New federal grazing rules given OK

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Jun 20, 2007
by WLJ
20, 2005

— Legal protections to be in place next month.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week announced the public release of a final environmental impact study (EIS) that confirms upcoming grazing rule changes will produce long-term benefits for public rangelands and not be a detriment to wildlife habitat or recreation in the future.
“This environmental-impact analysis underscores grazing’s role as a vital use of public lands in the rural West,” said Rebecca Watson, assistant secretary for Land and Minerals for BLM. “The new rules will improve BLM’s management of public-lands ranching, an activity that not only supports rural economies but also preserves open space and wildlife habitat in the rapidly growing West.”
BLM Director Kathleen Clarke said the EIS, published in the June 17 Federal Register, shows that grazing if managed appropriately provides long-term benefits to federally-managed rangelands.
“These benefits include increased vegetation along stream banks, which will reduce soil erosion and provide more habitats for wildlife,” Clarke said. “Under the new regulations, the BLM’s grazing-management decisions will be based on better information about rangeland conditions and utilize information from those that are most closely linked to the land.”
The new grazing regulations, to be published in the Federal Register next month, aim to improving BLM’s working relationships with ranchers on federally-managed lands, according to Clarke.
“The revisions reflect the agency’s commitment to managing the public lands for multiple uses, including grazing, while ensuring the health and productivity of these lands,” she said.
The revisions include continuing the role of BLM’s Resource Advisory Councils (RACs), which are composed of citizens across the West who advise and make recommendations to the agency on federal land issues. The revised regulations will also leave intact the rangeland-health standards and guidelines developed by the RACs.
The new rules also work to improve the agency’s working relationships with those holding BLM grazing permits and leases; advance the bureau’s efforts in assessing and protecting rangelands; and addressing legal issues while “enhancing administrative efficiency.”
Of particular focus, are changes in protocol concerning legal challenges of grazing on federal lands. Under the new rules, people or organizations challenging a specific grazing situation will need to bring factual proof of damage being done to the land in question, and not just allege that damage is being done or that there is “a threat of damage” looming, BLM officials said.
“In the past, the court’s have accepted grazing permit challenges on the basis that someone or a group of people think damage could happen if the practice of grazing livestock is allowed to continue,” a BLM spokesperson told WLJ. “Under the new rules, that isn’t enough to gain standing. Those with the allegations have to come forward with facts and not just opinion or conjecture.”
In addition, the new regulations will continue to require that the bureau consult with the interested public and users of public lands on key matters, such as developing or changing grazing-activity plans; planning rangeland-improvement programs; and developing reports that are used as the basis for BLM decisions affecting grazing permits or leases.
The final EIS is posted on BLM’s Web site at www.blm.gov/grazing. BLM officials said that when the final grazing rules are published next month, they will be implemented immediately. They did not say for sure that a comment period would be reopened over the first 30-45 days of the new rules being in place, however, that is a possibility. — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor

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