Forest Service abandons categorical exclusions, plans environmental assessments
According to confidential reports from insiders involved in the case, the U.S. Forest Service capitulated when it entered into settlement negotiations last week with anti-grazing activists.
Instead of correcting the deficiencies identified by a federal magistrate that would have allowed the agency to uphold its use of categorical exclusions to reauthorize certain livestock grazing, the agency abandoned that notion entirely, agreeing to complete a comprehensive environmental analysis or environmental impact statement for each of the permit decisions involved in this multi-state case, including more than 43 grazing allotments in four national forests in Wyoming, Utah and Idaho.
At a minimum, the deal means the federal agency must complete about a dozen new unscheduled environmental assessments or environmental impact statements – a process that has been known to take years from initiation of public scoping to a final decision.
The deal impacts domestic sheep grazing permits on numerous Bridger-Teton National Forest allotments. Although the Forest Service had issued a categorical exclusion authorizing grazing on all the allotments, apparently the agency has now agreed that the southernmost allotments will be considered separately and on a different time schedule than the northern allotments.
Representatives of the U.S. Forest Service met during the first week of June in settlement negotiations with representatives of Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust and Utah Environmental Congress. Several of these groups are vocal in their bid to rid public lands of domestic livestock grazing.
The deal between the anti-grazers and the Forest Service must now make its way up through the bureaucracy of the federal departments of agriculture and justice and then on to the court for its review. At some point, the interveners will get to have a look at it.
Meanwhile, the federal agency will enter into another confidential negotiation involving how much money the federal government will pay the anti-grazers for their attorneys’ fees.
When questioned about the case, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s office issued the following statement.
“Governor Mead believes the grazing permittees should be involved in grazing permit renewals to the greatest possible extent,” Mead’s office commented. “The Attorney General’s office is waiting to review the draft settlement agreement, and the Governor will then decide how to proceed.”
This article was written by Urbigkit and was reprinted from Pinedale Online!