Moffat County Commissioners vote to protest blanket drought restrictions

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No decision was made and there was nothing to report during an executive session discussing a personnel matter regarding Kelly Patterson.

After a presentation from Jeff Comstock during a special county commissioner board meeting Monday morning, Moffat County commissioners unanimously voted to protest the White River field office’s decision to defer spring grazing on the Bureau of Land Management administered lands, reduce grazing by a minimum of 50 percent through the summer and winter of 2013-2014, and reduce utilization thresholds and minimum stubble heights on BLM lands.

Comstock, director of the Natural Resources Department for Moffat County, said Moffat County acknowledged the drought and resulting reduced forage, but said the BLM made a mistake by administering a blanket decision rather than looking allotment by allotment, not considering the economic impact, violating their own regulations, and not giving deference to range practices or variation in vegetation communities.

The White River field office’s proposed decision was issued Dec. 20, but due to the holidays Comstock said his office received the notice last week leaving the window to send a letter of protest open until the end of the day.

County Commissioner Tom Mathers said he thought the BLM had made a mistake in taking the one-size-fits-all route, but acknowledged the decision may have come out of desperation.

Comstock told commissioners the Resource Advisory Council had advised the BLM to not send blanket form letters, as well as advising them against what the RAC said was premature notification.

Rather, the RAC advised the BLM send a warning letter stating they may have to consider reductions if winter and spring moisture did not occur.

Comstock told commissioners BLM regulations require allotment by allotment consideration and said the head field manger was aware, promising to speak with his field managers.

Comstock said he was wary of putting all their eggs in one basket and said he still hoped the commissioners would endorse the letter to have it on record by the deadline for protests.

“He knows his own grazing regulations don’t allow blanket wide determination,” Comstock said. “They’ve violated their own regulations and at least their head manager realizes it.”

Addressing the commissioners during public comment on the issue, Allan Reishus asked commissioners to soften or eliminate the letter.

“We all know we’ve been in a drought. If we have a wonderful winter with lots of snow we’ll still be facing drought conditions on the landscape,” Reishus said. “Everyone has to suffer a little bit. I think it may be reasonable for the BLM to make these requirements now as opposed to waiting.”

In response, county commissioner Tom Gray said he felt it seemed more logical from a common sense point of view to go on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m not saying we’re not in a drought and business is usual,” Gray said. “But on my own land, which includes no BLM, I’ve cut back already. Shouldn’t the federal government do the same as what we’d do on our own?”

Commissioner Audrey Danner agreed, advocating for a case-by-case basis.

“This is a very large field office,” Danner said. “We have the duty to protect those in Moffat County, not only the lands but the economy also. This could be very damaging. It doesn’t take into account what’s really happening. It’s just a blanket decision.”

Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or dwarden@craigdailypress.com

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