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Department of the Interior - Office of the Secretary
For Release: Friday, December 5, 2003

Contacts:
John Wright
(202)208-6416
Tom Gorey
(202)452-5137
 

Interior Secretary Announces Proposed Grazing Rule That Would
Improve Grazing Management, Help Continue Public Lands Ranching

The Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Land Management today released details of a proposed grazing rule that would improve grazing management and help continue public lands ranching in the rural West. The proposed rule, announced by Interior Secretary Gale Norton in a speech in New Mexico, recognizes the economic and social benefits of public lands ranching, as well as its preservation of open space in the rapidly growing West. The BLM will publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register on December 8.

“This proposed rule will help public lands ranchers stay on the land,” Secretary Norton said in remarks to the Joint Stockmen’s Convention in Albuquerque. "It will do that by creating a regulatory framework that lets ranchers succeed based on sound business judgment and sustainable ranching practices.” Norton added, "This proposal recognizes that ranching is crucial not only to the economies of Western rural communities, but also to the history, social fabric, and cultural identity of these communities.”

The BLM also unveiled the proposed rule in Washington, D.C., where BLM Director Kathleen Clarke said the proposed changes “will improve the Agency’s working relationships with its grazing permittees, resulting in better stewardship of lands that are crucial for open space and wildlife habitat in the rapidly growing West.” She called the proposal “a major step forward for effective, efficient public rangeland management,” adding, “The BLM recognizes the economic contributions and social value of ranching. This proposed rule reflects our Agency’s commitment to continue livestock grazing as one of the legitimate uses of the public lands.”

After the proposed rule’s publication in the Federal Register, the public will have more than 60 days to comment on the proposal. The BLM expects to publish a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed grazing rule later this month, which will be followed by a 60-day public comment period. The comment periods for the proposed rule and the Draft EIS will end on the same day.

The proposed rule would, among other things, ensure that BLM managers consider and document the social, cultural, and economic consequences of decisions affecting grazing; allow the BLM and a grazing permittee to share title of permanent range improvements, such as a fence, well, or pipeline; require assessments and monitoring of resource conditions to support BLM evaluations of whether an allotment is meeting rangeland health standards; allow a more realistic timeframe (24 months rather than the current 12 months) for deciding on grazing-related actions needed to achieve rangeland health standards; remove the current three-consecutive-year limit on temporary non-use of a grazing permit by allowing livestock operators to apply for non-use for up to one year at a time (whether for conservation or business purposes); eliminate, in compliance with recent Federal court rulings, existing regulatory provisions that allow the BLM to issue long-term “conservation use” permits; and make clear how the BLM will authorize grazing if a Bureau decision affecting a grazing permit is “stayed” (postponed) pending administrative appeal. (For further details, including how to comment on the proposed rule, see the accompanying Factsheet.)

The BLM, an agency of the U.S. Interior Department, manages 261 million acres of public land, of which about 160 million are authorized for grazing by some 18,000 permit and lease holders. The actual acreage grazed during any one-year period is less than 160 million acres because grazing use is affected by such factors as drought, wildfire, and permittee business decisions.


FACTSHEET
ON THE BLM’S PROPOSED GRAZING RULE

The proposed grazing rule of the Bureau of Land Management, to be published in the Federal Register on December 8, 2003, would revise existing Federal grazing regulations in the following ways under three categories of action.


Improving Working Relationships with Grazing Permittees and Lessees

In this category, the proposed rule would:

  • ensure that BLM managers consider and document the social, cultural, and economic consequences of decisions affecting grazing, consistent with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969.
  • allow the BLM and a grazing permittee to share title of certain permanent range improvements -- such as a fence, well, or pipeline -- if they are constructed under what is known as a Cooperative Range Improvement Agreement (as was allowed prior to 1995).
  • phase in grazing decreases (and increases) of more than 10 percent over a five-year period, consistent with existing law and in full recognition of the BLM’s authority to respond as necessary to drought, fire, and other resource conditions.
  • expand the definition of “grazing preference” to include an amount of forage on public lands attached to a rancher’s private “base” property, which can be land or water. This expanded definition, similar to one that existed from 1978 to 1995, when the “Rangeland Reform” rules took effect, makes clear that grazing preference has a quantitative meaning (forage amounts, measured in Animal Unit Months) as well as a qualitative one (precedence of position in the “line” for grazing privileges).

