Volume 3, Number 48 - February 26, 2004
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Grazing regs slammed
The Bush Administration's Bureau of Land Management rolling back of grazing regulations enacted by Clinton Administration Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has generated a great deal of public comment, although little substance.
The BLM reported that during the public scoping period, it received 8,300 comments, with nearly all of those comments being form letters expressing opposition to the BLM making any changes to the grazing regulations. Only about three dozen letters containing substantive comment were received from interest groups and state and federal agencies.
With the public comment period closing next week on the national draft environmental impact statement, Molly Brady of the agency's Washington, D.C., office notes that once again, lots of form letters are flooding her office, but little substantive comment is being received.
One of the substantive comment letters received during scoping came from the University of Wyoming Law School, the DEIS reported. Although the DEIS reported that it was a UW letter, in reality it was the personal views of UW law professor Deb Donahue, not the university itself. Brady said the letter was incorrectly characterized in the DEIS as coming from the law school. Donahue, an advocate of removing livestock from public lands in the West, was critical of the proposed changes to the grazing regulations, suggesting that the BLM was placing the economic interests of a small number of permittees above public interests.
Environmental groups weren't happy about the changes either. Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense council questioned how the BLM could justify the changes so soon after the 1995 Range Reform efforts.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups opposed allowing the permittee to share title to range improvements, asserting that it would allow the BLM to confer private property rights to permittees on public lands.
Some of the comments of the Western Watersheds Project were a duplicate to Donahue's comments. Donahue serves on the organization's advisory board.
Western Watersheds Project suggested that the BLM change the regulations to remove livestock from areas unsuited for grazing and that the grazing fee formula be replaced by competitive bidding.
Forest Guardians, Animal Protection Institute and Sinapu commented that they oppose the BLM provision to consider social, economic and cultural impacts of federal actions along with ecological considerations. In contrast, this provision is supported by local governments and grazing interests, and even received endorsement from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in its letter of comment.
According to the EIS, "The Sierra Club commented that commercial livestock grazing causes deterioration of the public lands, and is neither ecologically nor economically viable."
Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife comments that BLM should place allotments and forage in reserve as reserve common allotments, or consider voluntary allotment restructuring to increase the number of wildlife on BLM lands.
This organization also asked the BLM to: "Allow allotments and forage or AUMs (animal unit months) to be reallocated on a permanent basis for wildlife when a permittee voluntarily relinquishes the grazing preference back to the BLM," and "Allow permittees to choose to have their AUMs dedicated either to livestock or game herds."
When it comes to who receives preference for grazing permits, the Environmental Protection Agency commented that it supports giving preference to applicants who promote wildlife habitats, water quality, healthy riparian areas and encouraging native vegetation.
In contrast to detractors, those who represent permittees are generally supportive of the proposed grazing regulation revisions. From the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to the American Farm Bureau Federation, comments were positive overall.
The public comment period on the grazing regulation revision closes March 2. For more information, log onto www.blm.gov.
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