BLM looks to overhaul grazing regulations

Many cattle in western Colorado spend the summers in the high country on BLM land. Hundreds of permit holders may see some positive changes in the BLM regulations as the agency begins an overhaul of the 1990s Range Reform under then Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced this week that it will tackle the long overdue task of overhauling regulations for grazing on 155 million acres of public lands across the western United States.

In preparation for the project which could take years to finalize the federal lands manager published a Notice of Intent (NOI) in the Federal Register on Tuesday this week, and opened a public comment period and they announced dates and times for four in-person meetings.

The regulations governing cattle and sheep grazing on public lands have not been adjusted since the Clinton administration tapped former Arizona governor, Bruce Babbitt, as Secretary of Interior. Babbitt, who grew up in Arizona, helmed a major rewrite of the rules in the 90s. Much of his work shocked western producers given Babbitt’s lifelong connection to the Arizona cattle industry.

Livestock grazers have long panned the BLM (and Forest Service) for the “anti-cattle” attitude in the way regulation has been enforced. The undercurrent of antipathy between the permit holders and the regulators has been no secret.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for BLM permitees to set the record straight,” said Dr. J.J. Goicoechea who chairs the NCBA Federal Lands Committee and PLC’s Grazing Regulations Working Group. “We have endured Bruce Babbitt’s ‘Range Reform’ for over 25 years — and the land, native grasses, and local ranching families have suffered as a result. This NOI is the first step toward righting that wrong. I cannot state how important it is for ranchers to submit comments and participate in these scoping meetings.”

Some observers indicated that the process now being undertaken by the BLM is another phase of the current administration’s effort to cut regulations that they say have held back the economy for the last two decades.

For the new overhaul, the agency says it is preparing an environmental impact statement on its proposed updated grazing rules, and will address grazing permit procedures, land use planning, and how best to use grazing to address and reduce wildlife risks.

“We continue to seek ways to improve and streamline the grazing permit process to achieve greater efficiencies and service to permittees,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management Casey B. Hammond. “This rulemaking effort is designed to strengthen and improve our administration of grazing permits across the West, and we welcome public and stakeholder ideas and perspectives.”

The BLM administers 18,000 permits and leases for livestock grazing on roughly 60% of the 245 million acres it manages across the nation.

BLM’s announcement also said changes will address how it handles unauthorized grazing on public lands by “strengthening controls to prevent unauthorized grazing, enhancing environmental protections across various non-grazing land-use programs, and improving public input opportunities.”

BLM’s proposals, however, are opposed by anti-grazing groups. The Western Watersheds Project says the proposed changes are an attempt by the Trump Administration to appease “grazing permittees that break the rules.”

WWP Deputy Director Greta Anderson toldE&E News, a news organization focusing on energy and the environment, "We already see very, very few grazing permits undergoing environmental analysis as it is. The Trump Administration apparently intends to gut even that level of informed public participation in administering this heavily subsidized handout on federal lands."

The BLM plans four public meetings about the proposed revisions. The meetings include:

Miles City, Montana: Feb. 6, at the Sleep Inn and Suites, 1006 S. Haynes Ave., from 4:30-7:30 p.m.;

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Feb. 11 at the Las Palmas Grill, 201 East University Ave., from 4:30-7:30 p.m.;

Elko, Nevada: Feb. 18 at the Elko Convention Center, 700 Moren Way, from 4:30-7:30 p.m.; and

Casper, Wyoming: Feb. 20, at the Casper Events Center, 1 Events Drive, from 4:30-7:30 p.m.

Comments on the proposed regulation revisions may be submitted in writing until Feb. 28. Meeting information, announcements, instructions on how to provide comments, and pertinent documents can be found at the BLM website at https://go.usa.gov/xyMqb.

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