Grazing authorized temporarily
Right on schedule on April 11, the environmental assessment (EA) and proposed decision record were completed for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to authorize temporary grazing permits “when there is above-average snowpack” affecting livestock grazing.
The EA was required as a foundation for BLM Pinedale Field Office Manager (PFO) Caleb Hiner to issue “temporary nonrenewable” permits (TNR) – and in an unusual partnership, the deed was achieved within a very short time frame so they could be applied for this spring.
Hiner issued his draft decision letter April 11 with a “finding of no significant impact” for the TNRs.
The PFO includes Sublette and part of Lincoln counties.
“Based on the analysis of potential environmental impacts contained in the attached EA and considering the significance criteria in regulations, BLM has determined that neither the proposed action nor the no action alternative would have significant effect on the human environment,” it states. “Therefore, an environmental impact statement is not required.”
Hiner explained the context, saying, “It is important to understand that the analysis is not to authorize new grazing. Rather, it is to analyze a shift in grazing dates in locations where grazing is already authorized. The impacts of the project would be beneficial to vegetation and livestock, and no long-term negative impacts resulting from the implementation of any action would occur. BLM anticipates impacts to be local and not regional or national.”
This gives PFO authority to shift the season of use up to 30 days on the end of a permit.
BLM is not authorizing any changes in number, kind or class of livestock or roads.
The announcement is followed by a 15-day comment period through April 26.
“The feedback has been fairly positive,” Hiner said.
Hiner said Jonathan Ratner of Western Watersheds Project is on the list as an interested party. Any protest must justify the party’s “relative harm” for a stay. Public interest will be weighed but not heavily, according to Hiner.
“In the absence of a protest, this proposed decision shall constitute my final decision without further notice unless otherwise provided for in the proposed decision,” he added.
Permittees must apply for the permits, to be considered case-by-case. They also must show the actual delay and report use at the end of the TNR.
BLM permittees start on the high desert “usually in the first part of May,” with staggered dates for going on and off allotments, and the dates were as good as set in stone.
In early March, BLM’s Kyle Hansen told a Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association (GRVCA) audience that those with BLM permits might not be able to turn out their livestock in the first part of May, due to heavy and deep snowfall last winter that is still melting and flooding in some places. The hard winter will likely lead to late “green-up,” and he wanted ranchers to be aware there might be a delay.
Even harder on those with permits would be a delay in turning out on Forest Service allotments, usually June 15, which many move to when their BLM grazing permits end. Hansen warned ranchers that if the Forest Service spring forage wasn’t high enough to accommodate livestock, they would not be able to leave their cattle or sheep on the BLM past their permitted dates.
“With the weather the way it is, it’s looking like the Bridger-Teton National Forest allotments are not going to be ready for grazing at the normal time,” said County Commissioner and Rancher Joel Bousman. “It’s really unlikely permittees will be able to go on. “The problem is, there’s no flexibility in BLM to allow grazing to go beyond the date on the permit. So, for example, if a permit ends July 1 or July 5, if those cattle aren’t off the BLM, they’re subject to ‘trespass.’”
With different herds mingling on large common grazing allotments away from home pastures, bringing them home or finding temporary pasture would be a costly and time-consuming enterprise. If the livestock are left longer than permits allow, the ranchers could also be fined for trespass on the BLM.
The EA states, “The majority of the allotments in the planning area are considered lower-elevation allotments, and livestock turnout in these allotments typically occurs from May 1 to June 1. After four to six weeks, the livestock on these allotments are moved to higher-elevation pastures. The higher-elevation pastures could be entirely private land, U.S. Forest Service administered allotments or other BLM-administered allotments.” Typically, the season of use for these allotments is two to three months.
Conversations began that day with officials and ranchers mulling next month’s potential roadblock not far down the road.
“The conversations at the GRVCA meetings spurred us into trying to think outside of the box,” said Mike Henn, Sublette County Conservation District (SCCD) manager.
After speaking with Hiner and county commissioners, Henn asked his staff what they thought of developing the EA in a very short time to provide a foundation, with Eco Research Group filling in the socioeconomic portion.
“It was a big group effort,” Henn acknowledged.
Hiner said his PFO staff is extremely busy, but he wanted to accomplish the change as soon as possible, commenting, “I really appreciate the SCCD being able to assist us.”
With a county letter of support in hand, Henn approached the Governor’s Office with a request for Federal Natural Resource Policy Account (FNRPA) state funds to compensate Eco Research Group and SCCD.
“The Governor also supports this effort,” Henn said, adding that funds for this EA fall within the state’s legislative intent for that account to effect smaller changes in federal policies.
Henn estimated the EA’s total cost at just over $25,000, with the county’s match at 20 percent to FNPRA’s 80 percent.
PFO allotments stretch from the Hoback Rim to LaBarge Creek and south to the middle of the Jonah Field and Luman Road, Henn said.
This EA and decision applies only to the PFO and does not affect Forest Service grazing permits.
While this TNR permit process applies only to PFO, Henn suggested other field offices might do the same if needed.
Tackling this EA was a new direction for the SCCD – or for any conservation district, as far as Henn knows, probably setting a statewide precedent.
“Conservation districts don’t generally get involved in EAs,” he said. “It’s the first time the SCCD has ever done something like this, and to my knowledge statewide, to be the lead on this EA. It’s precedent setting – especially with this accelerated time frame.”
Joy Ufford is a reporter for the Pinedale Roundup and Sublette Examiner, as well as a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.