The Bureau of Land Management is revamping its grazing rules for the first time in nearly three decades, and all players are on edge.
Ranchers worry about cutbacks to their access to federal grazing land and environmentalists fear the federal agency will take a “business as usual” approach and ignore realities on the ground such as degraded rangeland, challenges caused by climate change and drought.
A draft rule is set to be released next year, setting up what is sure to be a donnybrook between both sides which have been at legal and political odds with each other for decades.
“For generations, grazing permittees have guarded vast Western landscapes against development, encroachment and destruction,” said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of the Public Lands Council, a ranching industry trade group, told the publication E&E News.
Critics detail the fight: “Livestock grazing rules on public lands need a fundamental overhaul,” said Randi Spivak, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program.
Added Josh Osher, public policy director for the Western Watersheds Project, “My expectation is that the BLM will not address the primary problems with the grazing program in a way that will be meaningful or actually require any action to make changes.” The group opposes large-scale grazing on federal lands.
Osher added there has already been outsized influence by industry and state and local federal managers.
“What they will probably do is maintain policies that allow almost complete control by state offices and local managers, which means that any changes will be scattershot, inconsistent and not durable,” he said.
The BLM said it plans to work with 41 cooperating agencies across 13 states as it works on this proposed rule. Those partners include state and local governments, as well as conservation districts. The agency reiterated that conservation groups were involved in the process to put together a draft environmental impact statement.
One-sided approach? “This rule has to prioritize full permit processing in important landscapes prior to issuing new grazing permits,” Todd Tucci said. “It is a slow motion disaster when BLM stops monitoring, they close their eyes to the current context, and they continue to allow livestock grazing” without “accounting for modern scientific understandings of climate change.”
Tucci is senior attorney with Advocates for the West in Boise, which represented the environmental groups challenging the Trump-era grazing plan at the BLM-managed San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona.
Joel Bousman, a rancher and a county commissioner in Wyoming, emphasized that evaluating regions separately is important.
“The one thing I don’t want to see is a Washington, D.C., one-size-fits-all decision for everyone, because that doesn’t fit,” Bousman told E&E.
The feedback he said his county has received so far from BLM indicates that the bureau wants to work with livestock grazing permittees and is leaning toward a kind of performance-based system that encourages good stewardship of the land.
“If they would promote responsible grazing practices, that’s something the livestock industry would fully support,” he said.