Volume 2, Number 47 - February 20, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
BLM grazing use under scrutiny
The wording included in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) document may be a harbinger of things to come in the upcoming revision of the Pinedale Resource Management Plan (RMP).
As part of the RMP revision process, the BLM has prepared a Management Situation Analysis (MSA) document describing the current situation and evaluating the capability and condition of the resources in the area.
The MSA document mentions livestock grazing in an unfavorable light on several occasions, and specifically targets early-May turnout dates.
The MSA document includes a review of livestock grazing allotments and usage, noting the total permitted use for the Pinedale RMP area is 107,536 animal unit months in 213 total livestock grazing allotments. This includes allotments in three categories: custodial, maintain and improve:
Custodial: 26 allotments, 20,878 acres of public land
Maintain: 147 allotments, 475,802 acres of public land
Improve: 40 allotments, 556,966 acres of public land
Custodial lands are small parcels in which significant time or money are not justified. Maintain allotments are those in which the BLM is satisfied with the current conditions or the allotment doesn't contain many sensitive resources. Improve category allotments are either in unsatisfactory condition, or contain significant sensitive resources that would justify investments of time or money. These allotments are the BLM's highest priority for monitoring and range improvement development.
Of the 213 allotments, 73 include small and scattered federal acreages fenced in with larger tracts of private land. These allotments are managed under a stipulation that states "seasons of use and livestock numbers are not restricted as long as over-use of forage and range deterioration do not occur."
All other allotments have defined seasons of use, and two allotments have a five-month season of use. The majority of the allotments have turnout dates from May 1 to June 1. After four to six weeks, the livestock are moved to higher elevation pastures.
According to the MSA: "Many of the early turn-in dates (May 1 to May 16), are often too early for grazing. In most years there is very little growth in the majority of the Pinedale RMP planning area allotments by that time. In addition, the majority of the grazing allotments are grazed intensively during May and June, which is the peak plant growth period. Intensive grazing during this critical growth period has affected range conditions on many of the allotments within the RMP planning area."
The MSA document also points to agriculture's role in the historical basis for community development in this area, and notes these activities are still viewed as viable economic activities in addition to remaining important for its historic and cultural influences.
"In spite of the traditional social characteristics throughout the Pinedale RMP planning area, indications are that these views and beliefs are changing somewhat," the BLM document stated, adding that population increases are from a combination of retirees and others attracted to the region for the "abundant and high-quality air, water and land resources that offer a rich quality of life and a western wilderness heritage."
According to the BLM document, "This new population is not tied to traditional natural resource industries and is more likely to support a conservation orientation for public land management."
Later on in the same document, in the "affected environment" chapter, the BLM describes the vegetative resources of the area, stating: "Overgrazing by livestock tends to deplete sagebrush communities of their native grass and forb element, resulting in increases of density of sagebrush or, alternatively, invasion of exotic weedy species. Within the RMP planning area, grazing has resulted in increases in the density of sagebrush, and some changes in the herbaceous plant communities."
Then the BLM addresses the environmental consequences of the continuation of the existing management direction. The document notes that while livestock grazing on public lands is important to local ranches, the most significant impacts to grazing are from changes in grazing preferences resulting from fire management, recreation expansion and oil and gas development, among others. But the BLM document added: "A reduction in active preferences may impact individual permittees. However, long-term effects from such actions would include more sustainable range use."
In addition, protection of soils, watershed improvement and management of wildlife habitat can have impacts on livestock grazing. "Changes in grazing management, including reduction in grazing preference and changes in the season of use, may impact individual grazing permittees," the MSA document stated, adding, "These actions would improve overall forage conditions and help maintain a sustainable livestock grazing program."
According to the BLM: "Livestock grazing has a very direct affect on vegetation, and affects the majority of lands within the Pinedale RMP planning area. Livestock grazing favors the production of shrubs over grass production. Certain highly preferred grasses would be at a competitive disadvantage. Although those plants would not completely disappear, they would likely be less common, and individual plants would be less productive where they are subject to repeated grazing. Some areas near water sources on some allotments are being over utilized, causing impacts on vegetation, whereas other areas are seldom grazed.
"Continuation of early livestock turnout on low elevation (desert) allotments may result in a long-term reduction of desirable grass species in sagebrush communities."
In addition, according to the BLM document: "Livestock grazing can cause increased dispersal of wildlife as well as competition for forage and water. In addition to competition for forage, livestock can also reduce the height of vegetation which can reduce cover needed by some species of wildlife. The impacts of grazing on wildlife habitats are important because virtually all of the lands within the Pinedale RMP planning area are grazed by livestock. The vegetation component of riparian areas is particularly affected by livestock and these sites are critical for many species of wildlife."
The MSA document is part of the Pinedale Resource Management Plan revision process.
The public scoping period for the Pinedale RMP ends April 7. The BLM has established a website devoted to the RMP which is found at www.pinedalermp.com. Written comments should be received prior to then and can be mailed to Pinedale RMP/EIS, BLM, Pinedale Field Office, P.O. Box 768, Pinedale, Wyo., 82941; e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org; or uploaded directly on the website mentioned above. In addition, public open houses will be held March 3 at the BLM office in Rock Springs, March 10 at the Pinedale Library and March 11 at the Marbleton Fire Hall. All the open houses will be held from 3 to 8 p.m.
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