Bush Administration Proposes Weakening Grazing Rules

BLM holding a public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement

The Bush administration proposal to alter the rules governing livestock grazing on public lands threatens to overturn efforts to improve rangeland conditions and reduce the impacts of grazing on watersheds, wildlife, and cultural treasures. The Bureau of Land Management is holding a public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed rules today in Washington, D.C.

“If the proposed rule is allowed to go into effect, poor grazing practices will likely be allowed to continue unchecked, and natural resources, wildlife, and recreation will take a back seat to grazing again dominating BLM lands,” said Randy Moorman of Earthjustice. “Even the draft EIS released in January on the proposed rule changes conceded that rangeland health might suffer during the transition to the new rules.”

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) destroyed soils, caused erosion, degraded water quality, crippled riparian areas, reduced wildlife and its habitat, ruined recreation, and even damaged archaeological sites.

The Bush administration’s efforts seek to overturn the 1995 rules and eliminate a variety of public lands protections. The proposed rules are especially damaging because they will disenfranchise the public, further entrench destructive livestock grazing, and elevate grazing to the dominant use on many BLM lands.

The proposed rule seeks to:

  • Exclude the public from participating in grazing decisions

    The proposed rule attempts to eliminate existing requirements that BLM seek public input before it issues, renews, or modifies a grazing permit. The administration claims that citizens are already consulted when BLM conducts environmental assessments of its grazing decisions. However, these assessments are infamously backlogged due to a lack of effort on behalf of the BLM who has obtained from Congress a five-year exemption from conducting environmental analysis when renewing grazing permits.

  • Obstruct BLM’s ability to remedy abusive grazing

    The proposed rules seek to require the BLM to conduct monitoring and data collection before implementing needed changes to damaging grazing practices that fail to meet rangeland health standards. In many cases the abuse is obvious yet the BLM will be required to perform years of monitoring and data collection — for which it does not have the staff or the funds. This untenable monitoring requirement proposed by the Bush Administration attempts to guarantee that BLM will be slowed down in trying to determine whether action should be taken to halt or improve unsustainable grazing.

  • Double the one-year time limit BLM has to begin to remedy damaging grazing

    In addition, if a remedy requires a 10 percent or greater reduction in grazing, the proposed rules seek to require that the reductions be phased in over five years. Abusive grazing will be fixed and any attempt to remedy such damage will be constrained.

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

    While the existing regulations allow BLM to suspend a grazing permit if a rancher violates federal laws, the proposed rules seek to limitBLM’s ability to recognize violations of those laws if the violation occurred on the rancher’s BLM allotment. For example, if a rancher kills or harms an endangered species, or destroys archaeological resources anywhere else, BLM will be prohibited from taking any action on the rancher’s grazing permit.

  • Give ranchers ownership of so-called “range improvements”

    The Bush administration’s proposal 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.

Proposed rules, an accompanying draft environmental impact statement, and instructions for commenting

Additional Resources

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