Please Comment on Bush Administration Proposed Changes to Federal Grazing Regulation Before May 2, 2003

Online Messenger #55

The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to change the regulations for managing livestock grazing on public lands. While it is not clear right now what the BLM will finally propose, the changes will probably be bad for public involvement (it may be seriously restricted) and the environment and wildlife (even less accountability than now for ranchers).

WWP thanks Wayne Hoskisson of the Sierra Club for the draft letter provided below and Martin Taylor of the Center For Biological Diversity for the response comments to particular portions of the grazing regulations provided below.

You can provide your comments via email at the following email address:

Be sure to include the full address for Kathleen Clarke listed below and the Attention: RIN 1004-AD42

Comments are due by Friday, May 2, 2003.

Address them to:
Kathleen Clarke, Director (630)
Bureau of Land Management
c/o Eastern States Land Office
7450 Boston Boulevard
Springfield, VA 22153
Attention: RIN 1004-AD42

In your comments you could discuss one or more of the following points. Please DO NOT COPY THESE COMMENTS AND SEND THEM IN. Choose one or more subjects and rewrite the letter in your own words. For instance if you chose to write about topic 3, streamlining the permit renewal process, you might suggest that the real problem is not an overly difficult renewal process but a failure by the BLM to request funding from Congress and a failure of Congress to fully fund a workable grazing management program. You could ask for an economic analysis which includes a well funded range conservation program in the BLM. Or you might write that the BLM is exaggerating the supposedly problematic nature of the permit renewal process and note that at the following websites is information documenting that the BLM is already exceeding targets of renewing grazing permits while meeting all obligations to complete NEPA on permit renewals. [At is a DOI report in which it is claimed that in 2000 the BLM exceeded its target for renewal of grazing permits. At the 2002 report states that the BLM issued 2,171 grazing permits or leases, which was 37% over the planned target.]

If you know about local problems with public lands grazing, please feel free to include your knowledge and concerns about on the ground issues. If you know of some action the BLM has taken locally which has improved the health of a landscape you could include that as a comment.

You should include something like the last two sentences. Sign your letter with your name and address.

Dear Director Clarke:

The proposed changes to the Bureau of Land Management grazing regulations are exceptionally vague and thus meaningless. The following concepts should be considered during the analysis of grazing regulations.

1. Public access to public lands must be preserved. Grazing permittees do not possess the land they are permitted to graze and should not be allowed to deny access to the owners of the land. We all have an interest in the public lands and no single commercial use should be allowed to usurp the public interest. What purpose could denying public access serve? Does the BLM and the privileged public lands rancher fear allowing Americans to view the places they manage?

2. Permittees should not be given anything resembling a property right to public lands. Any developments or improvements must remain in the public domain. Without this the BLM could be coerced into keeping non-functional grazing allotments in use since the BLM would have to purchase improvements claimed by the permittee. The permittee is always just an individual or corporation allowed by the public to use our land. Our interest should never be diminished. The use of public lands for commercial livestock production is a privilege and not a right. This has been established by both statutory law and case law. This principle should not be violated.

3. The permitting process does not need streamlining. Rather the permitting process needs teeth. The BLM rarely denies the privilege to graze to a permittee. Once the BLM has established clear criteria to decide which lands on which to permit grazing and the conditions under which grazing will be permitted then the BLM will be serving the public need. The permitting process should be kept open to the public. The public has the right to observe and comment on grazing permit renewals. The BLM should be seeking ways to involve the public rather than limiting the public when making determinations which involve public lands.

4. Permit violations need to have consequences. When a commercial grazing permittee fails to meet the minimal standards determined for a particular place the permittee should relinquish the grazing permit. In addition the permittee should be required to follow all applicable environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Failure to comply with the laws should be grounds to terminate a grazing permit or lease.

5. The ecological impacts of grazing should always receive the greatest attention of the BLM. Only with healthy lands can any activity continue to occur without undue degradation to the public lands. Shortsighted policies which may let a public lands permittee achieve short term economic gain at the expense of long term biotic community health should not be tolerated. The NEPA process should be rigorously followed with an emphasis on sound biological and ecological science. Social and economic factors should only influence decisions when the biological and ecological effects can be distinctly shown to be neutral. If the biotic community is unhealthy then the long-term viability of any industry dependent on that community will be jeopardized. The BLM should be looking at the long-term effects of grazing. Where the ecological impacts of commercial livestock production cause deterioration of the public lands then that production is neither ecologically or economically viable in the long term.

