From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 50 - March 13, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

BLM planning process comes under fire

by Cat Urbigkit

The Bureau of Land Management's revision process for the Pinedale Resource Management Plan came under fire from the Green River Valley Cattlemen's Association, both Friday in discussions with agency officials and on Saturday when the association passed its resolutions.

The BLM prepared a management situation analysis document, along with a preparation plan for the RMP revision, and posted these documents on an Internet site. The MSA reportedly represents the present situation and is described as the "no action" alternative in the upcoming environmental impact statement for the RMP. The BLM is currently in the public scoping phase of the RMP revision process.

Cattlemen questioned both the accuracy and the BLM intentions in some of the statements made in both documents and noted the MSA was generally critical of livestock grazing.

The cattlemen passed a resolution stating their position that the BLM "could drastically influence public scoping by issuing the MSA during the scoping phase, instead of during the draft EIS stage."

The resolution stated that the BLM "got the cart before the horse" by issuing an alternative prior to receiving scoping comments. Thus, the cattlemen's association "believes the BLM has unduly influenced the public scoping process and potentially the outcome of the EIS."

Cattleman Joel Bousman pointed to language in the RMP preparation plan indicating that the wild horse issue will once again be examined. The Pinedale Resource Area once had wild horse herds, but the BLM conducted roundups and eliminated the area from being managed to maintain horse herds (although a few do exist here now). Bousman said the area currently doesn't have a wild horse problem and doesn't want one.

BLM range specialist Doug Powell responded that it is not the BLM's intention to put horses back into the resource area, but added that the wild horse issue does have to be addressed in the RMP.

Rancher Randy Bolgiano said BLM is put in an untenable position of having to manage a species that cannot be managed under the law directing management. The Wild Horse and Burro Act does not allow animals to be "culled." Horse are left in the wild, adopted to new owners, or placed on a horse refuge.

Bolgiano said it would be impossible to manage for elk, sheep or cattle without the ability to cull animals from the herds, but that is the position the BLM is faced in trying to manage wild horses.

Pinedale Field Manager Prill Mecham defended the BLM documents, stating that the MSA simply describes existing management.

"There's not judgments made on that," Mecham said.

Bousman pointed to negative statements about livestock grazing made in the "environmental consequences" chapter of the MSA. "To me, that's a leading of comments," Bousman said. "You're leading people to make negative comments about grazing. ... There's no data that says that's the case."

Listening to the exchange, Wyoming BLM Director Bob Bennett said it's his hope that the documents encouraged the public to participate, while "not pushing them in any particular direction.

"Our intent is not to direct them or guide them," Bennett said.

A few ranchers had apparently been laying in wait for federal officials. Big Piney rancher Dan Budd questioned Bennett about a proposal to designate part of the Green River as a wild and scenic river. Bennett said wasn't aware of such a proposal, but differed to Mecham.

Mecham said the Green River proposal has only been through one of a three-step process, and public participation wasn't part of this early stage in the process.

"We're just in the initial state of this process," Mecham said. "The next phase will have public input."

Bennett summarized, "It sounds like it's a long way from 'wild and scenic river,'" Bennett said, to which Budd said, "Well I hope so."

Boulder rancher Floyd Bousman jumped in by noting other proposals making it through the first phase of the process included several small creeks in the Boulder area that don't even run water year-round.

Bousman chewed on the BLM officials about the proposal, stating, "It's neither wild nor scenic, nor does it have water." He also added that the BLM has been misinformed about some natural resources in the area.

Mecham pointed out to a disbelieving crowd that having water year-round is not a requirement for wild and scenic river classification.

Myles McGinnis took the opportunity to state that it appears that Washington, D.C.'s, goal is "to destroy agriculture in the western United States." McGinnis said from oil and gas development without mitigations to allowing season-long grazing, several issues within the BLM's purview are working against agriculture, forcing operators to take a cut in numbers.

McGinnis said while the federal government spent millions of dollars to reintroduce wolves to the region, "you won't spend a dime on a fence."

BLM Director Kathleen Clark's chief of staff, Wyoming native Conrad Lass, attended the weekend meetings and responded that while the previous administration has undeniably made decisions that are unfavorable to agriculture, "I can tell you that it is the goal of this administration to help ranchers stay on the land.

"We don't want to see agriculture go away," Lass said. "It's important to the West, it's important to the world economy ..."

On a personal note, Lass reminded the group that he's a Worland native who grew up with sugar beets and barley production.

Agriculture is important to Lass, he said: "It's an important part of my life. It has been and it will continue to be."

Lass also reminded the group that Clark has directed her agency to re-institute the concept of multiple use within that federal land management agency.

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