A rider attached to the FY05 Interior Appropriations Act (S 2804) seeks to completely eliminate public input and environmental review regarding livestock grazing on potentially millions of acres of public lands. The Senate rider is the latest, and one of the most egregious, in a string of tactics used by the livestock industry, and the leadership at the U.S. Forest Service, to avoid their responsibility to ensure that grazing does not preclude other vital uses of our public lands.
Over the past 30 years, thousands of permits have been issued for livestock grazing on public lands without any review of the potential impacts on water quality, wildlife habitat, and other environmental resources. Thousands more have been renewed with no review at all of the ongoing and cumulative damage done to streambanks, forests, grasslands, and wildlife by mismanaged grazing.
Now, at the behest of the livestock industry and administrators at the Forest Service, Congress could pass a rider that attempts to eliminate all review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for up to 900 grazing allotments on Forest Service land over the next three years. The rider on this year's Interior Appropriations bill follows more than a decade of similar measures aimed at delaying legally-required environmental reviews, and ignoring laws that protect human health, wildlife, water quality, and archeological sites.
Livestock grazing is the largest commercial use of America's public lands, taking place on 96 million acres of national forest land. Grazing also creates the most impact on national forest resources including clean water, and recreational uses such as fishing, hunting, and camping. Many of the national forest grazing allotments are suffering from the combined effects of drought and harmful grazing practices. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, streams in the arid Southwest are now in the "worst shape in history" as the result of grazing. Besides the human health problems caused by contaminated, degraded streams, mismanaged grazing also threatens our wildlife resources. Species that have become threatened or endangered due to damaging livestock grazing include the bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, bull trout, and sockeye salmon. In all, grazing has contributed to the decline of 22% of endangered species.
Under NEPA, the Forest Service is required to review the impacts of grazing prior to issuing grazing permits, to ensure that the agency is not permitting activities with unintended environmental consequences, and to ensure that the public knows and understands the impacts of the activities occurring on public lands. Yet instead of performing the reviews required by NEPA, the Forest Service has spent years finding ways around these requirements. This year's rider seeks to provide a blanket exemption for hundreds of grazing allotments, allowing the Forest Service and the livestock industry to dodge their responsibilities for another three years.
Randy Moorman, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500 x201
Amy Mall, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202-289-2365
Justin Baca, National Public Lands Grazing Campaign, 202-547-9267
Billy Stern, Forest Guardians, 505-988-9126, x151
Keren Murphy, Sierra Club, 202-675-6690
Emily Kaplan, US Public Interest Research Group, 202-546-9707
Bob Perciasepe, National Audubon Society, 202-861-2242