6. Extending non-use of a grazing allotment for conservation or recovery purposes should be determined by the accomplishment of range health or conservation goals. While it is commendable to consider changing the non-use period to five years from three years this new time limit makes no more sense than the original time period. Recovery periods could easily range from five years to twenty years. Once an area has recovered the grazing AUMs should be adjusted downward so that the public lands remain in a healthy condition.

7. The concept of reserved common allotments makes no sense particularly in times of drought. All lands suffer from the same lack of moisture and the suppression of normal plant growth during a drought. Lands which are returned to a healthy status should be maintained in that condition and not returned to previous uses which caused the deterioration.

8. There should be no delay between when a grazing allotment starts to deteriorate and when grazing practices are adjusted to correct grazing related problems. A second year of grazing under unfavorable conditions can contribute to loss of plant vigor and the deterioration of forage production. Grazing allotments should be monitored closely and grazing pressure should be adjusted promptly to correct problems before those problems become irreversible. If adequate monitoring cannot be maintained and Congress will not allocate funds for monitoring then the allotment should be retired until such time as Congress provides the resources for proper monitoring and evaluation of all allotments.

Now is not the time to return to disastrous grazing practices of earlier decades. The Bureau of Land Management should be considering some positive steps to improve the health of the public lands and not merely attempt to prop up a failing extractive industry with unsustainable grazing practices. The BLM should consider establishing a permanent permit or lease retirement with adequate compensation to the permittee. The BLM should look at ways to reward ranchers who achieve 100% compliance with the standards and guidelines for rangeland health. Conversely, permittees who fail to achieve compliance should be managed to bring them into compliance. This should be done promptly and quickly. The regulations in Rangeland Reform 94 should be rigorously followed. If those regulations do not result in improved public lands, then the regulations should again be strengthened.

So far the information released by the Bureau of Land Management concerning some proposed new grazing regulations is vague and indeterminate. Is the BLM purposely remaining elusive? As this process progresses, will the BLM become more substantive in its intentions? Will the BLM engage in an equally comprehensive analysis as that conducted by Secretary Babbitt? Will we expect to see an analysis which addresses the health of the public lands? Will there be an analysis of the economics of commercial cattle production on public lands which includes a comprehensive accounting of the costs and expenses of maintaining commercial livestock production on public lands?

Please accept these preliminary comments from me. Please keep me informed about the progress of this rulemaking.

Thank you

Part 2 BLM Proposals and Center for Biological Diversity Response Recommendations


1. BLM PROPOSAL: Clarifying the permit renewal performance review requirements when grazing permits are pledged as security for loans.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: delete 43 CFR 4130.9, which recognizes the use of permits or leases as collateral as if this were legal, when it is not. Add terms and conditions to all newly issued permits and leases that prohibit their use as collateral.

2. BLM PROPOSAL: Clarifying who is qualified for public lands grazing use and who will receive preference for a grazing permit or lease.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: That the fee formula (4130.8) be reformed to remove the flaw by which the fee fails to track changes in market rates to the point it is now 10 times less than average west-wide market rental rate of un-irrigated rangeland, or that fee formula be eliminated and replaced with a competitive bidding process. Grazing permits and leases should be opened to a competitive bidding process in the following manner: a) bids would be for the fee to be paid per AUM of actual forage use for the period of a permit or lease. The reserve price on a permit should be no less than 50% of current average of private market rental rates for the state in which the permitted grazing allotment lies, as published annually by the National Agricultural Statistics Service; b) the highest bid from any bidding and qualified stock owner would establish the fair market value grazing fee for that permit; d) the incumbent permittee would be offered first option to renew the permit paying the highest bid; e) if the permittee declines, the highest bidder would be offered the permit; f) if the highest bidder declines, the bidding process would be reopened until a willing permittee is identified; g) if no qualifying bids are received, the allotment would be cancelled and closed to livestock grazing and designated as unsuitable for that use.

