Thursday, May 29, 2008

ONDA wins grazing injunction
Ruling boots the cows off two forest allotments

A U.S. District Court judge is barring cows from two grazing allotments in the Malheur National Forest (MNF) this summer.

The May 16 injunction ordered by Judge Ancer L. Haggerty is intended to protect fish habitat, but observers say it comes as part of a larger movement to challenge grazing rights on public lands across the West.

"This was a real blow," said Loren Stout, a Dayville rancher who won't be able to turn his cows onto the forest as he had planned on July 15. "They are putting an industry in jeopardy."

Haggerty granted a temporary restraining order and injunction on two MNF allotments, one in the Murderers Creek area and the other on the Lower Middle Fork John Day River. The injunction affects six permittees who had been given permission to run cattle between June and October.

The injunction was sought by the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project, which contend that the grazing practices threaten habitat for steelhead and bull trout, two species of fish that are federally listed for protection. They also contend that the U.S. Forest Service isn't adequately monitoring the conditions of the allotments and any damages caused by grazing.

Their lawsuit names as defendants the U.S. Forest Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and several officials of those agencies.

The local ranchers were not named as defendants, although a group of them have status as intervenors in the case. Stout says they are caught in the middle.

"We're the puppets in this deal," said Stout. "They have used us as an easy target."

David Becker, an ONDA attorney, said the organization's litigation over grazing on the MNF dates back at least five years. The organization has challenged both the grazing practices and the Endangered Species Act assessments used by the Forest Service to support the grazing permits for the period from 2007-2011.

Becker said ONDA is concerned about 21 or 22 allotments overall. However, ONDA singled out the Murderers Creek and Lower Middle Fork allotments in this action because the organization felt there was more damage in those areas, he said.

He said a major goal is to force the Forest Service to "do a better job of managing the grazing so as to limit the harmful effects on the fish," Becker said.

ONDA charges that the Forest Service is not adequately tracking factors such as stubble height, streambank degradation, water temperature fluctuations, turbidity in streams and other factors that affect fish habitat.

Jennifer Harris, MNF public information officer, declined to comment on the specifics of the ongoing litigation. However, she said Forest officials "were disappointed" that the judge saw fit to order the injunction.

She said MNF staff are in contact with the permittees to discuss their needs and see if there are other ways to accommodate them.

"Grazing is an important program on the Forest, and it's important in the local economy," she said. "We have very good permittees."

In its lawsuit, ONDA presented photographs to the court to support claims of damage on the two allotments. Becker said the organization has been photographing streams and riparian areas in the allotments since 2004.

Ron Burnette, a Ritter-area rancher and permittee on the Lower Middle Fork unit, challenged some of that evidence in a sworn declaration presented at the hearing. Some of the photos taken on his permit area were of cattle crossings, he said.

"These are areas where the cattle are required to cross the creek," he said. "The crossings are limited but are necessary to allow for proper distribution of the cattle through the allotments."

Burnette and his wife Jolene run about 290 pairs of cows and calves on two units of the Lower Middle Fork allotment each summer. He said the Forest Service found that they met permit standards in the units last year.

Burnette and Stout both contend that factors other than cattle - such as elk and deer trails, flooding, and forest fires - affect the conditions of the habitat.

Stout said the Murderers Creek area is impacted by overpopulation of both elk and wild horses - a situation he blames on poor management by the state and federal agencies.

The ranchers also noted that last year's drought produced unusual conditions.

However, Becker said drought is no excuse for ignoring impacts of grazing.

"If we have a drought year, the conditions are going to be awfully tough on the fish, anyway," he said. ONDA believes the Forest Service should plan ahead to mitigate the ill effects in periods of drought, he said.

Stout also was critical of the Forest Service, which he said could have averted the grazing crisis. He said the agency should have been doing more active monitoring so they would have better evidence at trial.

Fearing this kind of situation, Stout and other ranchers hired their own consultants to collect data on their allotments in recent years.

"I thought we covered ourselves by hiring a range consultant," he said. "Then the court wouldn't accept her data - but it accepted ONDA's."

Stout said that while last week's ruling will affect just a handful ranchers this summer, continuing legal challenges could force some cattlemen out of business.

"We just sold off our first-calvers today," Stout said. Those are young cows that would usually be moved onto the forest allotment in July. While he is selling off some of his stock, he hopes to be able to move some others onto leased private land.

However, ranchers say that private grazing lands are in short supply.

"There's just nothing out there," Stout said.

Burnette told the court that an injunction could force him to sell his cattle.

"If we have to sell, we will lose our breeding stock," he testified. "We will not be able to generate sufficient income to pay our fixed expenses or to buy new cattle if the injunction is lifted. An injunction will effectively cause us to lose our business."

Stout said the public needs to know about what's going on in this case, as it could have far-reaching consequences. He said the way the Endangered Species Act is interpreted, it won't be just cattle ranchers taking the blame for potentially negative impacts on fish.

"People camping on the bank, fishing, or hunters - That's a 'take,'" he said.

Bill Moore, president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, said he was discouraged by the ruling and especially by the role the monitoring seemed to play in it.

He said inadequate monitoring gives groups like ONDA an opening to challenge grazing on public lands, without needing to prove actual damage.

"On the Malheur, ONDA and other groups are being relentless because they know that the data is incomplete," he said.

The OCA has offered to help find ways to bring about some change on the forest level, he said.

Meanwhile, he said the ruling suggests more rough times ahead for area ranchers.

"It's a bad situation," he said. "ONDA is not concerned about the schools in Grant County, the businesses in Grant County, they're concerned about their agenda."
Judge partially rejects claims over endangered falcon

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A federal judge has rejected part of a challenge by environmental groups to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to designate the northern aplomado falcon as a nonessential, experimental population in New Mexico and Arizona.

U.S. District Judge William Johnson last week denied claims that the agency violated the Endangered Species Act by not responding to a petition from the environmentalists within a set period and did not rely on the best science in designating the population in the two states as experimental.

Johnson, however, agreed with the environmentalists' argument that Fish and Wildlife unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed action on critical habitat for the bird in Texas.

He stressed that his decision meant only that Fish and Wildlife is required to answer the environmental groups' 2002 petition within 30 days. Johnson said Friday he was not requiring the agency to designate critical habitat in Texas.

WildEarth Guardians and several other groups sued the Fish and Wildlife Service and The Peregrine Fund in 2006, the same year Fish and Wildlife designated the falcons as an experimental population in New Mexico and Arizona.

The designation cleared the way for The Peregrine Fund to begin releasing captive-bred falcons in southern New Mexico in a reintroduction effort.

The environmentalists' challenge alleges the experimental designation violated federal policy and stripped the bird of needed protections under the Endangered Species Act. They want the judge to declare the designation illegal and force the agency to respond to their petition not only for critical habitat in Texas, but also in New Mexico and Arizona.

Johnson has not yet ruled on those claims.

Elizabeth Slown, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest Region, said Wednesday that although parts of the challenge remain, “We're pleased with the opinion and we're looking forward to the judge making his final decisions.”

Jay Tutchton, WildEarth Guardians' general counsel, said he was pleased by Johnson's ruling that the agency must respond to the critical habitat request in Texas.

“That's a good thing because most of the falcons that are known are in Texas,” he said.

Tutchton said he wasn't surprised by the rest of the ruling. “The claims we lost are claims we didn't particularly argue or are duplicative. So I am eagerly awaiting the rest of the decision,” he said.

