Bush Administration Proposes Weakening Grazing Rules

Bush administration unveils proposal to alter the rules that govern livestock grazing on public lands


Cory Magnus, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500

Today the Bush administration unveiled a proposal to alter the rules that now govern livestock grazing on public lands. The proposed changes, to be published in the Federal Register on Dec. 8, would overturn efforts over the past decade to improve rangeland conditions and reduce the impacts of grazing on watersheds, wildlife, and cultural treasures.

“The administration continues to use misleading language to try to make the public believe that weakening environmental protections is somehow beneficial,” said Randy Moorman of Earthjustice. “As usual, the details of the proposed rule tell a different story.”

In 1995, the Clinton administration implemented new management regulations aimed at ending decades of overgrazing and other unsustainable grazing practices. Poor management of public lands grazing by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has led to degraded water quality, placed wildlife and habitat at risk, and threatened historic and archeological sites.

The Bush administration’s action today seeks to overturn the 1995 rules and eliminate a variety of public lands protections. The proposed rule seeks to:

  • End the requirement for prompt action to address harmful grazing practices

    Under the 1995 rules, whenever BLM learns that legal grazing under a federal permit was undermining rangeland conditions, the agency is required to take immediate action to correct the situation, before the next grazing permit year begins. The Bush administration proposal attempts to extend the time frame for action to two years, leaving no mechanism to force BLM to take prompt action against damaging grazing practices.

“These rules allow the BLM to shirk their responsibilities to the public to promptly take corrective action to address harmful grazing practices,” said John Horning of Forest Guardians. “As a result, poor grazing practices would be allowed to continue unchecked, further polluting western streams and damaging critical habitat for wildlife.”

  • Require years of monitoring before action is taken against damaging grazing

    The 1995 rules were designed to address a catch-22 situation, in which BLM was required to perform years of monitoring and data collection — which it could not afford — before determining whether grazing practices should be changed. A U.S. General Accounting Office study showed that BLM had neither the money nor the staff to perform this monitoring, resulting in decades of ongoing rangeland damage with no action by BLM. The Bush administration proposes to reinstitute this untenable monitoring requirement, thus virtually guaranteeing that BLM will be unable to ever determine whether action should be taken to halt or improve unsustainable grazing.

“There is absolutely nothing in these rules that benefits public lands or the millions of Americans who use those lands for purposes other than raising cattle,” said Joseph Feller, Professor of Law at Arizona State University. “To add insult to injury, the proposed regulations even contain a special provision designed to facilitate the introduction of cattle to areas that are now protected from grazing.”

  • Restrict public input into decisions about public lands grazing

    The Bush administration is proposing to limit public participation to so-called “major decisions,” such as the development of land use plans. BLM’s broader land use plans are not designed to address a wide variety of crucial grazing decisions, such as how to address alleged violations of grazing permits and plans to reduce the number of livestock allowed on an allotment.

“These rules take the public out of the management process, in complete contradiction to the Secretary of Interior’s stated commitment to the 4Cs-Communication, Consultation, Cooperation in the service of Conservation,” said Matt Niemerski of Defenders of Wildlife.

  • Limit the conditions under which a grazing permit may be revoked

    The Bush proposal attempts to make it easier for livestock owners to violate applicable laws without fear that their permits could be revoked.

“Instead of solving the problem, the rules would hamper the BLM’s abilities to fulfill their responsibilities as stewards of these lands,” said Kristen Sykes of Friends of the Earth.

  • Give ranchers ownership of so-called “range improvements”Under today’s proposal, the Bush administration seeks to give livestock owners clear title to permanent rangeland installations such as wells, fences, and pipelines. This proposal could lead livestock owners to claim that their private property has been impinged on by environmentally protective actions ordered by federal land managers. The result could be that land managers will be increasingly unwilling to take actions that livestock owners could interpret as “takings” of their property.

  • Permit livestock owners to purchase water rights on public lands

    The Bush administration is proposing to allow ranchers to own water rights on public lands, a step that could interfere with BLM’s ability to manage these lands for all users. Ranchers could claim a right to compensation if, for example, BLM takes action to bar livestock from a grazing allotment to protect downstream resources.

“Decades of unsustainable grazing practices permitted by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management have imperiled wildlife, degraded water quality, and harmed uncounted archeological, historic and Native American treasures,” said Johanna Wald of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “These proposed rules reverse any effort to improve rangeland conditions and management.”

Spokesperson contacts:

Randy Moorman, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500

John Horning, Forest Guardians, 505-988-9126

Matt Niemerski, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-682-9400

Johanna Wald, Natural Resources Defense Council,

Kristen Sykes, Friends of the Earth, 202-783-7400

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.