Budd notes BLM, FS plan implementation will require site specific data
Cheyenne – Wyoming’s agriculture, energy natural resources and wildlife communities gathered on Jan. 13 at the Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT) meeting to discuss continued challenges in implementing Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (FS) plans that were released in September 2015.
“We’ve been working to parse out the different management directions in the Records of Decision (RODs) from the BLM and FS and determine how that is going to apply to grazing permits and permittees,” said Joe Budd, Wyoming Department of Agriculture senior policy analyst. “We are trying to figure out what the RODs will look like on the ground, but until we have the BLM Instruction Memorandums (IMs) and FS pocket guides, we can’t be certain.”
Areas of concern
For many livestock grazers, one of the largest concerns has been in the vegetation objective tables.
“In the BLM vegetation objective tables, or grazing guidelines in the FS documents, the numbers have been a big concern,” Budd said. “The big take-home here is that these numbers are objectives or desired conditions. They aren’t requirements.”
Budd noted that many people are concerned that they see “seven inch screening cover.”
“Seven inches is considered by the federal agencies to be ideal, but this isn’t going to be applicable everywhere,” he said.
“They aren’t hard and fast rules,” he commented. “Heights can become rules, but there is a process and a number of footnotes on those tables that say we have to adjust for local conditions and realities, so there shouldn’t be any blanket prescription of seven inches.”
On the ground
To determine the local conditions, Budd explained that BLM must have ecological side descriptions (ESDs) range-wide.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Wildlife Biologist Brian Jensen explained that ESDs are a landscape-scale tool that should be used as that.
“ESDs are intended to be a landscape tool on a one-to-24,000 base map unit,” Jensen explained. “When we do planning, and when our federal partners do planning, we need to get to site-scale.”
At the same time, state and transition models (STMs) in place across the state contradict what actually happens on the ground.
“Most of the time ESDs and STMs are going to be what we expect to happen, but that isn’t always the case,” Budd said, noting that a frequently used paper written by Cagney, et. al. from 2010 recognizes that case. “That paper very specifically outlines that there are certain transitions that might be represented by an STM that are never going to happen.”
Dave Pellatz of the Thunder Basin National Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association echoed, “For the ESDs we have in our area, the current states and transitions don’t quite match up with what we see on the ground.”
At the same time, Jensen also noted that the NRCS soil survey hasn’t been completed across the state of Wyoming yet either, but the project is in progress.
“There are parts of Carbon, Hot Springs and Sweetwater counties that still don’t have an initial soil survey complete,” he said. “That is a priority to get done, and it is chugging along at a slow clip.”
Data from the soil survey is also helpful in determining the potential of an area’s production capabilities or limitations.
Budd added, “People have to be cognizant of this when they start, and we have to have ground-truthing of our expectations to adjust for reality.”
In his half-hour presentation, Budd covered what might happen as BLM and FS begins to implement plans, but he also noted that there are a number of possibilities that arise from the level of detail present in the plans.
“There is so much detail in these plans,” he explained. “I covered a large portion of the livestock grazing management direction, but we also have to consider there is direction related to grazing under sensitive species, fire and fuels management, vegetation treatments and guidelines and in other places.”
Budd continued, “So much of this information is tied together that it is hard to summarize what we need to do or how BLM and FS will implement the plans in one statement. This is our best guess right now based on the RODs.”
He also noted that there is significant room for the agencies to make other decisions.
“Managers have to remember they have the ability and the responsibility to adjust locally and deviate when appropriate,” Budd added.
As SGIT looks forward, the next documents to be released by BLM are a set of IMs and FS “pocket guides.”
“As soon as the IMs and pocket guides come out, we will look at those,” Budd said. “We are hoping they are broad enough that Wyoming BLM can give more refined direction to its field offices, and the FS can do similarly.”
However, he further noted that there is no indication of what might be included or how in-depth they will be.
“We have no idea what they are going to look like,” he said. “It is hard to say what we will have to deal with. The IMs could nullify all the work we’ve done up to now, or they could support it. We don’t know.”
The IMs could be out as soon as the end of January, but they may also take a significantly longer amount of time to complete.
“They might come out next week, or it might be March. We have no idea but everyone has to stay patient,” Budd added. “This is a hurry up and wait game. It’s a tough spot to be in, but no matter what happens, we’re going to be involved with implementing these plans well into the future.”
The next meeting of the SGIT will be in March. Watch the Roundup for more information.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.