Western Watersheds appeals latest temporary grazing decision in Pinedale Region
An anti-grazing group is again challenging an area temporary grazing permit designed to ease springtime transitions to and from public land allotments when deep snow lingers.
On Sept. 22, Western Watersheds Project’s Jonathan Ratner sent out his second notice protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) temporary nonrenewable grazing permits (TNR) that the Pinedale Field Office (PFO) crafted with an unusual partnership earlier this year.
It was clear by March that above-average snowpack would prevent timely livestock turnouts on specific dates onto and off allotments in Sublette and part of Lincoln counties.
BLM permittees start on the high desert “usually in the first part of May,” with staggered dates for going on and off allotments that are as good as set in stone, according to PFO manager Caleb Hiner.
He and Assistant Field Manager Kyle Hansen worked to draft an environmental assessment (EA) and decision letter with the Sublette County Conservation District, Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association, Sublette County Board of Commissioners and rancher-permittees to alleviate the regional problem.
The coordinated effort attempted to provide a timely, flexible solution that arrived with the PFO’s April 11 EA, a “finding of no significant impact,” or FONSI, and Hiner’s final decision letter.
After Western Watersheds’ first protest of the April 11 decision, Hiner added two points in his next Aug. 10 decision letter as a result. They are that TNR authorizations “would not be the basis for recurrent or renewed annual applications in succeeding years” and that “the checklist of guidelines appended to the final decision will be completed by PFO staff prior to TNR use approval.”
Ratner argues in this recent petition that a BLM regulation exists to make use of “additional forage temporarily available for livestock,” but the EA does not mention it or associated required analyses.
“Since this EA and decision are not about the temporary authorization of grazing use on temporarily available additional forage over and above the authorized number of animal-unit months on the grazing permit but are about extending the season of use into later weeks of spring or summer because of late snow-melt, it does not qualify to be analyzed in the EA as a proposed authorization of TNR permits,” Ratner wrote.
He argues the BLM should analyze them as “a change in season of use and therefore an alteration to each term-grazing permit” specific to and separate for each grazing allotment.
In early March, Hansen had told the GRVCA that those with BLM permits might not be able to turn out their livestock in early May due to heavy and deep snowfall that was still melting and flooding in some places.
He said the hard winter will likely lead to late “green-up,” and he wanted ranchers to be aware there might be a delay for PFO permittees.
Even harder on them would be accompanying delays to next turn livestock out on Forest Service (USFS) allotments, usually June 15, where many go when their BLM grazing permits end. Hansen warned ranchers that if USFS 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.
“The conversations at the GRVCA meetings spurred us into trying to think outside of the box,” said Mike Henn, conservation district manager.
The amended decision’s appeal period ended on Sept. 27. Without an appeal, TNR grazing permits would have taken effect that day.
Hiner declined to comment on the Western Watersheds petition, which will be heard by the BLM Hearings Division in Salt Lake City.
Joy Ufford is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and a reporter for the Sublette Examiner. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.