Assessing and Protecting Rangelands

In this category, the proposed rule would:

  • require assessments and monitoring of resource conditions to support BLM evaluations of whether an allotment is meeting rangeland health standards. Currently, these evaluations may be supported by documented observational assessments rather than by the more in-depth information collection procedures used in monitoring.
  • extend to 24 months, from the current 12 months, the BLM’s self-imposed deadline for initiating an appropriate course of action to make remedial changes in grazing practices that significantly contribute to an allotment’s failure to meet rangeland health standards.
  • remove the current three-consecutive-year limit on temporary non-use of a grazing permit by allowing livestock operators to apply for non-use for up to one year at a time, whether for conservation or business purposes.

Addressing Legal Issues and Enhancing Administrative Efficiency

Under this category, the proposed rule would:

  • eliminate, in compliance with Federal court rulings, existing regulatory provisions that allow the BLM to issue long-term “conservation use” permits.
  • make clear how the BLM will authorize grazing if a Bureau decision affecting a grazing permit is “stayed” (postponed) pending administrative appeal.
  • clarify that if a livestock operator is convicted of violating a Federal, state, or other law, and if the violation occurs while he is engaged in grazing-related activities, the BLM may take action against his grazing permit or lease only if the violation occurred on the BLM-managed allotment where the operator is authorized to graze.
  • improve efficiency in the BLM's management of public lands grazing by reducing the occasions in which the Bureau is mandated to involve the interested public. Under this provision, the BLM could involve the public in such matters as day-to-day grazing administration, but would no longer be required to do so. The BLM would continue to involve the public in all major Bureau planning decisions, such as grazing allotment plans and land-use plans.
  • provide flexibility to the Federal government in decisions relating to livestock water rights by removing the current requirement that the BLM seek sole ownership of these rights where allowed by state law.
  • clarify that a biological assessment of the BLM, prepared in compliance with the Endangered Species Act, is not a decision of the Bureau and therefore is not subject to protests and appeals.
  • and increase certain service fees to reflect more accurately the cost of grazing administration. (The fees apply to the BLM’s issuance of livestock crossing permits, transfer of grazing preferences, and cancellation or replacement of grazing bills.)

The proposed rule would make no changes in rangeland health standards and guidelines that were developed by the BLM’s Resource Advisory Councils under the “Rangeland Reform ’94” rules that took effect in August 1995. The proposal would not establish forage reserves known as “Reserve Common Allotments,” a concept that the BLM had been considering earlier this year, nor would the proposed rule allow grazing operators to temporarily lock gates on public lands (for such purposes as protecting livestock or private property), another idea that had been under the BLM’s consideration.

In addition, the proposed rule would not affect the existing Resource Advisory Council system, in which the BLM receives advice and recommendations from 24 citizen-based Resource Advisory Councils across the West. Also, the proposal would make no changes in the way the Federal grazing fee is calculated, a formula established by Congress in 1978 that continues under a 1986 Presidential Executive Order.

Those interested in submitting comments about the proposed rule will have more than 60 days to do so; the deadline will be the same as that of the related Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which the BLM will publish later this month. Those submitting comments may do so by regular mail, personal or messenger delivery, or by electronic mail. For regular mail, the address is: Director (630), Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Office, 7450 Boston Boulevard, Springfield, Virginia 22153, Attention: RIN 1004-AD42. For personal or messenger delivery, comments should go to the Bureau of Land Management, 1620 L Street, N.W., Suite 401, Washington, D.C. 20036. For electronic mail, the direct Internet response address is: www.blm.gov/nhp/news/regulatory/index.htm or www.blm.gov/grazing. Alternatively, comments may be e-mailed to WOComment@blm.gov.