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Federal Lands

Casper – Babbitt-era language is once again haunting western ranchers who utilize grazing permits on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, but leaders of the state’s agricultural organizations say some simple steps can help.
    According to Wyoming State Grazing Board Grazing Consultant Dick Loper, Congressional language set to expire Sept. 30, 2009 now allows the BLM to extend grazing until the federal government “gets its paperwork done.” In the absence of that language, Loper says grazing permit holders could lose their right to graze while the agency is undergoing its renewal process. BLM grazing permit holders whose leases expire in the next six months should have received a letter from the BLM asking them to fill out an application to renew their permits.
    In a second letter Wyoming’s agricultural organizations are sending affected permit holders, they explain, “Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of Interior in the Clinton Administration 10 years ago, created a BLM Regulation which stated that your grazing permit would not be renewed for a new 10-year period of time if the BLM had not completed the paperwork he determined was required to renew your permits. In 1998, the U.S. Congress, at the request of the Wyoming and national livestock organizations, passed a law that overrode Secretary Babbitt’s Regulation on this issue and since that time ranchers have been able to continue to graze BLM allotments under current terms and conditions while the BLM completes the paperwork to provide you with a renewed term grazing permit.
    “The Federal law which overrode Babbitt’s regulation expires on Sept. 30 of this year, and at this point in time, we can not be assured that it will be renewed by the U.S. Congress in time to keep your BLM grazing permits in active status. Babbitt’s regulation on this subject is still in effect, and the ‘Permit Renewal Application’ process now being implemented by the BLM will be the only way to keep your BLM grazing permits in active status if Congress does not extend this protection,” says Loper.
    A tool offered by the Administrative Procedures Act, the application the letter refers to, does offer some reprieve. Permit holders whose grazing permits expire this year and request renewal of their permit prior to the end of September, are protected from the lapse in grazing rights. Loper says range conservationists across the state should have the necessary paperwork for interested permit holders.
    In closing the letter from the state’s agricultural organizations advises, “The WSGB and the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, and Wyoming Farm Bureau are encouraging you to return the BLM grazing permit Renewal Application to the BLM as soon as possible after you get it from the BLM. We also suggest that you apply for the same terms and conditions now in your ten-year permit because any requests for changes at this time may complicate the renewal of your term permit.”
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Nashville, Tenn. – The Forest Service has approximately 6,000 permits that are filled with 2 million permitted livestock on its lands. Of those livestock, 1.2 million are cattle and 800,000 of them are sheep.  

“We have about 8,000 active grazing allotments and 870 vacant allotments,” said Charlie Richmond, director of rangelands management at USDA Forest Service. “About 60 percent of those are sheep allotments, and 40 percent are cattle allotments.” 

The total area of land the National Forest grazes in a little over 90 million acres.

Drought years

“When looking at the past 10 years, the trend in grazing is pretty stable even with these past few years of drought,” said Richmond.

“In 2013, we had about 2,500 permites that were affected by drought,” commented Richmond. “We spent about $150,000 in drought mitigation drilling new wells primarily on the National Grasslands.”

The Forest Service also offered about 75 alternative allotments to people affected by the drought, and 25 of those allotments were used. 

Pollinators

“Outside of beef consumption, one out of every three bites of food a person consumes depends on pollinators,” explained Richmond. 

Recently, there has been a trend of decreasing numbers of pollinators, such as monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, bumblebees and honeybees. 

The Forest Service has developed some management practices that include seeds of flowering plants in their seed mixtures used on aftermath burn areas and alongside roadsides.

“We traditionally use grass species, but we are tying to put a lot of these flowering species that attract pollinators in our mixes,” said Richmond. 

Richmond mentioned farming practices could leave some native habitat to help the pollinators, as well. 

Crop wild relatives program

A project the Forest Service is working with the Agricultural Research Service and USDA is the crop wild relatives program to collect seeds from native plants on the national forests. 

“Most of the food sources and plant species we use in America for our food come from native plants, and they have been modified over the years to increase production and yields,” explained Richmond. 

“This project is about preserving the genetic integrity of those native plants that exist on the national forest,” said Richmond. 

There are about 400 native plants that reside solely on the national forests – varying from sunflowers to grapes to the Chiltepin peppers.

“We are also working with botanical gardens throughout the U.S. to keep these seeds in their seed storage. In case of some sort of disaster happens in the future, we will have those native seeds,” said Richmond. 

Invasive species

A challenge the Forest Service has dealt with the past few years is controlling invasive species – mainly animal invasive species. 

