| NEWS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE AUG. 9, 2005
Contact: Greta Anderson, Botanist & Range Restoration Coordinator, 520.623.5252 x314
U.S. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT BACKTRACKS ON GRAZING RULES:
BLM WILL REWORK EIS; CONSERVATIONISTS FEAR MORE DISHONESTY
TUCSON – The Center for Biological Diversity expressed skepticism today regarding the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) announcement that it plans to supplement its June 2005 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed national rule changes that seek to “improve the agency’s working relationship with ranchers.” (http://www.blm.gov/nhp/news/releases/pages/2005/pr050809_grazing.htm) The original EIS is full of doctored science and controversial policies that jeopardize the health of 160 million acres of public land and cut the public out of the decision-making process.
“We sincerely hope that the BLM has reconsidered its decision and will produce a supplement to the EIS that dramatically improves the rules and contains sound scientific opinion, wildlife protection measures, and more opportunities for public participation,” said Greta Anderson, botanist and range restoration coordinator with the Center for Biological Diversity. “However, we suspect that the agency is only trying to cover its tracks and avoid legal action on their seriously flawed EIS.”
The changes to the regulations were originally proposed in December 2003 and a final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was issued on June 17, 2005. The new rules were expected to go into effect this summer, but revelations that the BLM suppressed and altered scientific opinions of federal scientists coupled with a lawsuit filed by Western Watersheds Project may have delayed the scheduled implementation. The rules were roundly decried by conservationists as being a giveaway to ranching special interests and failing to protect wildlife and natural resources on public lands. The June EIS rules included provisions that:
- No longer require the BLM to consult with the public on several key issues: designating and adjusting allotment boundaries, renewing/issuing grazing permits and leases, modifying permits or leases, or issuing temporary permits or leases.
- Give the livestock industry title to future structures (fences, wells and pipelines) built at government expense for the benefit of the industry. This means compensation would be required if the lease or permit was revoked.
- Remove the requirement for the BLM to seek ownership of the water rights associated with Federal land, when they become available under state law. The livestock industry is increasingly arguing that they have a right to graze on any land near their water rights, even if they don’t own the land.
- Expand the definition of “grazing preference” linking it to a specific amount of forage, rather than a specific area or “allotment.” This means with any decrease in forage due to drought, weed invasion or generally declining conditions, livestock would be given preference to forage over wildlife, and it opens up the industry to arguing that they can use up all available forage in an area, leaving nothing but dust and bare soil, no matter what the damage.
- Modify the definition of “interested public” in a way that would exclude newcomers to an area from participating in livestock grazing decisions, since they would have had no chance to comment of previous decisions, and burdens the rest of the public by requiring continuing involvement to maintain “interested public” status even if they are only interested in specific decisions.
- Remove public involvement from biological assessments and evaluations done for wildlife, even if they could have contributed new scientific documentation or evidence. This leaves such studies to be written “in house” and reviewed and revised only by government officials who may or may not have wildlife or ecological expertise.
- Call for taking up to two years for proposing management changes, and up to five years to phase in grazing reductions needed to protect wildlife or water quality, rather than requiring a response the following year. This allows for damage to continue up to seven years.
- State that all management must be supported by monitoring data, a change which the environmental community supports. However, after years of budget woes, it is unlikely that the BLM has conducted or will conduct comprehensive monitoring, further limiting the agency’s ability to effectively manage and make timely changes when necessary.
- Leave current livestock numbers and grazing practices in place while areas are being reviewed under regulatory or legal action.
- Allow livestock grazing permit holders who have violated BLM laws and regulation on one allotment to continue to hold other permits, leaving these areas vulnerable to further violations and ecological damage.
“The Final EIS was so bad for public lands, we’re not sure how they could make it worse, so perhaps they are feeling the heat and may back off some of the worst provisions,” said Anderson. “Americans want public lands conserved and will continue to keep a close eye on this process.”
The supplemental EIS is due out this fall, opening a new opportunity for citizens to influence positive changes to benefit wildlife. The Center will closely monitor this process.
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