Improving the long-term health of rangelands and establishing a better working relationship with lessees are two reasons the Bureau of Land Management is considering changing its grazing policy.
The changes would lengthen the term of some federal grazing leases, establish a new grazing unit and will likely increase the fees for permit applications.
"We think it's time to consider the changes because we think we can put in some more flexibility in our management and can build stronger and more effective partnerships with lessees and others concerned with federal land management," said Tom Gorey, BLM spokesman.
The proposal would extend the time for a grazing permittee's temporary nonuse of a permit from three years to five years, which will give ranchers more time to allow the property they lease to recover from extended use or other adverse grazing conditions.
Another portion of the plan would establish a new type of grazing unit called "Reserve Common Allotments." Ranchers could use these allotments for livestock forage while their normal allotments are recovering from long-term use or adverse grazing conditions such as drought.
The "Reserve Common Allotments," (RCA) which is central to the initiative, is the idea of a new type of grazing unit. These allotments would be created to promote healthier grazing lands and to help ranchers who temporarily cannot use their permits for various reasons. Grazing permittees could use these reserve allotments for livestock forage while their regular allotments undergo range improvement.
The net result would be lighter grazing use over the entire area, thus improving range conditions while sustaining a working landscape.
"It not only helps a rancher in a situation where he's not able to graze, he can rest his own lease and keep grazing," Gorey said.
There are three possibilities for reserving property for the RCA program. The first would be to use vacant allotments -- something that can be done fairly easily if they're available. The other two possibilities would require policy changes. They include creating a permittee association, which would act as a land trust and acquire grazing permits to create RCAs or having individual permit holders volunteer to make their allotments available as an RCA.
"The thing to keep in mind is everything is a work in progress, so some of the fine points and details haven't been worked out," Gorey said.
In the early '90s, ranchers who made improvements to the federal property they leased -- fences, wells or pipelines -- shared the title to those improvements. That policy ended with a new administration and this proposal, if approved, would reinstate it.
"We think it's fitting that if you make range improvements, you should share ownership," Gorey said. "We think it will be an incentive to improve range conditions. It's appropriate we recognize improvements by shared title."
Another change could come in the fee structure for permit applications, billings and preference transfers. There will be no change to the grazing fee formula.
"The idea there is simply to make sure administrative fees reflect essentially the cost of doing business," Gorey said. "Presumably they'll go up to capture more of the costs we incur to administrate these programs."
The final proposal would eliminate long-term "conservation use" grazing permits. These, essentially, are grazing permits taken out to prevent grazing on federal land.
These permits are already considered invalid in several federal court rulings because they work in opposition to the Taylor Grazing Act, which recognizes the public's right to graze federal lands.
"This change would bring our current regulations in line with those court rulings," Gorey said.
The BLM recently finished a series of "scoping meetings" to collect public input on the proposal.
"The changes under consideration would enhance community-based conservation and promote cooperate stewardship of the public rangelands," said Kathleen Clarke, BLM director. "The potential changes would also improve BLM business practices and provide greater flexibility to managers and grazing permittees in the administration of public rangelands."
The Bureau of Land Management published two notices in the Federal Register that officially announce its consideration of grazing rule changes.
The first of the BLM's Federal Register notices, called an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), describes the general nature of the possible changes. The ANPR is only the first step in the rulemaking process. The second document, known as a Notice of Intent, announces the BLM's intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act. The EIS will analyze the potential impact of the changes under consideration, as well as the potential effects of alternative options. The bureau expects to publish its official proposed regulatory changes, in the form of a proposed grazing rule, during the summer.
The public has until May 2 to comment on the ANPR.
"The public has a lot to contribute and we always benefit," Gorey said. "We can always fine tune as a result of input. We appreciate the good ideas and suggestions."
Grazing policy, philosophy changes under consideration:
- Extend the time for a grazing permittee's temporary nonuse of a permit from the current three-year limit to five years.
- Authorize the BLM to designate a new type of grazing unit called "Reserve Common Allotments." Ranchers could use these allotments for livestock forage while their normal allotments undergo range improvement treatment.
- Reinstate an earlier provision that allows the BLM and a grazing permittee to share title of certain range improvements if they are constructed under what is known as a Cooperative Range Improvement Agreement.
- Streamline the administrative appeals process relating to grazing decisions.
o Clarify which non-permit violations the BLM may take into account in penalizing a permittee.
- Revise administrative fees for permit applications, billings, and preference transfer. (The BLM is not considering any change to the existing grazing fee formula.)
- Clarify that the BLM will follow state law in the acquisition of water rights.
- Re-emphasize that reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act will consider the economic, social and cultural impacts of the BLM's decisions.
- Eliminate, in keeping with recent Federal court rulings, existing regulatory provisions that assert the BLM's authority to issue long-term "conservation use" grazing permits. These permits were introduced in 1994.
- Implement conservation easement acquisition. Under this exchange system, the BLM would offer grazing permittees the opportunity to acquire lands already identified for "disposal" through the BLM's land-use planning process. In return, permittees would place conservation easements on their adjacent private land.
For more information on the Bureau of Land Management's proposed grazing policy changes or to see the notices posted on the federal register, log on to: www.blm.gov or www.access.gpo.gov