One example of an invasive animal species they are trying to control is the Zebra mussels, which attach themselves to any firm surface, block water pipelines and clog water intakes for municipal water supplies and hydroelectric companies. 

They can also attach themselves to native mussels and kill them. 

The Forest Service has begun inspecting boats in lakes and washing them off to keep the spread of the mussels down. 

“We are treating about 400,000 acres of invasive species each year,” said Richmond. “We have treated about 1.5 million acres since 1998, but we are still losing ground. We spend a lot of time with invasive species and don’t have nearly enough funding to do that justice.”

Wild horses and burros

“Our priority with the wild horses and burros is to get our National Environmental Police Act (NEPA) documents done on several of our very large wild horse and burro territories,” said Richmond. 

NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. 

To meet these requirements, federal agencies have to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. 

“Just in the last few months, we’ve had a lot of instances where our field personnel have come to us with some sort of proposal wanting to buy out permit use from a permittee and take an allotment out of production,” stated Richmond. 

“We cannot do that, and we won’t do it,” reassured Richmond.

Richmond advised permittee holders, saying, “Producers must make sure in their grazing permits that it talks about the needs of a permittee holder on their allotments, especially for motorized use and recognized use of vehicles.”

Forest Service handbook

An issue the Forest Service is going to face in 2014 is working on their manual and handbook. 

“One thing we discovered was each region of the Forest Service has their own handbook that describes the methodology for analysis and monitoring, and they are all a little different,” said Richmond. 

As a result, a national handbook is in development to establish consistency. The handbook will be published in 2015 and serve as a resource for states to use in developing monitoring guidelines.

“Its really important for the future for all of us to be on the same page with ecological sites,” described Richmond. 

Richmond spoke at the Federal Lands Committee Business meeting at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Convention in Nashville, Tenn. on Feb. 6. 

Madeline Robinson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Washington, D.C. – During the week of April 7, members of the Public Lands Council from across the United States flocked to Washington, D.C. to receive updates from a variety of congressmen and agency heads. 

“In most cases, much of the good work that is done by organizations is done in informal discussions in the hallways or over a cup of coffee,” commented U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Tom Tidwell. “We appreciate the ongoing support for grazing and for our budget from the ranching community.”

Tidwell addressed a number of issues that USFS continues to see throughout the country. 

Restoration efforts

“For the last few years, the agency has focused on restoring our forests, restoring our grasslands and restoring our rangelands,” said Tidwell. “When I talk about restoration, we are hoping to retain and restore resiliency, so these 

landscapes can deal with the stresses they are faced with.”

The probability for drought, increased fire and increased invasive species is an ever-present threat for the lands under the scope of USFS. 

“We are so dependent on our natural resources and fortunate to have those resources, but it is essential that we do everything we can so these lands will continue to provide all the benefits they do,” he continued. “At the same time, they must be resilient to stresses.”

Fire season

Of the stresses placed on forestland, Tidwell remarked that fire has become increasingly problematic.

“By restoring these landscapes and our forests, we can reduce the impact of fire,” he said. “We can reduce the threat to communities and also reduce the severity of fire.”

Tidwell noted that his career with the USFS began on fire crews. 

“From what our scientists tell us, we can expect longer fire seasons,” he said. “The fire seasons we see today are 60 to 70 days longer than those 10 years ago.”

He also noted that there are many examples where restored ecosystems are better able to cope with fire.

“A key part of the rangelands is more native species,” he explained. “Fire promotes invasives, which reduce the forage and water-holding capacity, as well as the ground cover. We have to find a better way, going forward, to reduce the severity of wildfire on the landscape.”

Invasive species

Tidwell also commented that since working with the USFS, he has had experience dealing with invasive species throughout the West, namely cheatgrass.

“We’ve tried everything that ranchers across the West have tried, and we aren’t there yet with cheatgrass control,” he said. “We are close to having biologic control to be able to reduce cheatgrass infestation.”

Research from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), as well as with research scientists across the country, has allowed USDA to begin testing biological control to finally tackle the species.

“We will ask for continued support with the research part of our budget to continue to do the work we need to come up with solutions to deal with these species,” Tidwell said, “and not only the ones that we deal with today, but the ones that we will have to deal with tomorrow.”

Open spaces

Tidwell touted open spaces as the hallmark of the West, and he stated, “Agriculture is the best defense that this country has when it comes to reducing the loss of open spaces.”

Research shows that 6,000 acres per day are lost in the U.S. to some form of development. While not all of those acres are being paved, Tidwell remarked that subdivision is just as detrimental to changing the character of the land.

