Priorities are how anything gets done. This story is about politics and budgets, but really and truly, it is about priorities.
It all began back in 1996, when the Farm Bill set up the Grazing Land Conservation Initiative or GLCI. With that, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was required to allocate a small portion of its budget to GLCI. They weren’t provided any additional funding for this, they were simply obligated to spend some time focusing on improving and maintaining pastures and rangeland. A mathematical formula was developed to calculate how much each state should spend on GLCI efforts, making sure that there was at least enough to cover the cost of one full time person dedicated to grazing, and maybe some more, if there were a lot of farmers, or acres, or livestock on grass in that particular state.
For more than a dozen years, even after this was no longer a legal requirement, state NRCS offices worked on grazing issues as they saw fit, knowing that at the end of the year, they would have to report on what they had done. If grazing was a big deal in that state, and if there was a group of dedicated farmers, perhaps NRCS and those farmers partnered up. Where that happened, you likely found a healthy schedule of pasture walks and maybe even a big conference every winter or so.
In other states, the partnerships might not have been so strong. This could have been caused by personalities, or by different priorities. In those cases, maybe the money got split among a handful of paychecks to NRCS employees, each for doing some “grazing-related” work. Maybe it mostly went to one person who “wrote grazing plans”.
This past September, though, this level of support for grazing changed. Chief David White got ready to leave the NRCS at the end of 2012, and in his departure, he made an announcement. He saw sequestration looming, he saw budget cuts past and future, and he wanted to offer some financial flexibility to NRCS offices. So he said that since there is no rule or law requiring support of GLCI, he would get requiring states to provide that support; No more dedicated funds, no more reporting requirement.
But, he said, it was still important to support grazing, and he would urge state and regional conservationists to continue to dedicate some portion of their operations budgets to GLCI where they saw grazing, pasture, and rangelands as a priority. The Acting Chief, Jeff Weller, has not taken any steps to change this decision.