From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 37 - December 11, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Grazing rule changes proposed

by Cat Urbigkit

U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton recently announced details of a proposed grazing rule aimed at improving grazing management and continuation of public lands ranching in the West.

With the publication of the proposed rule on Monday, the public has more than 60 days to comment on the proposal. The Bureau of Land Management expects to publish a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed grazing rule later this month, which will be followed by a 60-day public comment period. The comment periods for the proposed rule and the draft EIS will end on the same day.

The proposed rule would:

make clear that BLM managers will document their consideration of the relevant social, cultural and economic consequences of decisions affecting grazing, consistent with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. The intent is to ensure that land managers, before making a grazing-related decision, document the factors they took into account in assessing the potential impacts of that decision on the human environment.

allow the BLM and a grazing permittee to share title of certain permanent range improvements - such as a fence, well or pipeline - if they are constructed under what is known as a Cooperative Range Improvement Agreement. (Such an agreement describes the terms and conditions under which the BLM and a livestock operator would construct, use and maintain specific range improvements.) This provision, which had existed before the 1995 grazing rule changes, reflects the administration's view that ranchers, when contributing financially to the construction of such improvements, should be able to share ownership in proportion to their investment of labor, material or equipment. Shared title may also serve as an incentive for livestock operators to undertake needed range improvements.

phase in grazing decreases (and increases) of more than 10 percent over a five-year period unless a livestock operator agrees to a shorter period, or unless a quicker phase-in is necessary under existing law to protect the land's resources. The BLM is proposing the phase-in to provide sufficient time for ranchers to make gradual adjustments in their operations, particularly so they can reduce adverse economic impacts resulting from any grazing reductions. The BLM retains its full authority to respond as necessary to drought, fire and any other factors affecting grazing allotment conditions.

expand the definition of "grazing preference" to include an amount of forage on public lands attached to a rancher's private "base" property, which can be land or water. This expanded definition, similar to one that existed from 1978 to 1995, when the "Rangeland Reform" rules took effect, makes clear that grazing preference has a quantitative meaning (forage amounts, measured in Animal Unit Months) as well as a qualitative one (precedence of position in the "line" for grazing privileges). The broader definition of "grazing preference" is intended to ensure that forage allocations on public lands are associated with private base property; it is also aimed at ending some of the confusion that resulted from the 1995 change to the long-standing definition. The expanded definition of "grazing preference" would make unnecessary the forage-related term "permitted use," which was introduced in the "Rangeland Reform" rules change.

In addition, the rule would require assessments and monitoring of resource conditions to support BLM evaluations of whether an allotment is meeting rangeland health standards. Currently, these evaluations may be supported by documented observational assessments rather than by the more in-depth information collection procedures used in monitoring.

The rule would extend to 24 months, from the current 12 months, the BLM's self-imposed deadline for initiating an appropriate course of action to make remedial changes in grazing practices that significantly contribute to an allotment's failure to meet rangeland health standards. This provision recognizes the BLM's need for sufficient time in determining the most appropriate course of action while meeting the requirements of such laws as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The rule would also remove the current three-consecutive-year limit on temporary non-use of a grazing permit by allowing livestock operators to apply for non-use for up to one year at a time, whether for conservation or business purposes. The removal of this limit would promote rangeland health by giving the BLM more flexibility to cooperate with grazing permittees to rest the land as needed or respond to changing business needs.

The rule would eliminate, in compliance with federal court rulings, existing regulatory provisions that allow the BLM to issue long-term "conservation use" permits.

It would also make clear how the BLM will authorize grazing if a BLM decision affecting a grazing permit is "stayed" (postponed) pending administrative appeal. This provision is aimed at providing a permittee with continuity of operation in the event that the rancher or an interested member of the public appeals a BLM grazing decision affecting the rancher's operation.

The rule would clarify that if a livestock operator is convicted of violating a federal, state, or other law, and if the violation occurs while he is engaged in grazing-related activities, the BLM may take action against his grazing permit or lease only if the violation occurred on the BLM-managed allotment where the operator is authorized to graze. This provision seeks to make clear that while any illegal acts by a livestock operator are potentially punishable by various legal authorities, such acts are subject to BLM sanctions only when the acts affect the rancher's BLM-managed allotment.

The rule would improve efficiency in the BLM's management of public lands grazing by reducing the occasions in which the Bureau is mandated to involve the interested public. Under this provision, the BLM could involve the public in such matters as day-to-day grazing administration, but would no longer be required to do so. The BLM would continue to involve the public in its major planning decisions, such as grazing allotment plans and land-use plans.

The proposed rule would provide flexibility to the federal government in decisions relating to livestock water rights by removing the current requirement that the BLM seek sole ownership of these rights where allowed by state law. This provision would change the 1995 grazing regulations, which established a policy under which the BLM would seek full water rights whenever legally able to do so. This provision would give the BLM greater flexibility in negotiating arrangements for the construction of watering facilities in states where the federal government is allowed to hold a livestock water right. The BLM would still have the option of acquiring the sole water right, consistent with state water laws.

The rule would also clarify that a biological assessment of the BLM, prepared in compliance with the Endangered Species Act, is not a decision of the BLM and therefore is not subject to protests and appeals. The provision would also clarify that the BLM must allow permittees and the interested public an opportunity to review and provide input to biological evaluations that are used as a basis to change grazing use.

To learn about the grazing rule, check out www.blm.gov. Submit comments to: Director (630), Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Office, 7450 Boston Boulevard, Springfield, Virginia 22153, Attention: RIN 1004-AD42. For personal or messenger delivery, comments should go to the Bureau of Land Management, 1620 L Street, N.W., Suite 401, Washington, D.C. 20036. E-mail: www.blm.gov/nhp/news/regulatory/index.htm or www.blm.gov/grazing. E-mail to WOComment@blm.gov.

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