WASHINGTON – America’s livestock industry could suffer devastating consequences due to a recent settlement agreement between El Paso Corp., a major energy company, and environmental activist groups Western Watersheds Project (W.W.P.) and Oregon Natural Desert Association (O.N.D.A). Their agreement seeks, in part, to create unprecedented federal legislation to allow for the buyout and retirement of federal grazing permits – threatening ranchers’ grazing rights across vast portions of the West, charges the national Cattlemen’s Beef Association (N.C.B.A.).

Ranchers with grazing permits account for more than half of all commercial beef cattle in the West.

“It’s unacceptable for El Paso to use any funding for the purpose of eliminating ranchers’ ability to graze on public lands,” said Skye Krebs, rancher from Ione, Ore. and president of Public Lands Council (P.L.C.). “Energy development and livestock grazing are necessary and integral parts of rural western economies, and our industries have had a longstanding history of working together in a close partnership.”

Earlier this week P.L.C. and N.C.B.A. leadership met with El Paso Corp. to express opposition to the portion of the agreement dealing with grazing permit buyout and retirement. El Paso has agreed to respond by Aug. 5.

“We’re adamantly opposed to any efforts encouraging the buyout or retirement of grazing permits,” said Mark Roeber, N.C.B.A. federal lands chairman. “Ranchers play a critical role in providing food and fiber for the nation and managing our precious natural resources. N.C.B.A. and P.L.C. remain committed to ensuring livestock grazing continues as part of the multiple-use tradition of our nation’s public lands.”

Under the agreement, El Paso Corp. agreed to provide $22 million to W.W.P. and O.N.D.A. to establish two boards responsible for distributing and funding alleged “resource conservation” activities, including the buyout of grazing permits. El Paso Corp. agreed to the settlement in response to pressure from W.W.P. over the development of a 680-mile oil pipeline stretching from Wyoming to Oregon.

“Federal-lands ranching is one of the major economic drivers of rural western economies,” Krebs said. "Ranchers are already faced with the constant threat of frivolous litigation brought by radical environmental groups. This agreement provides a funding source for these groups to continue their activist agenda to end grazing on public lands.”