BLM director highlights perspective on issues during conference
On March 30, the Public Lands Council (PLC) hosted a virtual 2022 Spring Legislative Conference. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Tracy Stone-Manning discussed the agency’s perspective on the role of grazing in landscape management, ongoing work in sage grouse planning and management efforts to improve range conditions associated with a variety of ecological threats.
Broad scope and goals
Stone-Manning started off by sharing, “One of our overarching goals at BLM is to manage for healthy landscapes – being climate resilient and adaptable.”
“The BLM is working really hard to develop a suite of policies and management actions to manage drought, provide flexibility of use, restore ecologic function and conserve important resource values in the face of climate change and extreme drought,” she adds. “You all know this much better than I do because you are literally on the ground facing it every day.”
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture Drought Monitor reveals all BLM Western states, including Alaska, are experiencing the effects of drought, ranging in severity from abnormally-dry to exceptionally-dry,” she mentions. “Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming contain areas experiencing extreme drought conditions.”
“The good news is we have long experienced managing public lands for long-term sustainability during periodic drought, and we’re going to draw on this experience as we plan for a more adaptable approach to be able to respond to this prolonged drought upon us,” Stone-Manning explained. “We have to learn to adapt quickly because I think it’s here to stay for quite some time.”
In order to effectively adapt for drought response, the BLM recognizes the need for flexibility and land use authorizations for management. BLM will work with the ranching community to ensure the health of the lands while still allowing grazing, recreation, energy development and other uses.
“We recognize the actions taken to ensure the long-term sustainability of our public lands has the potential to create hardships for folks who use public lands for their livelihoods and folks who use it for recreational purposes,” she said. “Please know we carry that and understand it in the foreground of our minds.”
She shares with attendees, the BLM understands and recognizes these hardships and are trying to find ways through them.
“We know the failure to act in the face of prolonged, extreme drought is going to create even worse impacts to public lands and greater hardships over the long term for lands themselves and the users of those lands,” she explains. “Drought affects more than just ranching and grazing – we’re working to develop a more comprehensive response to drought, which includes water smart policies and actions across all uses of public lands.”
Proposed grazing rule
As Stone-Manning is briefed on both the grazing rule and sage grouse amendments, she looks to keep the industry informed on next steps.
“We want to enable flexibility to implement changes quickly, create administrative efficiencies, advance restoration in partnership with producers on the ground and ensure we are managing for long-term resilient landscapes,” Stone-Manning explains. “We have work to do to make sure we are going to sustain our yield across time and through the future. The goal is to have our grazing rule deliver this.”
The BLM will set up roundtable discussions with the PLC and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to begin hearing feedback on the concepts BLM is looking to define in the rule before a draft rule is implemented.
“The bipartisan infrastructure law has quite a bit of funding for ecological restoration,” she says. “There’s $1.4 billion coming in ecosystem restoration and resilience. As we know, our natural systems are being tested in ways they never have been before – changing temperatures are affecting water supplies, wildlife habitats and migration patterns, the introduction of new pests, diseases and new invasive diseases and devastation from wildland fire [are a few impacts].”
The hope with the infrastructure law is it will make critical investments in resilience and restoration of public lands, she mentions. This will include funding for stewardship contracts, ecosystem restoration and invasive species projects.
“We’ve done a lot of hard work internally across the department to figure out where some of this funding should go, and we’re going to get funding on the ground this summer,” shares Stone-Manning. “The projects are going to focus on the following priority outcomes: build climate adaptation and resilience onto the landscape; restore or improve connectivity and migration corridors – restoration activities maintaining or improving the conditions of high critical areas; and invest and leverage the money to build partnerships for restoration at scale.”
There are several restoration projects the BLM is looking to be involved with.
Sage grouse amendments
The BLM plays a key role in sage grouse conservation and holds the largest share of remaining sage grouse habitat, roughly 45 percent, she notes.
“The 2015 plans are a solid foundation for avoiding the need to list the Greater sage grouse,” she shares. “The last thing we want is to list the Greater sage grouse, which is why we are working so hard.”
Another round of planning, looking at the six-year gap from when the plans were launched in 2015, will help the BLM be laser focused on ensuring the work avoids the listing of the bird, she explains.
Wild horses and burros
“The good news, as far as inventory numbers, is we are trending down, but the bad news is, not fast enough,” she says. “I was concerned the Fiscal Year 2022 budget Congress passed did not fully fund what we had asked for with our gathers and fertility treatments, so we are scrambling to figure out how to make sure the trend going down, stays going down.”
At the beginning of the year, Stone-Manning announced the largest gather plan to date and hopes to meet this obligation, but the available funding will make it hard to do so, she says.
“As you know, given the incredible drought impacts, it’s all the more concerning for wild horses and burros on the landscape, and we just cannot preside over watching animals suffer and starve to death,” she continues.
The BLM is looking for ways to accomplish their goals regardless of limited funding, which may cause other work done by the BLM to go undone, she notes.
The BLM is hiring a new senior-level employee who will serve as a liaison specific to the ranching community and will be available to answer ranchers’ questions.
Some concerns were voiced during the webinar regarding involvement from the states.
Stone-Manning mentions the BLM is committed to talking to the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), and they are hearing WGA loud and clear about their request for “state specific” plans.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.