Viewpoint: Analyzes show BLM ducking scrutiny of livestock grazing and wildlife impacts

Montana beef producers fear the impact of a threatened Chinese tariff on U.S. agricultural imports. (Current Missoula File Photo)

Western Watersheds Project and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) each recently released analyzes regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s environmental oversight of its cattle grazing program on 155 million acres of western public land.

We compiled the agency’s own data on permit and lease renewals and their compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires a public process, land health assessment, and environmental scan for each 10 year license.

Spoiler alert: The agency is actively dodging its oversight responsibilities on livestock grazing leases where environmental conflicts are most severe.

This lack of oversight and abdication of legal responsibility allows livestock to graze, endanger wildlife, trample cultural sites, spread invasive species, ruin water quality and degrade recreational experiences without even “consider carefully” whether these impacts should be allowed to occur or could occur. be mitigated by management changes.

By rubber-stamping license renewals according to their original terms, the Bureau has kicked in the street on the majority of public lands where cattle are permitted.

Work by the Western Watersheds Project has revealed a downward trend in NEPA compliance. About 28 percent of grazing allotments – the designated geographic area for which grazing permits and leases are authorized – were renewed without analysis in 2013, when 10-year grazing permits under their previous terms were codified. in the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act as an alternative to conducting a full environmental review.

In 2017, this number increased to 38% of all developments operating without the required environmental analysis. By 2021, more than half of all public land allotments (and 2/3 of all livestock use in the West) were allowed without any public participation in decision-making and without a range of alternatives to the status quo of breeding operations to be found.

It would be one thing if the Bureau actually ensured the health of the landscape was respected before renewing grazing permits, but PEER’s review shows that is not happening either. Their analysis of Bureau of Rangeland Health data shows that nearly 30% of allotments have never been assessed for compliance with land health standards, and of those that have been assessed, more than 50% have never been assessed. not hit the agency’s low bar for ecological health.

It is a real outrage that the lands where livestock grazing monitoring is most needed – sensitive wildlife habitats, lands designated for high conservation protections such as national monuments and areas of critical environmental concern, and land that fails to meet the agency’s own land health standards due to inappropriate livestock. grazing – are preferably expedited for automatic re-authorization of permits under existing conditions.

Allocations in priority sage-grouse habitats and identified critical habitat for threatened sage-grouse are renewed without review at above average frequencies. This blank check for the continued use of livestock prevents the agency from correcting problematic pasture management, and also blocks the application of new conservation measures or innovative solutions.

Many of us who work on livestock grazing reform on public lands have warned for years that the public’s collective interest in healthy public lands is being harmed by a laissez-faire attitude of captured land management agencies. by industry. The ability of the public to effect change on these lands is limited by the lack of opportunities for public participation that are supposed to accompany license and lease renewals.

Worse, the agency’s ability to implement its own land use plans – including the vaunted modifications to the sage-grouse plan – is blocked until the site-specific process is complete. The Bureau relies on its management plans to provide “adequate regulatory mechanisms” to prevent Endangered Species Act listings, but automatic renewals of grazing permits – locking in old management patterns and preventing the enforcement of new protections – are an indefinite free pass for the livestock industry.

If the Biden administration is to achieve its goals for “America Beautiful” and ensure that 30% of American lands are protected by 2030, it will have to curb the abuse of public lands. Without knowing the state of the land or without seeking to improve its management through a site-specific analysis, the administration cannot count these hectares as protected. Hopefully some of the Bureau’s new hires will be added to the pasture program.

At a time of unprecedented drought, climate disruption, declining biodiversity and growing public interest in outdoor recreational and cultural sites, the agency should take an “all-terrain” approach to having impacts assessed. private livestock grazing at the federal level. managed lands. It’s a 155 million acre question, and the American public is ready for answers.

Greta Anderson is assistant director of the Western Watersheds Project, an environmental conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife throughout the West.

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