BLM provides program updates during WSGA convention
Riverton – On June 8, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wyoming State Director Andrew Archuleta gave an agency update during the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show.
In addition to discussing the controversial proposed public lands rule, Archuleta also provided information on BLM’s current programs, including rangeland activities, energy resources, wild horse and burro projects and sage grouse conservation during his presentation.
To begin, Archuleta brought up a few of the BLM’s current rangeland activities including a revision to the agency’s grazing regulations and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“I’m sure many are familiar with the grazing rule revision, and hopefully it isn’t too much of a concern,” he said. “It is a rule we have been working on for years prior to the current administration.”
“Our grazing regulations are pretty old,” Archuleta admitted. “For those who have worked with our field offices, our regulations are pretty rigid, but we are shooting from some more flexibility, which will hopefully update, modernize and streamline the old rule.”
Archuleta further noted BLM is working closely with NRCS to update their conservation MOU in hopes of making their data collection process on land health standards more efficient and accessible.
“The National Operations Center collects all of this data and puts it in a single database, which will hopefully make it more accessible to the public,” he explained. “A lot of our databases are very old and outdated, so we are going through the process of making them better to use.”
Since Wyoming is a huge contributor of energy across the West, there are a lot of programs regarding state resources that go through BLM, Archuleta shared.
First, he explained, as director he recently signed a notice to proceed with the TransWest Express Project – a high-voltage, multi-state transmission line.
“This is one of the biggest transmission lines in the Western U.S., and it may eventually cross many landowners,” he said. “Its purpose is to transmit a lot of renewable energy generated from wind and solar power.”
Additionally, Archuleta noted the month of June brought ground breaking on wind projects throughout the state, all of which have gone through the Rawlins Field Office. They include the 20,000-acre Two Rivers Wind Energy Project, the 80,000-acre Lucky Star Wind Energy Project and the 25,000-acre Maestro Wind Energy Project.
He also shared BLM Wyoming is reviewing five storage pump project permit applications.
“Pump storage projects are regulated through the Federal Agency Regulatory Commission, and the idea is to have one reservoir up high and another one down below. As water dumps from the high one to the low one, wind turbines generate electricity,” he explained.
Archuleta noted there are a few storage pump projects around the U.S., but, if approved, these would be the first in the state of Wyoming.
Oil, gas and coal
Under the energy umbrella, Archuleta also provided an update on oil and gas leasing, permit to drill and coal mining.
“Obviously, BLM Wyoming is big in the oil and gas business. In fact, we are the second oil and gas state,” he stated.
He continued, “We are planning on having second, third and fourth quarter lease sales this year. And, for those who may think this doesn’t matter to them, it does. One-half of all lease sale proceeds go to BLM Wyoming, and about $7.5 million came back to our state office from our last sale.”
Archuleta further noted his office has received multiple concerns about the lack of applications for the permit to drill.
“But, we have about 2,000 applications to drill across the state of Wyoming already, and like a lot of other industries, the oil and gas business is facing hard times when it comes to getting employees and materials. It is not an easy process right now, so hopefully things will improve and we will see more drilling,” he said.
Lastly, according to Archuleta, BLM Wyoming recently approved a 10-year extension on the permit for the coal mine in Kemmerer.
“And, on the other side of the state in the Powder River Basin, we are in the process of doing a supplemental environmental impact statement and a response to a court order and lawsuit related to coal leasing,” he added.
Wild horse and
On the hot button topic of wild horses, Archuleta explained BLM Wyoming manages 16 of the agency’s 177 herd management areas (HMAs), which span a vast 3.5 million acres of land and are home to nearly 8,000-10,000 wild horses.
“On the HMA map the BLM produces, there is a neat red line separating these HMAs, but this line means nothing to a wild horse – they are all over the place,” he stated.
He noted BLM Wyoming recently opened a long-term holding facility in Wheatland, which went fully operational last year.
Additionally, the agency will hold two separate roundups during the 2023-24 calendar year – a bait trap operation for less than 100 horses through the Cody Field Office and a helicopter roundup of 2,500 horses through the Lander Field Office.
On another contentious topic of discussion – the Greater sage grouse – Archuleta explained the BLM’s current round of amendment planning stems from a lawsuit filed on their 2019 amendment.
“So, we are trying to address the judges concerns and the issues brought up with it, as well as incorporating new data because there is always a lot of ongoing research and we have learned some new things about the bird,” he said.
He further explained this round of amendments is focused on activities to connect populations and resize habitat management areas to better incorporate new data.
During a question and answer session following Archuleta’s presentation, a convention attendee voiced concern – shared by several other producers – that some of this new research shows 94 percent of sage grouse nests are lost to predators – ravens in particular.
The producer noted while it is important to do work to recover an endangered species, it is also important to address the real problem.
“I don’t know if we have any good answers for controlling ravens, but I agree with you – we have to do something,” Archuleta responded. “I understand what you are saying, and I have been pushing for greater predator control. When the amendment comes out, I would appreciate producer comment on the matter so we can address the predator problem.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.