“I’ve seen a lot of places where a working ranch with healthy watersheds is subdivided into smaller acreages, and it seems like, over time, we lose the benefits of that watershed,” he said. “We not only lose the benefit of beef production, but we lose the benefits for wildlife.”

The open spaces provided by private landowners are essential to continuing to provide for wildlife, and Tidwell noted that agriculture is an essential component of caring for wildlife.

Partnership

“Private land provides more wildlife habitat in this country than all of the public lands combined – and it takes both,” Tidwell explained. “Having the best summer range for elk on a national forest has little benefit if there is no place for elk to winter.”

While he also noted that there can be conflicts with wildlife, the opportunity to build partnerships with agriculture to support wildlife is important.

“We have to find ways to strengthen and expand our partnerships,” he said. “Wildlife interest groups are one entity that can, in many ways, be our strongest supporter for the benefits that we provide.”

Improvements

While the USFS is making great strides in many areas, Tidwell also commented that there is room for improvement in the management of their lands.

“I know we need to do a better job to communicate early and often with permittees,” he said. “The USFS needs to learn how to be more efficient with our time, so we can do a better job and be more effective.”

He further added, efforts need to be pursued to create a more unified approach to monitoring and data collection. 

“It is our best defense, when we get challenged by the folks who take us to court, to have good monitoring in place and good data,” Tidwell said. “We are looking to improve our overall system of monitoring to increase our effectiveness.”

Particularly in the area of data collection, Tidwell noted that there is opportunity for increased partnership between agriculture and the USFS.

With no standard system for monitoring, Tidwell said that inconsistencies have developed through the forests and grasslands across the country.

“We need to clarify our approach and be more consistent, so it is easier for our permittees who are collecting data,” he commented. “We are focusing on doing a better job there.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at saige@wylr.net.


SIDEBAR:
Water interests

A touchy subject – water – was also discussed by U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Tom Tidwell, who commented, “The Forest Service is not interested in taking anyone’s water.”

Additionally, he cited that the USFS is seeking more ways to develop and distribute waters across the landscape.

“We need additional help to move faster and be more nimble in developing water because there is a greater need to be able to increase the level of improvement on the landscape,” he said.

At the same time that the USFS is not in the business of acquiring water rights from landowners, Tidwell mentioned that they believe keeping the land and water together.

“Over the years, we have invested, through state law, to hold water rights and have water claims, so we can keep the water on the land where it is available for livestock and wildlife,” he explained. “We are interested in working to keep the water on the land.”

Separation of water rights from land ownership can result in changes on the landscape and loss of multiple use.

“We want to keep the water with the land, so we can support multiple uses on those lands,” Tidwell emphasized. “We want to work with agriculture and ranches to maintain the water with the land, so we can continue to graze those lands.”

 

 

Cheyenne – The Wyoming Capitol Building hosted the Nov. 20 meeting of the Select Committee on Federal Natural Resources.

Committee members include Senators Eli Bebout, Gerald Geis and Jim Anderson and Representatives Tim Stubson, Stan Blake and Norine Kasperik. The group heard about topics ranging from the Wyoming Basin Rapid Ecosystem Assessment and prairie dog management to Environmental Protection Agency regulations and updates from Governor Mead.

Jerimiah Reiman, policy advisor for Governor Mead, reported that the Governor’s Office has been active in pursuing a number of intiatives to improve private lands.

Forest health

“The Governor announced last week that we would have a task force on Forest Health,” he said. “This isn’t new in terms of concept.”

The idea of a group of citizens and leaders to focus on forest health has reached back a number of years.

“We expect they will meet four to five times throughout the year, with their first meeting on Dec. 18-20 in Cheyenne,” Reiman continued. “The Governor has requested that they consider fire, forest management and market innovation.”

In addition, an overall assessment of the health of Wyoming’s forests is requested, including the threat of the bark beetle. 

“Another topic will be opportunities to expedite improvement on the health of our forests, through things such as grazing, watershed protection, timbering and utilization of our forest waste,” he said. 

Meetings will move throughout the state and involve a wide variety of stakeholders.

Yellowstone winter use

Reiman also marked work on the rule detailing winter use of Yellowstone National Park has been positive.

“Just this last month, Yellowstone National Park finalized its rule for winter use, and it is under a new concept that hasn’t be tried,” Reiman explained.

Under the rule, one snow coach will be equivalent to seven to eight snowmobiles in terms of their impact on wildlife, air and other resources.

“Starting the season of 2014-15, 110 transportation events will be allowed into the park,” he said. 

Each transportation event, explained Reiman, includes the entry of one snow coach or no more than 10 snowmobiles into the park.

The requirement that snowmobiles be guided by a commercial guide is no longer in place. 