He argued at a May 20 hearing that Fish and Wildlife's decision to designate the population as nonessential stemmed from “political, top-down pressure.”

Attorneys for the federal government and The Peregrine Fund responded that political pressure is part of the National Environmental Policy Act process and that the agency considered all comments before making a decision.

They also said it is allowed to have a preferred alternative – in this case, the nonessential, experimental designation.

Environmentalists have argued that reintroduced animals can be designated as experimental only if they're outside a species' current range. They contend there were more than two dozen falcon sightings in the two years before falcons were released in August 2006, meaning New Mexico had a population.

The government has said sightings of falcons in New Mexico didn't mean there was a breeding population.

The bird, identified by a white stripe above the eye and a brown vest, was listed as endangered in 1986. Fish and Wildlife said then that critical habitat was not prudent because there had not been any active nesting sites in the previous 25 years.

The reintroduction rule says the falcons in New Mexico or Arizona are not considered endangered but continue to have some protections. For example, it's illegal to shoot or harass the birds or to take their eggs.

The species' range once covered much of the Southwest and northern Mexico. Experts have said its numbers dwindled due to pesticides, human activities and habitat change.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Climate report adds more gloom
Review out today offers clearer picture of how warming will affect scenery familiar to Utahns

A landscape plagued with dust storms and drought, rangeland that won't support cattle, streams too hot for trout, forests felled by beetles and fire - it's all part of the scenario painted in a new report on climate change by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The projections are not exactly new.
Many of them have been reported by scientists and the media in the past five years.
But they do offer a clearer picture of how the impacts of global climate change are not limited to Arctic ice and tropical islands and that climate change will have profound impacts on the mountains, streams and range familiar to Utahns and others in the West.
"The trends are in place," said Fee Busby, a rangeland ecologist at Utah State University who has seen parts of the USDA's draft report. "The trends are going to continue."
Attempts late last week to reach the USDA's Washington office were unsuccessful. But, in advisories about the report, the agency points out that its conclusions will be used to help set priorities for "research, observation and decision support needs."
Part of a broader federal review of climate change, the 200-plus-page report focuses on the next 25 to 50 years. It had 38 authors, was reviewed by 14 scientists and uses more than 1,000 references, the agency said.
"The report has more than 80 findings on the effects of climate change in the United States," a pre-release advisory said.
Busby noted that this report follows up on a similar review done more than five years ago. In many respects, it confirms and clarifies those earlier findings, he said.
"And those [projected impacts] are going to have major impacts on the forests and rangeland and everybody who uses them," Busby said.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has signed Utah onto the Western Climate Initiative, a multi-state effort to assess and tackle the problem on a regional basis. In addition, he convened a yearlong task force of industry, environmentalists and government agencies that have roles in dealing with climate change.
Randy Parker, executive director of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, served on the task force. And, although he remains skeptical that humans are behind climate change, he agrees that Utah's agriculture community is faced with dealing with the changes they see around them.
His organization has visited the USDA in Washington to push for planting drought-tolerant species in vulnerable rangeland.
Meanwhile, farmers are coping with delayed planting schedules and unusually dry soils, he said
"There are ecosystem impacts on whatever is happening to our climate," Parker said.
Earlier this month, the USDA's national task force on air quality met in Salt Lake City and discussed climate change, among other subjects. Some panel members said it was important that farmers play a role in shaping legislation on controlling the greenhouse gasses blamed for global warming.
It will be one way for farmers, ranchers and foresters to get credit for the positive impacts their industry has in dealing with climate change, some said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release its final report, "The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources and Biodiversity," today. The agency's projections say:
* Arid lands can expect increased erosion, lost species, more drought, severe rainstorms, erosion and probably an expansion of deserts.
* Rangelands so damaged that there will be major economic losses to the livestock industry, thanks to heat waves and invasive plant species.
* Forests ravaged by insect infestations and wildfire that will contribute to climate change rather than helping to solve it.
* Streams too hot and too low to support historic fish populations and diminished in their ability to provide clean water.
The report will be posted online this morning at

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bush's polar bear legal disaster

As expected, the U. S. Department of the Interior added the polar bear to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act last week. Even with the Bush administration's attempt to render the ruling toothless, this action will almost surely go down in history as the turning point in the global-warming debate.

The department concluded that the past and projected melting of sea ice in the Arctic poses an immediate threat to the polar bear's habitat. It pointed to greenhouse-gas-induced climate change as a primary cause for the recession of the sea ice, and emphasized that oil and gas development in the Arctic isn't the reason the polar bear is threatened.

Make no mistake, within a year or two, we can expect the polar bear to begin influencing everyday U. S. economic life.

The polar bear's listing wasn't intended as a back door for environmental groups to bring lawsuits against greenhouse-gas emitters, according to the ruling.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said listing the polar bear as threatened can reduce avoidable losses of the animal. Yet, he said, it doesn't mean the law should be used "to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles, power plants and other sources. That would be a wholly inappropriate use of the Endangered Species Act. ESA is not the right tool to set U. S. climate policy."

Georgetown University law professor Lisa Heinzerling summarized the Bush administration's actions aptly: "The Department of the Interior has, in short, worked very hard to make sure that its listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act does not trigger the usual protections that act provides."

Such an action is logically and ethically indefensible. For the administration to determine that the polar bear is threatened, it had to conclude that global warming will melt the ice that polar bears need to survive. Having reached that conclusion, the Endangered Species Act requires them to take action to slow global warming. They can't decide not to do their job and enforce the law.

One can imagine that there is some not-so-clever polar bear skeptic in the White House who thought this was a brilliant manoeuvre. The fact is, if they believed that inaction was the right policy, then they should have refused to list the bear as threatened. It's ludicrous to try to have it both ways. Historians will doubtless use this cynical decision as a canonical example of what was wrong with this administration.

In the near term then, the polar bears aren't going to be saved by this government. But don't fret. If George Bush won't save the polar bear, Perry Mason will.

Environmental groups are already preparing legal challenges. Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity told USA Today last week that the Endangered Species Act requires agencies now to address greenhouse gases, and warned that "we can and will go to court to enforce the law."

When Siegel and her colleagues take that action, they will win. The U. S. government has no chance of having a court uphold its twisted logic. That is especially true because environmentalists will be able to bring lawsuits in jurisdictions of judges who are predisposed to interpret the Endangered Species Act sympathetically.

Make no mistake, within a year or two, we can expect the polar bear to begin influencing everyday U. S. economic life. Oil exploration in the Arctic will be affected, though that's not the half of it.

Lawyer and columnist Hugh Hewitt described what that new world will look like: "Environmental activists will argue that all emissions of greenhouse gases that flow as a consequence of the grant of a federal permit of any sort are now subject to review under the ESA and, crucially, that those permits cannot be issued unless and until the United States Fish & Wildlife Service reviews and approves of the requested permit."

The fact is, just about everything requires some kind of permit, so just about anything that emits greenhouse gases could be subject to a challenge. The process will rapidly spread the reach of this ruling throughout the energy industry and U. S. manufacturing.

An activist armed with a lawyer can now halt anything he wants. He might even be able to stop you from driving to work or taking a hot shower.

--- - Kevin A. Hassett is a senior fellow and director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Conservancy district sues NM Game and Fish over rodents

The New Mexico Game and Fish Department and the State Game Commission is being sued by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District over the agency's proposed recovery plan for the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and the Arizona montane vole.

