Thursday, August 21, 2008

Grazing talks bog down

Officials with the Sheyenne Valley Grazing Association say talks with the U.S. Forest Service have stalled as the two sides try to negotiate a new grazing agreement.

A district ranger for the federal agency says he thinks progress is being made on a new 10-year agreement to replace one that expired in 2003.

“We’ve done a lot of work,” ranger Bryan Stotts said. “You’re dealing with people’s livelihoods. It should be a thoughtful process.”

Stotts said one of the main issues still to be worked out is eligibility rules for grazing permits.

“You get a group of people, I don’t think all of them will agree on what the rules should be,” he said.

Mark Huseth, a director of the grazing group, said the association feels it is getting “the short end of the stick.”

“We had made some headway at portions of time where we thought we were almost to an agreement, and we’d send our notes back to each of our ... legal counsel,” he said. Huseth said the Forest Service would then ask for changes, and “We just seem to be hitting a stone wall.”

The grazing agreement with the Sheyenne Valley group would cover nearly 78,000 acres of land in southeastern North Dakota. Until a new deal is in place, ranchers are working under terms of the agreement that expired five years ago, Stotts said.

He said discussions do not include the amount of grazing that will be allowed on the grasslands. Officials plan to start work on stocking rates on the 53 grazing allotments in a few months.

“In the agreement (the grazing association) agrees to participate in it,” the ranger said.

In addition to grass for cattle, the Sheyenne National Grasslands provide habitat for a rare prairie orchid and a rare prairie chicken. The area is considered a vestige of the once-sweeping tall-grass prairie on the Great Plains.

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