North Dakota Rancher Testifies on Drought and Using Grazing as a Key Land Management Tool

October 7, 2021

On Wednesday, Executive Vice President of North Dakota Stockmen's Association (NDSA) Julie Ellingson testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power. As a fourth generation beef producer, Ellingson shared her perspective on the impact of drought on cattle ranchers and the importance of livestock grazing as a land management tool. 

In the midst of one of the most severe droughts in our nations' history, the hearing addressed the current status and management of federal drought-related resources in the western United States. Ellingson drew on her experience on her family's ranch as well as her leadership in NDSA to explain the impact and long-term consequences that severe weather conditions have on ranchers whose work is critical in achieving environmental stewardship goals.

"The impacts of drought are complex. There are the immediate effects: lack of water for irrigation, lack of spring rainfall during crucial growing seasons for grasses and crops and lower water tables …There are the medium-term effects: increased risk of fire, changes to the watersheds downstream, and compounded effects on business operations and natural resource planning. Then, there are the long-term effects: change in local economic stability due to inability to adjust to drought conditions, loss of natural resource elements due to direct and indirect impacts of drought, and more," Ellingson said. "Currently, we’re grappling with the immediate and medium-term effects, but we know that longer-term impacts are on the horizon."

She went on to tout the critical role that grazing plays in natural resource management and wildfire prevention and stressed the importance of continued federal support for grazing permits. 

"A significant portion of the 6 million acres burned this year are on federal land – lands that could have been better managed through the thinning of fine fuels. Federal agencies must take a lesson from livestock producers to make these landscapes resilient for long-term challenges like drought and wildfire, but also resilient for changing uses."

The Public Lands Council (PLC) has long advocated for tools that enhance the resiliency of federal lands and the ranchers who conserve them, including support for drought relief programs, federal grazing permits, and responsible management of wild horses on federal lands. 

"Public lands ranchers play a key role in the conservation of natural resources through years of experience combined with significant investment in innovative climate-smart practices," said PLC Executive Director Kaitlynn Glover. "It is essential that Congress understands the importance of ranchers in this conversation and look toward those with years of experience in managing natural resources through adverse weather conditions as decisions are made regarding federal programs and drought-related resources."

PLC stands ready to work with members of Congress to ensure proper management of resources and encourage the public-private partnerships that will be critical in ensuring the sustainability and resiliency of the land for generations to come. 

Source: Public Lands Council