The conservancy district said Wednesday it is seeking a court order to keep the Game Commission from taking action on the plan during its meeting next week so that residents of the Middle Rio Grande Valley can have an opportunity to weigh in on the plan.

The district, in a lawsuit filed last week in state district court in Socorro, claims the plan could have a "devastating impact" on agriculture in the valley and that Game and Fish failed to get input from the residents.

Chuck DuMars, an attorney for the district, claims the plan would result in the diversion of water from agriculture to help rodents and that beaver dams would be encouraged to restore riparian habitats. However, the district usually removes beaver dams to keep its drainages operating properly.

"We're saying that before they adopt such a plan that could include diversions of water from farming and grazing operations, which are directly tied to the MRGCD's function, that we should be given proper notice and be allowed input. That didn't happen," DuMars said.

He also said Game and Fish had published legal notices about upcoming public meetings concerning the proposed plan. The problem, he said, was that the notices referred to the mouse being found in the Jemez, Sangre de Cristo, Sacramento and potentially the San Juan mountains, but not the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

DuMars said it was after the public meetings were held and the draft plan was released that the valley was mentioned.

Dan Williams, a spokesman for Game and Fish, said the agency was reviewing the lawsuit and that it had been forwarded to the state attorney general's office, which represents the Game Commission. He said he could not comment further on the pending litigation.

Both the meadow jumping mouse and the vole are classified as endangered by the Game and Fish Department. The mouse is also a candidate for possible federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Game and Fish has said that recent surveys show the number of New Mexican meadow jumping mice has dropped by at least two-thirds—and possibly as much as 90 percent—throughout the state.

Surveys also show the Arizona montane vole is found only in a very small region of Catron County and in east-central Arizona.

According to the draft recovery plan, habitat alteration due to grazing, water diversion and other recreational activities are the chief threats to both species.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

BLM mulls grazing, drilling limits

Energy producers in the Powder River Basin got an unwelcome surprise this week when they found out that new drilling restrictions — possibly affecting about 1 million acres — likely will be going into effect to help protect sage grouse.

Some grazing allotments might also be impacted, according to the Buffalo field office of the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that administers the federal government’s subsurface resources in the Powder River Basin.

Paul Beels, associate field manager for the BLM, said Tuesday that the agency has decided a new management plan designed to deal with sage grouse issues is necessary to prevent the grouse from being added to the federal Endangered Species Act.

“We have been studying this now for several years and have come to the conclusion that the 1995 Resource Management Plan that we are using might not be enough to keep them from being listed,” he said.

The new restrictions will take the form of an “interim management plan,” and could include limiting oil and gas permits, limiting right-of-way grants and changing grazing leases to protect high-quality grouse habitat, Beels said.

They will be in effect for the two to three years it will take to develop and complete a new sage grouse amendment to the BLM’s management plan, “so as not to compromise the alternatives” that the plan might adopt.

He said that the boundaries of the interim management plan have not yet been determined, but are concentrated in the southwestern portion of the Basin. The proposed boundary is not contiguous, he said, and may include scattered areas outside the main boundary.

The BLM has heavily used the research from a University of Montana wildlife biology professor, Dave Naugle, whose work has suggested that up to 60 percent of active sage grouse breeding grounds, or leks, are being abandoned in areas of oil and gas development. Naugle’s work suggests that the grouse often disappear completely after abandoning their leks.

John Kennedy with the Gillette-based Kennedy Oil company said he had just heard about the plans Tuesday.

“Even though I have most of my developments up in the northeast ares near Sheridan and there are very few grouse up there doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “They could study it for a few years to decide if I have grouse and shut me down anyhow.”

Kennedy said that in the face of natural gas shortages in the country, it doesn’t make sense to him to make it harder to produce energy.

“The whole thing is over-regulation and over-reaction,” he said.

A stakeholders meeting will be at 10:30 a.m. May 28 at the Bozeman Trail Conference Center at 655 E Hart St. in Buffalo, where the public can comment on the proposed management plan.
NM judge to consider legality of endangered falcon decision

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—A decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate the northern aplomado falcon as a nonessential, experimental population in two Western states stemmed from "political, top-down pressure," a lawyer for an environmental group argued Tuesday in federal court. WildEarth Guardians, along with a handful of other groups, is suing the Fish and Wildlife Service and The Peregrine Fund, saying the designation violated federal policy and stripped the bird of needed protections under the Endangered Species Act. The environmentalists are asking U.S. District Judge William Johnson to declare the designation illegal and make the agency reconsider the bird's status in New Mexico and Arizona. They also want Johnson to force the agency to respond to a petition seeking critical habitat in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. The falcon was listed as endangered in 1986. It's range once covered much of the Southwest and northern Mexico but experts have said its numbers dwindled due to pesticides, human activities and habitat change. The Fish and Wildlife Service designated the falcons as an experimental population in New Mexico and Arizona in 2006, clearing the way for The Peregrine Fund to begin releasing captive-bred falcons in the Chihuahuan grasslands of southern New Mexico as part of a reintroduction effort. Under the reintroduction rule, any birds in New Mexico or Arizona are not considered endangered but they continue to have some protections. For example, it's still illegal to shoot or harass the birds or to take their eggs. Environmentalists contend that reintroduced animals can be designated as experimental only if they are outside the species' current range. They argue that there had been more than two dozen falcon sightings in the two years leading up to the first release, meaning there was a population in New Mexico. Jay Tutchton, WildEarth Guardians' general counsel, said Tuesday the Fish and Wildlife Service should have excluded the wild falcons in southern New Mexico when creating the special designation. "Our quarrel is where they didn't draw the line. Their decision was arbitrary," Tutchton told Johnson. "We believe it was political and there was top-down pressure." Tutchton pointed to several e-mails and letters between agency employees that raised concerns about whether the agency could legally designate the population as experimental since wild falcons had been spotted in the region. He said other documents indicated that regional Fish and Wildlife officials had decided on the designation before collecting public comment and reviewing the potential impacts of the designation as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The New Mexico Game and Fish Department, the Bureau of Land Management and other independent researchers who reviewed the designation proposal also voiced concerns about the legality of the designation and what it would mean for the wild falcons in the region, he said. Attorneys representing the federal government and The Peregrine Fund argued that political pressure is part of the NEPA process and that the agency considered all of the comments before making a decision. The attorneys also said that under the law, the agency is allowed to have a preferred alternative—in this case, the nonessential, experimental designation for birds in New Mexico and Arizona. Both sides also argued over the falcon's range and whether there has to be a certain number of breeding pairs in the area to classify the birds as a population. Defense attorneys said sightings of falcons in New Mexico didn't mean there was a breeding population. "The Fish and Wildlife Service appropriately came to the conclusion that there was not a population. It was not arbitrary and it certainly wasn't capricious," Frank Bond, an attorney for The Peregrine Fund, said of the agency's decision. Johnson repeatedly asked both parties why they were on opposite sides of the table considering that they both want to see the falcon succeed. Tutchton answered that critical habitat is necessary for the bird's success and the agency has failed to address the issue. He said The Peregrine Fund has released 1,250 falcons in Texas over the years and only 115 have survived, leading him to believe that there's a problem with the bird's habitat. "You can grow birds, release them and have a 90 percent death rate," he said. "But unless we circle back around to this habitat problem, we are never going to get off this treadmill of releasing these birds and letting them die." Bond argued that the natural attrition rate for the birds of prey is high due to predators and other factors and that there is a lack of understanding about what makes the most desirable habitat for the birds. He added that designating the birds as an experimental population ensures that other agencies, states and private landowners are more willing to participate in the reintroduction and that the birds can choose which habitat works best for them. Johnson said he plans to make a decision in the case in the next two weeks. If he decides that the agency must reconsider the experimental designation, Bond said that could bring the reintroduction program to a halt. The Peregrine Fund plans to release more captive-bred falcons in New Mexico this summer. The reintroduction effort kicked into gear in August 2006 with a release of 11 falcons on media mogul Ted Turner's Armendaris Ranch east of Truth or Consequences. That release went on to produce at least one nesting pair the next year and some wild-born chicks. In all, The Peregrine Fund has released 50 birds in New Mexico.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Divide the range?

