Grazing Permits and You: How PLC Can Help
By Neils Hansen
At Public Lands Council (PLC), everything we do is related to federal lands ranching in the West: Current issues, future issues and even things seeming like far-flung possibilities, which are not so clearly defined. This is especially true when it comes to application of the bevy of laws which affect the producers’ ability to do business.
Sometimes this means showing Congress how legislation addressing an eastern problem can have far-reaching effects on the people in the West, and other times it means reviewing the regulations and guidance documents which guide the administration of grazing permits. While we work on a variety of policy issues, we always keep in mind the basic foundation of a federal lands grazing operations: Ranchers’ ability to renew grazing permits.
Renewal of grazing permits is arguably one of the most important things public lands ranchers do with the federal agencies. It is at the core of access to their allotments and is just as important as management of private ground. Just like ranchers’ private ground, the permit renewal process is driven by the producer. Ranchers are in the best position to help themselves, and no one is a better advocate for their land and operations than they are.
There are a lot of steps to renewing a grazing permit. It is critical to be aware of how many years are left on the permit, key deadlines for documents and where the agency is in completing the required assessments, which must be done as part of every renewal.
Anyone who knows me knows the value I put on having a good open line of communication with range professionals. Communicating with the range professional early and often will ensure all steps are completed on time, since the agencies recommend starting the renewal process nearly six months before the end date on the current permit.
The renewal process can vary from permit to permit and depends in large part about the changes producers, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or Forest Service want to make. It is true that fewer changes make a permit easier to renew, but renewal windows offer the opportunity to look into the future and determine if the current dates and head counts adequately reflect what producers need now, and what they might need in the years ahead.
Are there kids coming back to the ranch who may be running some of their own stock? Have ranchers reached the point where they are thinking about making changes so they don’t need to fight winter conditions? Now is the time to be planning ahead so producers can make sure their permit meets their needs.
Sometimes permit changes are smaller and are designed to make grazing more flexible to meet the conditions of the allotment. When looking at what flexibility one would like to have in the permit, the best thing they can do to speed approval of the changes is to develop a grazing plan showing the reason for the added flexibility and how they would use it.
Ranchers should provide range professional all of the information they will need to do the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis on the new grazing plan. Ranchers are the ones who are most familiar with the allotment, have done the monitoring to document range conditions, and would be the one to implement the management changes. Their voice is a critical part of the process.
Monitoring is a key part of this equation. PLC has a cooperative monitoring agreement with the Forest Service and with BLM. We are big proponents of recording trends through time. Photos, written records and monitoring data help make year-to-year adjustments in an operation. They are also a safety measure and can be an effective line of defense in the case of an adverse decision or challenge to a permit by an outside entity. The key in monitoring is to be consistent, clear and know what is actually being recorded.
The most successful operations are the ones that are able to optimize their cattle, sheep and land resources for current needs and for situations down the road. On May 4,PLC will be hosting a webinar on monitoring, permit renewals and how ranchers can take proactive steps to have a successful relationship with their range professionals. PLC often works on broad federal policy, but daily details of on-the-ground situations are what make – or break – a federal program. Registration is now open on the PLC website at publiclandscouncil.org under the “News & Events” tab.
We hope many join us in the first week of May, but remember there are people in your state you can turn to for help. If you run into problems with permit renewals or agency procedure, check with your various state livestock groups, the Wyoming Department of Ag and PLC affiliates and board members. In some cases, state universities can help with monitoring or the science on the issue you are dealing with.
Remember, you are your own best advocate, but you don’t have to do it alone.
Niels Hansen is a third generation rancher from Rawlins and currently serves as president of the Public Lands Council. He has served as chairman of the Wyoming State Grazing Board and president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.