Public lands grazing plan gets a makeover
Last September, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) launched a demonstration program allowing stakeholders in the grazing community an opportunity to achieve rangeland health goals on public land, while allowing greater flexibility in livestock management decisions. The pilot program, focusing on responsive outcome-based grazing on public lands, will be on trial this summer with just a few producers.
Six to twelve “Outcome-Based Grazing Authorizations” will be identified by BLM and those permittees will participate by actively implementing a responsive grazing management plan to achieve habitat and vegetation goals on public land. The program will examine the effectiveness of a more flexible approach to livestock grazing on public land.
“Previously, ranchers have been held to a process and prescription method that tells them how to manage their land,” said Dave Eliason, Utah rancher and president of the Public Lands Council (PLC). “It’s irrational to think government officials can make a more informed decision than those who live and work on the land. When responsive management decisions fall into the hands of those who best understand it, the land, animals, and ecosystem thrive.”
The new program allows grazing permitees to consider changing conditions, both natural or operational, and make adjustments that consider factors such as drought or fire mitigation.
Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), said the cattle industry is pleased by the Trump Administration’s push to support grazing on public land, and stressed the value of shared stewardship and trust that is established through this program.
“The livestock industry is thankful for the leadership of Secretary Zinke in establishing a demonstration program that allows flexibility in the ability to manage conditions on the ground,” said Uden. “This decision ensures our public lands are managed in an efficient and sustainable way.”
But the program is not without its naysayers; environmentalist groups claim the plan will wreak havoc on the 155 million acres of public lands in the United States and the nearly 18,000 grazing permits and leases.
According to Harvard’s environmental law program, a 2016 report by the Department of Interior has noted 30 percent of the assessed federal rangelands as unhealthy in 2013. Blaming livestock grazing for most of the damage, some anti-grazing groups blame the flexibility of the new plan for their concerns.
“BLM recently initiated a demonstration program for outcome-based grazing, which would weaken the stringency of grazing restrictions and accountability standards for permit and lease holders, giving them ‘an unprecedented level of flexibility in the management of livestock,’” writes Harvard student, Laura Bloomer.
Katie Fite, director of public lands for the conservation group WildLands Defense and past biodiversity director for Western Watersheds Project, told reporters that “positive ecological results” are impossible with the new plan.
“The whole idea that this is going to be ‘performance-based’ just means that you aren’t going to have any checks along the way,” Fite shared with the Boise Weekly. “If you don’t have basic checks, the public lands are going to suffer very seriously.”
The announcement of this program coincides with the execution of a new Cooperative Monitoring Memorandum of Understanding between the Public Lands Council and the BLM during PLC’s annual meeting in Flagstaff, Ariz.
The review process of listed lands ended October 27, 2017. BLM did not respond to TSLN’s request for the outcome, but similar outcome-based grazing plans have been implemented for conservation in Greater Sage-Grouse habitat areas.
On June 7, 2017, Interior Secretary Zinke issued Order No. 3353, “Greater Sage-grouse Conservation and Cooperation with Western States.” This order established the Sage-Grouse Review Team and charged it with examining the 2015 sage-grouse state land use plans to identify policies that could be modified or rescinded. And on August 4, 2017, the Sage-Grouse Review Team included outcome-based grazing demonstration projects in its list of policy recommendations for revising the state land use plans.
BLM issues ten-year, renewable permits to private ranchers for livestock grazing on public lands. By law, permits must include the kind and number of livestock for which the permit is granted, and the periods, location, and amount of use authorized. The permits may include additional conditions and restrictions and the National Environmental Policy Act requires the BLM to assess grazing permit impacts.
“This initiative is in line with the Administration’s priority promoting shared stewardship of public lands and giving local stakeholders a say in how these lands are managed,” said Michael D. Nedd, acting BLM Director. “This demonstration project will allow permittees and the BLM to work together more efficiently and effectively to support sustainable grazing operations.”
The new authorizations will emphasize conservation performance, ecological outcomes and cooperative management of public lands that will also provide greater opportunity for an operator to manage ranching operations that are both economically and environmentally sustainable.
Through this new demonstration program, the BLM plans to work with permit holders and other stakeholders to show that livestock grazing on the public lands can operate under a more flexible framework than is commonly used to better reach agreed upon habitat or vegetation goals. The BLM and its partners in the grazing community will share experiences and best practices that will determine if additional authorizations can be successful in the future.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News