Star-Tribune environment reporter

LANDER -- Not far southeast of here is a vestige of the old American West -- one of the largest unfenced ranges in the United States.

It's a place where 16 stockgrowers, mostly cattle ranchers, graze their animals -- and where thousands of local and nonlocal hunters, fishermen, hikers, backcountry horse riders and wildlife enthusiasts explore annually, but rarely run into one another, except by design.

It's also a place where tens of thousands of people visit every year, from all over the world, to experience a few of the last remaining unspoiled sections of the Oregon, Mormon and California trails.

But the health of the Green Mountain Common Allotment's rangeland is failing, and has been for years, officials say. The federal Bureau of Land Management is proposing to carve the allotment up into six smaller ones, and install nearly 100 miles, and about $1 million worth, of barbed-wire and electrical fences.

A 400-plus page draft of the proposed action, called an environmental assessment, was published last month by the BLM's Lander office, and the public has until June 27 to comment on the proposal and its alternatives.

Following the comment period, the BLM's Lander field manager, Bob Ross, will decide on a final management plan. Or perhaps he'll kick off a more involved environmental impact statement, which, under federal rules, requires a broader and more painstaking analysis of all of the potential impacts of an action.

At least one conservation organization, the Western Watersheds Project, plans to sue the BLM if the agency fails to do this more involved kind of study.

The Green Mountain Common Allotment is over 522,000 acres of open range, 60 miles by 20 miles. If every man, woman and child in Wyoming gathered there, each would have more than an acre of his own to stand upon.

Sections of the allotment have taken a beating from seven-plus years of drought, and more than a century of often harmful livestock grazing. Even though the BLM developed and finalized a management plan less than a decade ago, it has been forced to scrap it, and start over.

Long a source of controversy, this famously unfenced section of federally managed land might, out of necessity, be fenced into smaller sections very soon, in order to help restore critical wildlife habitat and riparian areas, officials with the Lander BLM said recently.

But Jon Marvel, a representative of the Western Watersheds Project, said to break the allotment up into six sections would be a huge blow to Western and American heritage, as well as an enormous cost to taxpayers -- and it all would be done for the sole benefit of a few cattle ranchers.

Fremont County Commissioner Doug Thompson, however, said the proposed action could actually restrict cattle ranchers on the allotment too much, and make it difficult for them to make a living there.
'Everything you do has trade-offs'

Star-Tribune environment reporter

LANDER -- The Green Mountain Common Allotment is one of the largest unfenced ranges in the nation, and the Bureau of Land Management has been struggling for more than a decade to come up with a plan to manage the half-million-acre spread.

The most recent plan, completed in 1999, almost immediately proved to be ineffective -- once the drought began in 2000 and never let up, according to Bruce Collins, regional spokesman for the BLM.

In 2002, the agency conducted an assessment of the health of the rangeland on the allotment and found that several federal standards were not being met, particularly requirements for riparian areas -- the lush, green ribbons of vegetation that run alongside streams and waterways.

Many of these riparian areas are ailing, and have been for years, BLM officials say. In an attempt to rejuvenate them, the agency is proposing to divide the allotment up into six smaller ones, and install nearly 100 miles, and about $1 million worth, of barbed-wire and electrical fences.

A 400-plus page draft of the proposed action and its alternatives was published last month by the BLM's Lander office, and the public has until June 27 to comment on it.

Robert Ross, field manager for the BLM's Lander office, said although the agency has chosen one plan as its "proposed action," at this point all of the alternatives, in his mind -- including the "conservation alternative," which could reduce permitted livestock grazing by up to 75 percent -- are equally valid. The final plan will most likely cherry-pick from all four of the alternatives.

Will new analysis suffice?

In 2005, the BLM renewed two grazing permits, even though the health of the rangeland was failing.

A coalition of four conservation groups -- the Western Watersheds Project, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Federation and the Wyoming Outdoor Council -- sued the agency. They argued that because the land was not meeting federal standards for health, the BLM couldn't renew permits without first completing a federally required environmental study.

As part of a settlement, the BLM agreed to complete a new environmental analysis by the end of 2007, and issue a wholly new management plan by 2008, in order to ensure the land would meet rangeland health standards in the future.

The agency was a few months late on its deadline for this current draft, but is now on pace to make a new decision for the allotment in the coming months.

While officials with the BLM believe the new plan will help rehabilitate the damaged areas, conservationists want to see the agency do a more in-depth environmental analysis this time around, before drawing up another plan that fails to adequately protect wildlife and riparian zones.

Controlling cattle

Along with its value for ranchers, the Green Mountain Common Allotment is a recreation area that is home to historic, unspoiled sections of the Oregon Trail, and is a place where hikers, hunters and backcountry horse riders explore some of the largest portions of open wilderness left in the American West.

The allotment -- 86 percent federal lands, with some state and private parcels -- also provides critical habitat for great herds of antelope, mule deer and elk, and is home to three iconic herds of wild horses, some of which are descended from Spanish mustangs, Ross said.

"One of the benefits of having very little fencing out there is that it allows horses in the three main groups to interbreed and maintain genetic diversity," he said.

The proposed fencing would probably keep the three groups separate from one another, and do away with future genetic interchange, Ross said. It also would limit the horses' movement between summer and winter forage.

"Any time you talk about putting up fences, it's going to be a cause of concern for the horses," said Rubel Vigil, BLM assistant field manager at the Lander office.

The primary benefit of the new fencing, said John Likins, a rangeland management specialist with the BLM, is that it would allow for better and easier control of cattle on the range, which is essential, because uncontrolled cattle have done serious damage to riparian areas on the allotment over the past century.

"Controlling the cattle has been an issue over the years," Likins said.

Fencing would allow cattle grazers to reduce costs, and allow the BLM to meet its management goals, he said.

Of the available forage in the allotment, 81 percent is permitted for livestock, 13 percent for big game species and 6 percent for wild horses.

Bad for grouse?

The BLM's proposed action also calls for the installation of water pipelines and the development of several wells throughout the rangeland. A total of $527,000 already has been spent on range improvement projects including construction of wells, water pipelines, storage tanks and cattle guards.

"The water development allows you to redistribute the grazing, attract the animals to different places and change the grazing patters," Likins said.

While changing grazing patterns could help the riparian areas and help some fields to regrow, a down side is that it could also lead to conflicts with sage grouse habitat, Ross said.

The allotment is home to numerous sage grouse leks, the bird's breeding grounds, which could be disturbed by new grazing patterns.

"Everything you do out there has trade-offs," Likins said.

Ross said the public feedback helps the agency determine which actions to take and which to abandon.

