Grazing amendments: Forest Service authorizes allotment amendments
On April 18, the U.S. Forest Service Intermountain Region released a supplement to their Grazing Permit Administration Handbook addressing permits with term status.
“Most allotment owners have been restricted to hard ‘on-off’ dates regardless of forage availability. Now, allotment owners will be able to seek better utilization of the forage through ‘shoulder’ season extensions,” said Redge Johnson of the Utah Office of the Governor in an e-mail to permittees. “We have been working with the Forest Service for about a year now requesting extensions where they make sense for full utilization of forage on the range.”
Jim Magagna, executive director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, commented that the document provides more flexibility for livestock owners to extend grazing seasons based on pasture availability.
“It’s too bad that this kind of document is necessary,” Magagna commented.
“In the past, if a livestock owner needed to extend a grazing season one way or the other, as long as there were animal units available, they could tell the Forest Service and go on five days early to stay 10 days late, for example,” he explained. “Now, however, that isn’t the case.”
With overregulation coming out of Washington, D.C. on every front, Magagna said that grazing dates were no longer as flexible.
He said, “Recently, there’s been a reluctance to grant those extensions.”
Section 16.14 of the Grazing Permit Administration Handbook’s Chapter 10 now provides for modification to grazing permits concerning “numbers, seasons of use, kind and class of livestock allowed on the allotment…providing they meet the land management objectives prescribed for lands within the grazing allotment.”
All requests for modifications to permits must be made in writing, as well.
Overall, the recent grazing amendment provides a framework by which individual Forest Service Range Conservationists can decide whether or not to extend a grazing season if a producer requests such an extension.
Within that framework, guidelines and criteria for making the decision are laid out, which allows a timely response to requests for changes of allotment dates. Fourteen requirements are listed in the document, and all criteria must be met to qualify for a modification.
While the change is positive for ranchers, Magagna cautioned, “The allotment still has to meet all the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).”
He further explained that Forest Service employees must assess the status of the permit prior to granting an extension.
“Forest Service range cons may be reluctant to grant extensions if they feel that there will be challenges with the NEPA analysis,” Magagna said, also noting, however, that the locally led effort sets a positive tone.
The amendment only applies to Region Four of the U.S. Forest Service, which includes southwest Wyoming.
The remainder of the state is covered under Region Two of the Forest Service.
Magagna added that he is unsure whether Region Two will take action and implement a similar policy, but he notes that it is possible.
Also, the document noted, “Use of seasonal extensions should be an exception rather than a standard practice.”
“Overall, this amendment provides a good statement of position,” Magagna commented. “We’ll have to see how the amendment is implemented to know if it is truly effective.”
While the change seems positive thus far, Magagna added that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ideally would also adjust their policies to mirror Forest Service actions.
“The problem lies in the fact that ranchers wouldn’t be able to stay on BLM longer if they can’t get to their Forest Service allotment,” he said. “Right now, BLM is saying that we can’t extend grazing without having to go through the whole NEPA process.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.