Over-snow use will still be entirely guided, but Reiman said, “For the first time in more than 15 years, a private citizen could go into the park as a non-commercial guide.”

To obtain a non-commercial guide permit, citizens would be required to take an educational course.

Logistics of how the procedures to obtain a permit are still being hashed out, but Reiman noted they will be finalized prior to the 2014-15 season.

The committee also discussed the Federal Natural Resources Policy Account (FNRPA) and its abilities to fund projects beyond the current efforts.

“Are there other ways to employ the funds from FNRPA that might make sense?” asked Stubson.

Topics such as lands with wilderness characteristics identified in resource management plans may also fall within the purview of the account. 

“At this point, we haven’t denied any applications,” Reiman noted, adding that other projects may be funded at the discretion of the Governor’s Board. “The question is whether the account could afford to support all of these things.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

On Dec. 4, President Donald Trump made significant reductions to two national monuments in Utah, dropping the designations from over 3 million acres to just over 1 million.

“The President reduced the two large monuments in Utah by about 2 million acres in total,” said Public Lands Council (PLC Executive Director Ethan Lane. “This action took effect immediately, as soon as they signed the documents.”

Specifically the Grand Staircase Escalate Monument will be reduced from 1.9 million acres to approximately 1 million. The Bears Ears Monument will be reduced from 1.35 million to around 0.25 million acres.

“In addition, President Trump is cutting the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument into smaller pieces,” Lane continued. “Rather than a giant circle, they’re going to protect specific areas that need protection and allow multiple use on the ground around those pieces.”

Impact to ag

The impact to agriculture is immediately important, Lane said.

“The most obvious impact to anyone holding a grazing permit inside the monument area is ranchers now have the chance to achieve the full potential of their operations,” he said. “For 25 years, ranchers in the Escalante area have been withering on the vine.”

In the area, the total amount of animal unit months (AUMs) has dropped by 32 percent by the most conservative estimates. Local county estimates have shown decreases of up to 60 percent.

“The monument has been a catastrophic blow to the ranching industry,” Lane commented. “Sixty schools have closed in Utah as a result.”

When the monument was designated, supporters argued that tourism would recapture the impact to agriculture, but Lane explained the seasonal nature of the tourism industry can’t compete with year-round benefits of ag.

“Tourism is a great contribution to the economy, but it’s seasonal for those of us in the West, whereas ag provides a year-round revenue stream,” he emphasized.

In Wyoming

In Wyoming, ranchers are protected from the threat of the Antiquities Act after a 1950 law amended the Act to require congressional content for creation or enlargement of national monuments in Wyoming.

However, Lane said Trump’s action is still influential on the state.

“For Wyoming ranchers, it’s important that the administration is paying attention to the impact of federal policy on ranchers’ ability to operate in the West, whether that’s through a monument designation, Endangered Species Act listing or waters of the U.S. designation,” he explained. “This administration is listening to cattlemen and sheep producers, and they’re taking action to improve on the record of the last few decades.”

“This is encouraging,” he added.

Other responses

Agriculture interest groups responded with similar enthusiasm to the action.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Craig Uden commented, “We are grateful today’s action will allow ranchers to resume their role as responsible stewards of the land and drivers of rural economies. Going forward, it is critical we reform the Antiquities Act to ensure those whose livelihoods and communities depend on the land have a voice in federal land management decisions.”

In the wake of Trump’s action, Western Watersheds Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and others filed a lawsuit on Dec. 7.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released a list of commonly perpetuated myths spread by opponents of the action, along with a summary of his review of designations under the Antiquities Act.

Among the many myths, opponents of Trump’s action have noted no president has ever reduced a monument, the monument review will sell or transfer public lands to the state and removal of the designation will leave Native American artifacts and paleontological objects subject to looking or desecration.

“Monuments have been reduced at least 18 times under presidents on both sides of the aisle,” Zinke said, adding that he opposes the wholesale sale or transfer of public lands, as well. “The Antiquities Act only allows federal land to be reserved as a national monument. Therefore, if any monument is reduced, the land would remain federally owned and would be managed by the appropriate federal land agency.”

Additionally, all artifacts and resources are still protected on public lands.

In addition to a review, Zinke also recommended beginning a process to consider three new national monuments – the Badger II Medicine Area in Montana, Camp Nelson in Kentucky and the Medgar Evers Home in Mississippi.

“America has spoken, and public land belongs to the people,” Zinke said. “As I visited the monuments across this country, I met with Americans on all sides of the issue – from ranchers to conservationists to tribal leaders – and found we agree on wanting to protect our heritage while still allowing public access to public land.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..