"The public comment period is very important to us to make those kinds of assessments," he said.

Highest value?

Jon Marvel, with the Western Watersheds Project, said the current environmental assessment is inadequate when one considers the scope of the action, and the complexity of this half-million-acre piece of historic range.

Marvel said the appropriate thing for the BLM to do would be to up the ante, in terms of its level of analysis.

"First, the BLM really needs to do an environmental impact statement because of the scope of the area, because it's so many hundreds of thousands of acres," he said. "If it did, it would have to do a more thorough economic analysis, which they've given only cursory attention to in this assessment. Some of these alternatives require massive miles of fencing, plus pipelines and stock tanks, all for the sole benefit of ranchers."

One of the ongoing failures of the BLM throughout the West, Marvel argues, is its continuing lack of accountability for the cost of its projects.

"The (environmental assessment) doesn't even address what has been spent to date on that giant area in order to pretend that keeping ranching out there is economically feasible -- which, of course, it is not," Marvel said. "It's a super-dry landscape, and it has much higher value as wildlife habitat, especially for sage grouse."

As one of the biggest unfenced ranges left, it also represents a historical asset, he said.

"To just turn it into another series of pastures for cattle and sheep is to undermine the heritage of all Americans," Marvel argued. "This is a legacy landscape, and it's in the public interest not to do anything out there until it's fully examined, and the cost is made apparent so that everybody can understand why the BLM is choosing to throw money down essentially a black hole."

Restrictive for ranchers?

Fremont County Commissioner Doug Thompson said he doesn't think the proposed action is all that rancher-friendly.

And it at least has the potential to be too restrictive for stockgrowers, he said, depending on how the management plan is ultimately written and implemented.

"The one thing I've noticed is they're only allowing the permittees to utilize, at times, something like 40 percent of their permits, and there are a lot of terms and conditions coming in that are fairly restrictive," Thompson said. "It doesn't seem to reflect a good scenario for grazing, or for our county's economy."

His biggest concern, Thompson said, is that the plan will be inflexible and favor some uses over others.

A positive component of the proposed plan is the water development, he said, although it should have been done five or six years ago.

As for the proposed fencing, Thompson said it would probably be an improved way to manage cattle in the allotment.

"You break that up into six pieces, and those six pieces are still going to be huge areas," he said. "It would help mange the cattle better, and you can put in wildlife-friendly fences that don't harm anything. If you develop good water and put in some well-planned fencing out there that is wildlife-friendly, I think it'll look a lot better."

Environment reporter Chris Merrill can be reached at or at (307) 267-6722.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

BLM Announces Revisions to Handbook Designed to Make Environmental Reviews More Efficient

The Bureau of Land Management today announced new guidance designed to make its environmental reviews more effective and efficient.

The BLM published in the Federal Register a notice announcing the availability of the revised version of its handbook guiding implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NEPA Handbook provides instructions, procedures, and examples for complying with the Council on Environmental Quality’s regulations and the Department of the Interior’s Departmental Manual guidance for implementing NEPA.

The objectives of the NEPA Handbook are to establish systematic practices for integrating NEPA into the planning and decisionmaking processes used by the BLM, and to promote efficiency in the preparation and documentation of NEPA compliance. The NEPA Handbook is intended for use by BLM managers, field staff, and other personnel for oversight and compliance with NEPA within their program areas.

The NEPA Handbook was last revised in 1988. The current version is the result of nearly two years of work by a diverse team of BLM specialists who drafted the revised NEPA Handbook based on changes in Departmental Manual guidance regarding implementation of NEPA for public land management.

Revisions to the 1988 NEPA Handbook were designed to support decisionmaking by BLM staff, as well as to avoid redundant or unnecessary documentation. Key changes in the new version include guidance on cumulative effects analysis; definition of issues requiring analysis; clarification of the meaning of “significant” effects; and discussion of public involvement requirements for environmental assessments and other proceedings.

In today’s notice, the BLM invites the public to share comments on the NEPA Handbook, though a formal comment period on the document was not opened.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 mandates that every Federal agency prepare a detailed statement of the effects of “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” The NEPA process is intended to help public officials make decisions that are based on an understanding of environmental consequences, and take actions that protect, restore, and enhance the environment.

In August 2007, the BLM published a set of revisions to the Department of the Interior’s Departmental Manual, which guides the BLM’s implementation of NEPA. The revisions to the Departmental Manual have also been incorporated into the NEPA handbook.

Go here to view the manual.
Sheep ranchers back non-lethal wolf management

Local predator experts claim a federally driven program that aims to separate wolves and sheep on portions of the Sawtooth National Forest northwest of Ketchum could become a model for other wolf-occupied ranching areas throughout the West. The program, proposed by the Idaho branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, anticipates working with three local sheep ranchers who graze bands of sheep on federal grazing allotments in the Smoky and Boulder mountains. The program could begin as early as this summer. Rick Williamson, wolf management specialist for Wildlife Services in Idaho, said details still need to be ironed out with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Measures that would be implemented include herding sheep into electrified night pens at dusk, hazing wolves that venture too close to sheep bands and using radio-activated guard boxes, which blare loud sounds to deter wolves from preying on livestock. The program would involve ranchers John Faulkner of Gooding, Carey-based Lava Lake Land & Livestock and John Peavey of Carey, each of whom hold extensive grazing rights on the forest's Ketchum Ranger District. Williamson said the three ranching outfits have each thrown their support behind the innovative, non-lethal program. "They're wanting to see it happen," he said. And in a move that could boost the fledgling program, the Blaine County Commission voted Tuesday to authorize $1,500 in county funds for the potentially groundbreaking project. The commissioners based their vote on the guarantee that the funds won't be used for one of Wildlife Services' primary activities—providing lethal control of predators that prey on sheep, cattle and other livestock. Voting yes were County Commissioners Sarah Michael and Larry Schoen. Commissioner Tom Bowman, who abstained from the vote, said he would prefer to gauge local opinion on the matter before dedicating county funds to the program. Simply killing wolves that prey on livestock won't solve the problem, Schoen said. "The answer to the wolf management issue must come from the community itself," he said. For more than a decade, Blaine County commissioners have voted against funding Wildlife Services activities in the county. Unlike many Idaho counties, local commissioners have done so because they disagreed with the agency's policy of killing predators. They decided to break with the precedent of recent years after being told they could have the county funds dedicated solely for non-lethal measures taken to keep livestock and predators separate. Wildlife Services is the primary agency responsible for managing wildlife and agricultural conflicts throughout the United States. Its agents are sometimes called in to kill wolves, as well as coyotes, bobcats, black bears and other predators in Western states like Idaho. Last summer, the newly discovered Phantom Hill wolf pack was implicated in the deaths of as many as 12 sheep in the Oregon Gulch and Baker Creek area in the eastern Smoky Mountains. Rather than rely on lethal control to remove the offending wolves, federal and state wildlife officials chose to pursue non-lethal measures to keep the pack and sheep separate. When the sheep left their summer ranges as autumn turned to winter, the Phantom Hill wolves were still alive and well. Whether the pack is allowed to survive this summer will depend on a number of factors, not the least of which is the success of the new non-lethal measures implemented as part of the Wildlife Services program. Most sheep grazed on federal lands in the upper Wood River Valley are let out onto the range in early June. Though it's believed by many that other wolves do live in the valley, Williamson said the primary emphasis of the program will be on the Phantom Hill wolves. As part of the proposed local program, Wildlife Services has invited researchers from the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colo., to come to the Wood River Valley this summer to study the success of the proactive techniques. He said the program will use three paid staffers as well as volunteers and will track the success of each proactive measure implemented. "We want data," he said. "We want to be able to document all our work." In comments similar to those expressed by Schoen, Williamson said Wildlife Services must not rely just on killing wolves to solve the problem. "If we haven't tried everything, then we haven't done what we need to do," he said. Williamson said Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation organization that works with ranchers dealing with predator issues, has also agreed to help fund the local proactive measures.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


