Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Judge rules against BLM in grazing appeal

An Interior Department judge has ruled in favor of a conservation group's appeal of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's grazing plan for a large swath of eastern Nevada.

Administrative Law Judge Andrew Pearlstein last week granted Western Watershed Projects' motion for a summary judgment in its appeal of the BLM Ely district's grazing plan for 1.3 million acres of public land in White Pine County.

Jon Marvel, the group's executive director, praised the ruling, saying it makes clear that the BLM is legally required to consider management alternatives that reduce or remove livestock grazing where conflicts with wildlife exist.

He said domestic sheep grazing permitted on eight affected allotments threatens the spread of deadly disease to Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Sheep grazing also affects sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, soils and vegetation, he added.

"We look forward to reviewing BLM's court-ordered analysis of the benefit to wildlife that removing livestock grazing on these 1.3 million acres of public land promises," Marvel said in a statement.

BLM spokesman Chris Hanefeld said the agency hasn't decided whether to appeal the ruling. If the agency fails to appeal, it must prepare a new environmental assessment for the eight allotments that addresses such alternatives as reducing or removing livestock.

"I don't know what direction we'll take yet," Hanefeld told The Associated Press. "This sort of ruling doesn't happen very often, but it's not unprecedented."

In his decision, Pearlstein noted the need for BLM to apply a "rule of reason" in considering alternatives in its environmental assessments, particularly in cases with competing resource values such as wildlife.

"BLM's extreme bias toward livestock grazing and its mismanagement of public lands in the Ely district has continued to ignore livestock grazing impacts to native wildlife on these remote public lands for long enough," said Katie Fite, biodiversity director for Western Watersheds Project.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Asbill wants feds to quit seizing cattle

CARLSBAD — The federal government has been called many things, with the latest being "cattle rustlers."

Sen. Vernon Asbill, R-Carlsbad, has introduced legislation that would prevent the federal government from seizing cattle on federal leased land when the rancher's lease is revoked as a result of a dispute between a federal agency and the lease holder.

Senate Bill 13 requires that livestock shipped or driven out of district - or out of state - be inspected by a state brand inspector. The inspector must make a complete inspection record that will remain on file for three years. Livestock may not change hands prior to issuance of the brand inspector's certificate.

The bill also addresses the circumstance of livestock seized by the federal government. It prevents a state brand inspector from issuing a brand inspection certificate for livestock seized by federal land managers unless the owner consents, the owner is unknown, or the federal government has obtained a court order from a court of competent jurisdiction.

According to the Office of the Courts, "A court of competent jurisdiction is simply a court that has jurisdiction to hear the claim brought before it."

"The federal government will not able to seize livestock on federally leased land in New Mexico," Asbill said. "This so-called cattle rustling by the feds will not happen in New Mexico. The feds will have to abide by this new law and stop the confiscation of livestock without permission.

"Yes, there are cases in southwestern New Mexico where this has happened. This bill is meant to ensure due process is followed by the federal government in cases where disputes occur between those who are leasing and the government."

In an opinion from the Office of the Court pertaining to SB 13, livestock inspectors must obtain a warrant from a magistrate court prior to seizing cruelly treated livestock, but federal agencies are not generally involved in this type of case.

The AOC further states that although the federal government may adopt a position regarding the appropriate court to issue a court order, the proposed statute indicates that the federal government is to initiate proceedings to obtain the court order.

State Livestock Board officials say that current legislation is vague regarding what it should do in the event of a proposed shipment of a citizen's livestock while in dispute. Asbill's bill, they say, will remedy the situation.

Wood Houghton, Eddy County Extension Service agriculture agent, said Asbill's legislation will give state livestock inspectors authority to keep cattle in the state until the dispute between the permitee and the federal government resolves the issues or the cattle are removed by court order.

Laurie Kincaid, rancher and former Eddy County commissioner, said, "They (federal government) should have to get a court order if they are going to seize somebody's livestock. They just can't arbitrarily go and get the livestock and sell them."

Kincaid and Houghton said Asbill's legislation is a result of case several years ago that was bitterly fought against the U.S. Forest Service by a rancher with federal leased lands in the Gila National Forest.

Following an environmental impact statement and record of decision protecting the Gila trout, the rancher, Kit Laney, saw his permit to graze cattle on his federal lease drop from 1,188 to 300 head. The case ended in court, and the court re-affirmed the Forest Service's decision to revoke Laney's grazing permit.

Laney challenged the system and put cattle back on the leased allotment. The Forest Service hired a private company to round up the cattle and sell them at auction. However, New Mexico cattle yards would not take the cattle. Eventually, the cattle were transported to Oklahoma and sold without permission or legal proceedings.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

USDA Forest Rule Aimed at Climate Change, Jobs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today released a final proposed rule to protect national forests from threats including climate change, while promoting job growth in rural areas.

The planning rule aims to increase protection for the 193 million acres (78 million hectares) of forests and grassland supervised by the U.S. Forest Service, the USDA said in a statement. The government will also require that the best available scientific data be used in making plans for land and water resources. Local information would also have to be taken into account.

The rule “will provide the tools to the Forest Service to make our forests more resilient to many threats, including pests, catastrophic fire and climate change,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters on a conference call.

While the USDA looks to seek further protection for plants and animals, Vilsack said the rule does not favor any one special interest. He said the “full suite” of multiple uses would be considered, including grazing, timber, energy and mineral interests.

The plan is open for public comment until May 16. The Forest Service is an agency of the USDA.
Bart Semcer, the senior representative of the Sierra Club in Washington, said the rule appears to be a “step in the right direction.”

“We’re pleased to see that are taking a look at climate change,” Semcer said in a telephone interview. “We’re looking forward to working with the agency to make the rule as strong as possible.”

To contact the reporters on this story: William McQuillen in Washington at bmcquillen@bloomberg.net.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Stroth at sstroth@bloomberg.net.