Harmful public lands grazing could continue for four more years without any environmental review under provisions adopted Tuesday by the U.S. Senate. By unanimous consent, the Senate voted to accept measures that attempt to exempt federal agencies until 2008 from conducting environmental analysis of grazing permits under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Due to a backlog in processing the grazing permit reviews, agencies have received a one-year exemption from NEPA each year since 1999 on Interior Appropriations bills. As a result, hundreds of grazing permits have been renewed without any environmental review, allowing harmful grazing practices to continue, damaging the public’s lands and resources, and slowing the agencies’ ability to correct grazing problems.
“The Senate trampled on NEPA, eliminating environmental review and public participation in the management of our public lands,” said Randy Moorman of Earthjustice. “The Senate bill will continue to give the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service permission to ignore the environmental impacts of grazing, shutting out the public and leaving many of our public lands at the mercy of cows and sheep.”
Senators Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) offered the amendment that would allow both agencies to continue to be unaccountable to the public, by avoiding the law and not conducting important environmental assessments.
In addition, the Senate accepted an amendment offered by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) that seeks to permanently authorize grazing in Idaho in areas that currently do not produce forage on a sustained, long-term basis. This amendment would not only promote unsustainable grazing but also seeks to eliminate the required environmental review for such grazing permits.
“The BLM and the Forest Service want to shirk their responsibilities to the public and not comply with the law,” said Gilly Lyons of the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign (NPLGC). “As a result of these Congressional exemptions, poor grazing practices could be allowed to continue unchecked, further polluting western streams and damaging critical habitat for wildlife.”
Overgrazing has severely damaged 80% of our western streams and riparian areas by polluting vital watersheds with livestock waste and denuding stream bank vegetation, causing streams to widen and water temperatures to rise. Populations of such wildlife species as the endangered Sonoran pronghorn antelope and desert tortoise, neotropical migratory birds, and sage grouse have declined on livestock-damaged habitat. The risk of fire has increased in dry Western forests due to livestock removal of plants that would otherwise out-compete fire-prone seedlings.
“NEPA allows for local input, and lets all those who care about our public lands participate in the review of these grazing permits,” said Johanna Wald of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“The Senate-passed bill takes the public out of that process, in complete contradiction to the Secretary of Interior’s stated commitment to the 4Cs — Communication, Consultation, Cooperation in the service of Conservation,” added Matt Niemerski of Defenders of Wildlife.
“Instead of solving the problem by giving the agencies money and providing incentives to get the environmental review done, the Senate has given the BLM and Forest Service a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card, perpetuating the problem and allowing the agencies to continue to ignore their responsibilities as stewards of these lands,” said Marc Smith of the National Wildlife Federation.
Click here for a downloadable soundbite from Earthjustice’s Randy Moorman. (4,027 kb downloadable AUDIO)