I trust and hope that you will all read this explanation of the Owyhee Public Lands Management Act before ending the story with a labeling of buyouts in Wilderness. Unfortunately, one element of the bill has been selected for discussion, instead of the various elements which will increase private property in the County (quite a contrast to the old “no net loss”, we actually have a “net gain”, which will provide ranchers an opportunity without breaking their wallets to have an objective range expert review of adverse BLM grazing decisions, and which will provide the County ranchers with an opportunity to protect their pipelilnes, their fences, their cows, and their forage from thousands of off road vehicles which flood the county every week-end (to a doubling of the county population) and even week-days. Recently, a motorcycle event occurred as ranchers were trying to move cattle from one pasture ot another, creating real havoc, and bicycle and motorcycle events have actually interfered with separating cows and calves. Without the resources from this bill, there is no answer in a 5 milliion acre county which has 12 deputies.

So, perhaps some will read the whole bill, and not just the buy out section (which by the way ends no grazing operation, but is used as a realignment of allotments to make a more viable operation in view of the tremendous threats from Jon Marvel and the Western Watersheds outfit which will soon be unleashing its enlarged law firm on all 11 western states.

Fred Kelly grant


From: Fred Kelly Grant []
Sent: Saturday, May 10, 2008 10:44 AM
To: ''
Subject: Owyhee Bill
Importance: High

It really is all right to label the Owyhee bill as buyout in wilderness. But, that is only one piece of a bill that is precedent setting for protecting the ranching industry in an entire county.

Eight years ago, when all our ranchers were threatened with a never ending threat of being put out of business by the dishonorable Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who has never seen an anti-grazing complaint that he won’t grant relief on, we had to come up with a way to try to get outside his unity with Jon Marvel and the Western Waterhshed Council (who he has ruled with on every anti-grazing case filed in the last 10 years; the cases are always against the BLM for failing to do some duty, and the ranchers suffer).

So, with the Owyhee Cattleman’s Association, the County Commissioners set up the idea of an Owyhee Initiative. We had just come within the stroke a Clinton pen of having a national monument declared to cover over 2 million acres, one half literally of our county. The object would have been to preserve canyonlands, but mainly to stop all grazing in the entire area. Full page ads had been taken out in the major east coast newspapers urging people to call the president to sign the proclamation for the Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument. This had been their goal for over a decade. The only reason Clinton didn’t sign was that Babbitt urged him not to. Babbitt had promised Sen. Craig that there would be no more monument or enlargement of monument in Idaho without public hearings. While Babbitt urged against signing, Hilary and the White House environmental Council urged signing.

In the end Clinton on his last day signed the Missouri Breaks but did not sign the Owyhee.

I sat down and tried to work out a plan for getting conservation groups to join with the county, the tribes and the ranchers to avert a monument and to get some protection for ranchers against a BLM that had gone completely south in fear of being sued by Marvel and WWC. I talked first with the Lowrys, a long time ranching family and one I knew would need support of if the plan was to work. The Lowrys are the family that along with Paul lNettleton fought the fight to get instream water rights declared in their name, not the government’s. At tremendous money cost to both of them, the fight was won and the Idaho Supreme Court determined that the federal government has no claim to an instream water right on federal land unless they actually own and water cattle.

I then went to Commissioner Hal Tolmie and he bought off on the idea, so I developed the project: (1) a level of wilderness that would be acceptable to both ranchers, county and conservation groups; (2) a science review of BLM decisions with a panel of range experts picked from a panel set up byl a Board of Directors of the Owyhee Initiative—said review to go into the administrative record with the harmful BLM decision, (3) a science review center to conduct research on species that are listed so as to create danger to continued grazing, so that we could get some “real” as opposed to “guesswork” research to assist our efforts to limit the species concerns to real concerns, (4) a travel management plan to try to bring into control the awful, widespread destruction of forage, fences, pipelines and all other attributes of grazing by off road vehicles flooding into the county from the 500,000 population of the Boise Valley, just 26 miles away from Owyhee County, and money enough to fund deputies under the County sheriff to enforce the travel management, (5) funding for a cultural resource protection plan for the Shoshone Paiute Tribes who are neighbors to the Count and who are great supporters of the ranchers (having joined with the county to support ranchers whose permits are threatened by Marvel’s anti-grazing efforts supported by his cronies who still sit in the BLM at the field level even after 8 years of this Administration), with funding for rangers who will be cross deputized by our sheriff after going to the state certification police school, to increase the number of people to enforce laws through our 5million plus acres., (6) a water rights agreement that sets a wild and scenic river adjudication at minimum rate at the time of passage, so that there can never be a water rights case that challenges ranchers rights, (7) a wild and scenic designation that removes from the designation all stretches of river at which cattle cross or drink in order to avoid the specter of the Oregon wild and river scenic cases, (8) a specific declaration that there is no reserved water right in the Wilderness designated to prevent against any swift or unswift change in the law by the Idaho or US Supreme Court, (9) protection of access which makes this wilderness of 500,000 acres (instead of 2 million) the most accessible wilderness in US, (10) release of nearly 400,000 acres of wilderness study area back into multiple use, with a segment of the law which says that the areas are actually removed from the wilderness study section of the law, so that they can never again be studied, (11) a requirement that the Owyhee Initiative Agreement will be coordinated with the County, (12) those ranchers who wanted to participate in the development of the wilderness put forward proposals for exchanges of land and sale of land and aums so that they could realign their allotments to make them more manageable (this was an opportunity to trade some very troublesome riparian areas of private property for federal grazing land at an equal value exchange rate, and was an opportunity for some to simply sell rights of ways and suspended use aums which they never would get back in this state with Marvel and Winmill manning the anti-grazing attack. AUMS WERE NOT SOLD TO GO OUT OF BUSINESS. NO ONE IS GOING OUT OF BUSINESS. THEY ARE SELLING AND EXCHANGING IN ORDER TO MAKE THEIR ALLOTMENTS MORE VIABLE WITH MARVEL RUNNING THE SHOW THROUGH WINMILL.

The Owyhee Cattleman’s Association at the very beginning agreed to support wilderness at a bare 250,000 acre level which was the Owyhee Canyonlands---an area which is not conducive to grazing because of the deep, steep canyons. They also agreed to support any additional wilderness that ranchers would voluntarily participate in in order to better their allotment and to make their operations viable in light of Marvel’s attacks. 18 ranching operations decided to participate in this program because of specific threats from Marvel and because of monetary constraints and regulatory constraints on their operations. For example, under BLM restrictions, closely guarded by Marvel, the Lowrys have one pasture in which they get to graze for 15 days. It is a pasture that would be impossible to get the cattle out of because of encroaching juniper if they were ismply turned in, so the Lowrys must graze them just inside the pasture boundary---therefore it gets overgrazed year after year. But the BLM will not expand the time allowed. So, they wanted to use the Initaitaive possibilities to get rid of that pasture and acquire more manageable ground.

