including ditches and isolated ponds. Imagine having to get a federal permit before building a new stock pond or road across your pasture. This is unacceptable, which is why we are in federal court to make sure this rule is dead in the water.

While we continue our years-long fight against WOTUS, NCBA is also engaged in litigation on ESA listings. In January 2023, NCBA sent a Notice of Intent to sue the Department of the Interior and the FWS over the listing of the lesser prairie chicken.

Cattle producers’ conservation efforts are the only reason the lesser prairie chicken survives today. The bird favors a habitat with a variety of plants, which is best achieved through cattle grazing. Despite our good work, the FWS has further penalized cattle producers and created a system ripe for abuse. For cattle producers in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas, the FWS has opened the door to activist groups having an outsized say over livestock grazing practices. The FWS arbitrarily divided the population into two Distinct Population Segments (DPS); in the Southern DPS when the lesser prairie chicken is considered “endangered,” any take of the bird could mean legal liability for landowners. In the Northern DPS, the FWS created a 4(d) rule which offers a way for producers to limit their liability in case of incidental take (the accidental killing of a lesser prairie chicken) by having a grazing management plan on file. Unfortunately, the FWS will rely on third parties to review those grazing plans, putting special interest groups over producers who know the land best.     

Beyond our formal litigation efforts, NCBA worked with our allies in Congress to delay the effective date of the lesser prairie chicken designation. While this is only a temporary solution, NCBA is working hard to protect cattle producers from the harmful effects of this listing.   

As a cattle producer myself, I am extremely proud of NCBA’s work defending our policy priorities in court. I certainly couldn’t fight FWS in court myself or read each new bill introduced in Congress, but NCBA fights on our behalf — on Capitol Hill, through agency rulemakings, and in courts across the country. I want to make sure that generations 100 years from now can still enjoy our farming and ranching way of life. That is only possible if NCBA has the strength to keep fighting for us. If you have already joined NCBA, thank you for your membership, but we need your friends and neighbors to join us too. Take a moment to talk to those around you and explain the importance of joining NCBA. NCBA is our voice from Congress to the courtroom and these fights are too important to sit out.

Todd Wilkinson is a South Dakota cattle producer and president of NCBA. NCBA’s policy work is only possible because of our members.