Mary O’Brien: BLM wants your permission to ignore you

Have you ever tried to get the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to recover unbranded cows from Steep Creek, where no cows are supposed to be? Or to stop planting European pasture grasses in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to feed cattle who have eaten the native grasses to oblivion? Or to stop turning juniper and pinyon forests throughout southern Utah into a landscape of wood chips and tumbleweed?

If you have, my sympathies. The BLM is remarkably immune to public input about cattle grazing.

But it’s never enough for the BLM. It now wants your comments (by March 6) on how to further “streamline” its grazing regulations throughout the West.

No specific proposal has been made, but the agency is interested in your thoughts on how to issue grazing permits more quickly, give ranchers greater flexibility on how they graze the BLM (public) lands, and use “targeted” grazing to prevent fires on acres of cheatgrass that replaced native grasses (after livestock ate them all).

And yes, the BLM wants your thoughts on how it can expand the use of “categorical exclusions” under the National Environmental Policy Act to make even more decisions without any public input. In short, it wants your opinion on how best to cut you, the public, out of grazing-management decisions on your public lands, including national monument lands.

Although the BLM permits grazing by cattle or sheep in 11 Western states, on 155 million acres of public lands, the agency held public meetings about these grazing regulations revisions in only four rural towns. No public meetings were held in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, California, Oregon or Washington.

In its one-pager on how to comment on BLM grazing regulations, the BLM notes that the formal purpose of the process “is to determine relevant issues (and alternatives)” to guide an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS), an environmental review the agency must develop to formalize final grazing regulation revisions.

In another handout, the BLM again suggests that you “offer an alternative solutions [sic] and ideas.”

Several conservation organizations and individuals are working together to do just that. We’re writing a complete set of reasonable revisions to the current grazing regulations. Our revisions, if adopted, would result in grazing practices that take better care of BLM lands. We expect them to be published in the agency’s EA or EIS alongside the current grazing regulations and the revisions the BLM will be proposing, so that our reasonable, sensible alternative can be compared to theirs.

One fundamental suggestion we will make is that only 30% of the vegetation be grazed, so that plants can reproduce, better survive drought and provide not only a bigger meal for cattle but also food for seed-eating birds, cover for small mammals and flowers for bees and other pollinators. Currently much higher percentages – up to 90% – of plants are grazed by livestock. The 30% limit has been shown in studies to benefit both the grazed lands ecologically and ranchers economically.

We’ll also propose limiting vegetation “treatments” to those promoting native vegetation, rather than European pasture grasses. Another of our suggested changes is requiring the BLM to respond to information from the public regarding grazing permit violations or significant damage to natural or cultural resources, like springs or archaeological sites. That’s something the agency isn’t required to do now.

Such proposals are reasonable. In your comments by March 6, you can encourage the BLM to publish the conservation-based proposed grazing regulations revisions in its draft environmental review and compare the environmental consequences of these revisions to the consequences of those the agency proposes.

The BLM has asked you to offer alternative solutions. Take them up on that.

Mary O'Brien

Mary O’Brien is the Utah Forests Program Director at the Grand Canyon Trust, and lives in Castle Valley, Utah.