3. BLM PROPOSAL: Clarifying the provisions addressing grazing preference transfers.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: There should be no preference transfer. Issuance of a permit to a new permittee is a new permit issuance, not a transfer. Issuance of all new permits or reissuance of existing permits should be opened to competitive bid as described above in item (2). Permits must be subject to full NEPA disclosure and conformance with all other resource protections laws before any permit is issued.

4. BLM PROPOSAL: Reinstating an earlier provision that BLM and the permit holder may share title to certain range improvements if the improvement was constructed under a Cooperative Range Improvement Agreement.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: No change in existing regulation.

5. BLM PROPOSAL: Clarifying that BLM will follow state law with respect to the acquisition of water rights.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: No change in existing regulation.

6. BLM PROPOSAL: Examining whether BLM should authorize temporarily locked gates on public lands in order to protect private land and improve livestock operations.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: No change in existing regulation.

7. BLM PROPOSAL: Clarifying which non-permit related violations BLM may take into account in penalizing a permittee.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: Strike 43 CFR 4140(a)(2). No other changes in this section.

8. BLM PROPOSAL: Considering ways to streamline the grazing decision appeal process.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: Reform applicable sections to allow broader public access to administrative remedies for grazing decisions. Provide a simpler appeals process to the State Director of the BLM, giving the State Director authority to suspend ongoing grazing and/or stay the proposed action if there is evidence of harm (or probable harm) to resources by ongoing and/or planned grazing in the project record.

9. BLM PROPOSAL: Extending the time period that BLM may approve nonuse of forage from 3 to 5 years for resource improvement, business, or personal needs.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: That planning regulations be modified to allow allotment cancellations by BLM authorized officers (due to surrender of permits or absence of bids or applications) to be considered as automatic revisions to the applicable land or resource management plans. BLM authorized officers should have authority to grant non-use for the entire 10 years of a permit or longer until resource conditions have fully recovered, without the requirement to do land or resource management plan amendments.

10. BLM PROPOSAL: Creating provisions re-emphasizing consideration of social, economic, and cultural impacts, in addition to the ecological impacts, of Federal actions to ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: No change to regulations.

11. BLM PROPOSAL: Requiring a permittee/lessee to apply to renew a permit or lease.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: There should be no automatic renewals of leases or permits, but renewal only upon application or competitive bid by qualified stock owners.

12. BLM PROPOSAL: What criteria BLM will consider before approving increases in permitted use.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: Strike sect 4110.3-1, which codifies conditions for increasing use.

13. BLM PROPOSAL: Considering whether to amend the provision stating when BLM will implement action that changes grazing management after determining that the allotments used by a permittee or lessee are not meeting or significantly progressing toward meeting land health standards.

CBD RECOMMENDATION: Strike any provision to allow ephemeral grazing in sect 4110.2-2, 4160.3, 4180.2 and replace with specific prohibition on ephemeral grazing. If monitoring needed to avoid resource damage cannot be done for lack of funds or staff, allotments should be placed in 100% non-use until such time as monitoring objectives can be met.

14. BLM PROPOSAL: Establishing and administering a new concept called Reserve Common Allotments

CBD RECOMMENDATION: No addition to regulations for this purpose.

15. BLM PROPOSAL: Adding a fee schedule for preference transfers, crossing permits, applications for nonuse, and replacement/supplemental billing under existing service charge authority. We do not intend to address grazing fees in this rulemaking. CBD RECOMMENDATION: Correct the flaw in the grazing fee formula that causes the fee to fail to track changes in market rates, or open permits to competitive bidding as described under item (2) above. No other added fee schedules as proposed would then be necessary, as BLM would be receiving fair market value for grazing privileges, using free market, best business practices.

QUESTIONS: Does not the present grazing fee formula fail to meet FLPMA requirements to obtain fair market value? Did not the secretary already admit that the present grazing fee formula is flawed in the Rangeland Reform 1994 DEIS and supporting record of evidence? If the Secretary's goal is to improve BLM business practices, why is the Secretary not proposing to reform the grazing fee formula already admitted by the Secretary to be flawed in design? If the Secretary's goal is to promote conservation, why is the Secretary not proposing to reform the grazing fee formula to prevent the unsustainable excess demand for public lands forage generated by setting fees artificially below market levels?