The Work Group which I was appointed to chair, included representatives of the Owyhee Cattleman’s Association, the Borderlands Trust (a corporation established by ranchers for purposes of seeking grass banks and other means of relief from atrocious BLM restrictions), the Soil Conservation Districts of Owyhee County, The Owyhee Farm Bureau, Owyhee County Commissioners, the Wilderness Society, the Idaho Conservation League, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, Idaho Rivers United, the Shoshone Paiute Tribes, the Southwestern Idaho Desert Racing Association, the Outfitters and Guides, the Rocky Mountain Sheep Foundation, The Idaho Back Country Horsemen----with the Air Force and Idaho Lands Department serving as liason, non-voting members.

The bill contains many precedent setting elements which will give the Owyhee County ranchers a chance to hold on against the ever increasing pressure from Western Waterhsheds. As a matter of fact, most other states will soon be feeling the attack if they haven’t already. The law firm that represents Watersheds is beefing up its numbers of attorneys with the mission of taking all cows all off federal or public lands throughout the 11 western states. And, they’re being funded by attorneyls fees which Winmill and other federal judges award them in their attacks on the processes of the BLM and Forest Service.

So, when you read about “buy-outs” read the rest of the story as Paul Harvey would say, and you will see the elements of protection that the ranchers are getting in a precedent setting bill----which features in particular one of the largest releases of wilderness study areas (“hard” release because they are removed from wilderness study potential under the act) in comparison with acres of wilderness in the history of public land management.

Fred Kelly grant, chairman of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Below is the pertinent sections of the two bills which were reported out of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources.

Note: The Committee may have amended this language. Will check the final language when it becomes available.

S. 2379

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Voluntary and Equitable Grazing Conflict Resolution Act


(a) Existing Grazing Leases-

(1) WAIVER- The Secretary--

(A) shall, subject to the availability of funds, offer to provide compensation to a lessee in exchange for the waiver by a lessee of a grazing lease; and

(B) if the lessee accepts the offer in accordance with this section, shall, not later than 30 days after the date on which the lessee accepts the offer, simultaneously--

(i) provide to the lessee the compensation specified in paragraph (2);

(ii) terminate the grazing lease waived; and

(iii) permanently retire the associated grazing allotment or portion of the grazing allotment from livestock grazing use.

(2) AMOUNT OF COMPENSATION- Compensation for the waiver of a grazing lease under paragraph (1) shall be equal to $300 per authorized animal unit month.

(3) PARTIAL ALLOTMENT RETIREMENTS- If a lessee offers to waive only the Monument portion of a grazing lease for a grazing allotment that is partially in the Monument, the Secretary shall, at full Federal expense, construct and maintain a fence to exclude livestock from the portion of the grazing allotment that is within the boundaries of the Monument.

(4) JOINT LEASE- If a grazing allotment is jointly leased to more than one lessee--

(A) the Secretary shall not accept waiver of a joint grazing lease unless all lessees subject to the grazing lease exercise the option to waive the grazing lease under paragraph (1); or

(B) if the option is not exercised by all the lessees under paragraph (1), the Secretary shall--

(i) in communication, consultation, and cooperation with any lessees that do not exercise the option under paragraph (1), construct and maintain a fence at Federal expense for the purpose of keeping livestock within a reduced area of the grazing allotment that is commercially and seasonally proportional with the remaining authorized animal unit months in the grazing allotment, including private land used as exchange of use on the date of enactment of this Act; and

(ii) accept the waived portion of the joint lease from any joint lessees that have exercised the option under paragraph (1).

(5) LIMITATIONS- The Secretary--

(A) with respect to the Agate, Emigrant Creek, and Siskiyou allotments in and near the Monument as of the date of enactment of this Act--

(i) shall not issue grazing leases; and

(ii) shall permanently retire the allotments from livestock grazing use; and

(B) shall not establish any new allotments that include--

(i) any Federal land within a grazing allotment or an allotment described in subparagraph (A); or

(ii) any Monument land (whether leased or not leased for grazing on the date of enactment of this Act).

(6) DEADLINE- To waive a grazing lease in accordance with this section, a lessee shall exercise the right to waive the grazing lease by not later than the date that is 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act.

(7) EFFECT OF WAIVER- A lessee who receives compensation for voluntarily waiving a grazing lease under this section shall be considered to have waived any claim to all range developments on the associated grazing allotments.


(A) IN GENERAL- Nothing in this section prevents a lessee from donating to the Secretary, at any time, a grazing lease without Federal compensation, in accordance with this section.

(B) ACCEPTANCE BY- If a lessee donates a grazing lease to the Secretary, the Secretary shall accept the donation in accordance with clauses (ii) and (iii) of paragraph (1)(B).

(b) Additional Allocations- Beginning on the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall not authorize any allotments for livestock grazing on Monument land that are not in existence on the date of enactment of this Act.


(c) Administration of Wilderness-


(A) ADMINISTRATION- Except as provided in section 4 and Presidential Proclamation Number 7318, dated June 13, 2000 (65 Fed. Reg. 37247), any grazing of livestock and the maintenance of range development in the Wilderness established before the date of enactment of this Act shall be permitted to continue in accordance with--

(i) section 4(d)(4) of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(d)(4)); and

(ii) the guidelines set forth in Appendix A of the report of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs of the House of Representatives accompanying H.R. 2570 of the 101st Congress (H. Rept. 101-405).

(B) RETIREMENT OF CERTAIN PERMITS- On the retirement of any grazing lease applicable to any portion of the Wilderness, grazing of domestic livestock in the applicable portion of the Wilderness shall be prohibited.


S. 2833

Owyhee Public Land Management Act of 2008



(A) IN GENERAL- In the wilderness areas designated by this Act, the grazing of livestock in areas in which grazing is established as of the date of enactment of this Act shall be allowed to continue, subject to such reasonable regulations, policies, and practices as the Secretary considers necessary, consistent with section 4(d)(4) of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(d)(4)) and the guidelines described in Appendix A of House Report 101-405.

(B) INVENTORY- Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall conduct an inventory of existing facilities and improvements associated with grazing activities in the wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers designated by this Act.

(C) FENCING- The Secretary may construct and maintain fencing around wilderness areas designated by this Act as the Secretary determines to be appropriate to protect wilderness values.


(i) ACCEPTANCE BY SECRETARY- The Secretary shall accept the donation of any valid existing permits or leases authorizing grazing on public land within the wilderness areas designated by this Act.

(ii) TERMINATION- The Secretary shall terminate any grazing permit or lease acquired under clause (i) to ensure a permanent end to grazing on the land covered by the permit or lease.


(I) IN GENERAL- If a person holding a valid grazing permit or lease donates less than the full amount of grazing use authorized under the permit or lease, the Secretary shall--

(aa) reduce the authorized grazing level to reflect the donation; and

(bb) modify the permit or lease to reflect the revised level of use.

(II) AUTHORIZED LEVEL- To ensure that there is a permanent reduction in the level of grazing on the land covered by a permit or lease donated under subclause (I), the Secretary shall not allow grazing use to exceed the authorized level established under that subclause.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Senate committee approves buyout of cattle ranchers
Siskiyou monument - Ranchers would be paid to keep their cattle off 24,000 acres

WASHINGTON -- A Senate committee Wednesday unanimously approved a delicate agreement that would close 24,000 acres in Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to grazing while paying ranchers to keep their cattle off the land.

