Making changes: BLM seeking input on grazing reg updates
The Bureau of Land Management recently asked for public comments as it seeks to revise the agency’s grazing regulations.
According to the Notice of Intent, these lands presently include approximately 155 million acres in the western United States. Current regulations were promulgated in accordance with FLPMA (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.), the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA) (43 U.S.C. 315, 315a-315r), and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act.
A BLM spokesperson said the rule revision is at the beginning of the rule making process and that no specific changes are being discussed yet.
“The proposed revisions will update, modernize and streamline the grazing regulations and provide greater flexibility for land and resource management,” said Derrick Henry, on behalf of the BLM.
“The BLM hopes to improve its stewardship and management of the nation’s rangeland resources by considering changes that could allow faster responses to resolve unauthorized grazing use, promote land health in the administration of the livestock grazing program, and provide public input opportunities without unduly burdening administrative processes.
“The regulations revision aims to create National Environmental Policy Act and administrative process efficiencies. This could include: how the BLM addresses decisions for crossing permits, temporary nonrenewable permits, expanded or clarified use of NEPA categorical exclusion authorities and protest and appeal processes. There is also an opportunity to streamline the processing and issuance of nonrenewable grazing permits and to address changing landscapes in response to fire and invasive vegetation,” he said.
Todd Devlin, a Prairie County, Montana, permittee and county commissioner believes the administration is looking to simplify the paperwork and reduce bureaucratic red tape on BLM-administered grazing land.
“Sounds like they may back off from micro-management,” Devlin said.
Most of the BLM land in Montana is checkerboarded with private and state land, he said, which means the BLM land is not fenced off from other parcels. Devlin is hopeful that the new regulations provide more flexibility for ranchers to utilize their grass in a way that makes sense for the land, season and weather pattern.
“For example, I look at the pasture on this place. Before July 15, everything is palatable to a cow, but after that, some of the plants go into dormancy and are no longer palatable.”
Carrying capacity changes in a pasture depending upon the season, he said, and he hopes he and other ranchers will be able to provide input as to when, how many and where cattle should graze. “They need to give us flexibility to adjust AUMs (animal units per month) so we aren’t hurting the grazing system,” he said. “It won’t take more manpower, I say let ranchers do it.”
Angus McIntosh, the executive director of the Range Allotment Owners Association, plans to make sweeping comments that encourage the federal government to acknowledge grazing rights as higher on the totem pole than recreation, aesthetics and other uses of the rangeland.
“All of their regulations are written for the purpose of regulating ‘public land’ but these are split estate lands,” he said. McIntosh said that public lands is a term that references wild, never settled property across the west, which he contends does not fit most BLM range.
“These lands were settled on over 100 years ago. They were enclosed, occupied. There are dozens of supreme court cases dealing with these issues,” he said.
“If they take the view that these are split estate lands, their regulations would have to change substantially. The only thing retained (by the government) in split estate was commercial timber and mineral rights. Everything else would be subject to the private rights that the ranchers own which would make grazing a priority over practically everything else they do. It would turn their policy management upside down. Instead of making grazing the last priority on the list, it would move to the top.”
McIntosh said the 1875 Grazing Rights Act granted individuals the right to graze said land. The Federal Land Policy Management Act and many other pieces of later federal land oversight legislation include language that specifies that all permits, contracts and other instruments shall be subject to valid, existing rights. “But, most people don’t even know what those rights are,” he said.
“These regulations need to be changed to recognize valid, existing rights of people in the west. Once those rights are granted, they can’t take them back.”
Rancher and state legislator Albert Sommers, whose ranch utilizes BLM-administered land, said he hopes the BLM cuts some red tape. One suggestion is a revamping of the NEPA process. “I hope they make changes so we either don’t need NEPA or make it simpler,” said the Sublette County, Wyoming, cattleman.
Devlin is looking forward to seeing what his fellow ranchers suggest. “I think we have this opportunity to show that as producers, we can take care of the land. If they give us more flexibility, it is our job to show that we are responsible,” he said.
Comments are due March 6. ❖