The action by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee moves closer to reality a novel proposal that has been years in the making. The bill, which was sponsored by Oregon Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden, would provide federal protection to the property. In return, ranchers would be paid for releasing their grazing rights by a fund established by environmental and private groups.

"At a crossroad that required balance and long-term vision, ranchers and environmentalists came together and found a way to make this land work for all," Smith said in a statement. "This fair, common-sense solution will keep the issue out of court, keep ranchers in the saddle and protect our precious natural resources."

But not everyone was happy with the plan.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said he would introduce legislation in the next week to add federal payments to ranchers who give up their grazing rights. The original agreement called for federal money, but it was removed during Senate consideration.

Walden called it a "bait and switch" that shortchanges ranchers who are walking away from a valuable asset.

"In Washington, D.C., I've learned that you better get it in writing," Walden said in a statement less than an hour after the deal was approved in the Senate. "I've found out the hard way that if you don't have a guarantee in writing, it likely won't happen. By including a guarantee for full compensation, we will ensure that the wilderness and the buyouts reach the finish line at the same time.

"I don't want a pivotal party to this agreement to fall prey to a bait and switch. I want a square deal," Walden said.

Rancher Bob Miller, who helped negotiate the settlement on behalf of himself and four others, said he was pleased with the Smith-Wyden bill even though it offered far less money than ranchers originally sought.

"We feel Smith and Wyden are doing all they can politically to make it happen," Miller said Wednesday.

Miller said the Senate bill cut the payout to ranchers by roughly 60 percent from the amount they originally sought.

The federal payment was deleted at the insistence of committee chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who worried about setting a precedent if federal money was used.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., also objected, arguing that using federal money to buy grazing rights could lead to a wholesale buyback that would seal federal lands from grazing.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument consists of 53,000 acres southeast of Ashland. The monument proclamation made by President Clinton in 2000 created an uncertain future for grazing within its boundaries and the ranchers who depend on the land for their livelihood.

Charles Pope: 202-383-7819,

Sunday, May 4, 2008

BLM: Plan will protect prairie chicken, lizard habitat in NM

Two rare species found in southeastern New Mexico's oil and gas country will have added protections under a conservation plan approved by the Bureau of Land Management.

About 465 square miles of habitat for the lesser prairie chicken and the sand dune lizard will be protected, and the agency has expanded restrictions on drilling activity during the prairie chicken's mating season in an effort to boost the bird's numbers.

For Linda Rundell, state director for the BLM in New Mexico, the additional protections for the prairie chicken have been a long time coming. As a biologist more than 25 years ago, she spent time surveying the prairie chickens and their habitat.

"That was a long time ago and it has taken all of this time for the realization that we've got to get serious about doing what we can to improve the habitat of these birds or they're going to be in more jeopardy than they are," she said.

The conservation plan, approved Friday, was developed during two years of discussion and negotiation among the agency, state biologists, conservationists, ranchers and the oil and gas industry.

The goal, Rundell said, is to help both the prairie chicken and the sand dune lizard stabilize their populations—and hopefully increase their numbers—so they won't have to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Conservation groups say recent evidence shows the lesser prairie chicken has suffered serious declines in parts of its range in New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Scientists have pointed to habitat loss and fragmentation, population isolation, drought and changes in land usage.

Rundell characterized New Mexico's efforts to help the prairie chicken as "an absolute big, big deal" given that much of the habitat in other states is on private land and has been turned into cropland.

The sand dune lizard, found only in New Mexico and a small portion of West Texas, is on the endangered species candidate list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been given funding this year for research to determine whether the lizard should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The process usually takes about a year.

Under the BLM's plan, an area of critical environmental concern has been set aside for the prairie chicken. The agency said no oil and gas leasing will be allowed in this area.

Areas of occupied habitat for the prairie chicken and the lizard also will be off limits to new oil and gas activity, said Tony Herrell, BLM's deputy director for minerals in New Mexico.

In areas of existing operation, Herrell said drilling activity is restricted during the prairie chicken's mating season—March through June—and noise is limited so the birds can hear each other's calls.

Still, environmentalists contend that the two species warrant even greater protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians said all new oil and gas leasing and drilling as well as grazing and herbicide treatments within the species' habitats would have to be stopped to ensure "effective conservation."

As for the oil and gas industry, producers aren't "doing cartwheels" over the new plan but they believe it's a fair way to keep the species from getting to the point where they would have to be listed as threatened or endangered, said Bob Gallagher, president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

"I thought that was a balanced approach to address the concerns of environmentalists and also be sure that ongoing very important oil and gas operations can continue under some different set of rules," he said.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Marauding elk more than a nuisance, ranchers say

GRANTS, N. M. (KRQE) Hundreds of elk are being shot and killed in the Zuni Mountains not by hunters but by ranchers.

One of those ranchers is Brad Lethem whose place is northwest of Grants. He's armed with a rifle, the only weapon he said he has left in his fight against the 330 elk invading his land.

The state introduced elk here in the 1970s long after his family bought the land, and the elk have steadily multiplied over the years.

"We got bout 90 head of elk on us this morning," he said. "We are fixing to take care of this problem one more time."

On this day he shoots one elk, but over the past few months he said he's shot dozens upon dozens.

"I don't like doing it," Lethem told KRQE News 13. "I was brought up with way better morals in life."

Lethem isn't alone.

"It breaks my heart to do it; it really does," Larry Smith said.

Smith is in the same situation. The ranchers said this isn't the way they want to solve this problem, but they believe they have no other option.

Ranching is their livelihood, and they are losing too much money.

"We have what those elk want," "We got feed and water, and that is why we've got them."

"I could not grow a crop," Smith said. "It would get up 4 or 5 inches, 6 inches, and the elk would come in and in one night and demolish my whole field."

Smith and Lethem said the food they're raising needs to go to their cattle. If it's gone their cows can't survive, and they can't make money.

This is the other big problem.

"This is what I do every dang day, fix the fence, and it's getting real old," Lethem said.

Lethem said he spends thousands of dollars fixing fence the elk rip down. If he doesn't, his cattle get out, and if he loses them he loses still more money.

"It's tough enough in this ranching business without these elk," he said.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish department said it's been trying to work with Lethem for three years.

"At this point he's rejected everything that we've offered him," Ross Morgan of Game and Fish said. "We've offered anywhere from wildlife-friendly fencing, 50-50 cost-share projects to water guzzlers to things like that."

And they've offered to let hunters on the property so the killed animals don't rot and go to waste. However Lethem said that's too much of a liability.

"We make our living off cattle," he said. "We don't make our living off hunting elk."

The ranchers also believe the problem lies with Game and Fish.

"Absolutely," Smith said. "They mismanage their herds."

It appears *his fight will wage on and there are many similar battles across the state. Recently a rancher in Cimarron shot 39 antelope because they were eating his crop."

State law does allow ranchers to kill an animal to protect their property although that's not the way Game and Fish want it handled.

"We do try to work and do everything possible to get those elk off that property," Morgan said.

But ranchers said it's not enough.

"It's just a battle, and we are tired of it," Lethem said. "We're just tired of it."

Ranchers are required to call Game and Fish within 24 hours of killing an animal so officers can try to salvage it for food. But game officers said that is not always possible, and the meat often must left in the forest for scavengers.
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