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Critics: BLM Grazing Reforms Won't Be Good for Environment

The Bureau of Land Management oversees livestock grazing on 155 million acres of land. (Lance Cheung/USDA)
The Bureau of Land Management oversees livestock grazing on 155 million acres of land. (Lance Cheung/USDA)
January 30, 2020

HELENA, Mont. -- The Bureau of Land Management is taking steps toward sweeping reforms of its livestock grazing regulations -- a move some groups say could lead to more conflict and environmental harm.

Permitting rules have long been a sticking point between ranchers and the BLM. Grazing regulations haven't changed since the 1990s.

The Trump administration says it intends to reduce red tape and modernize the process.

However, Josh Osher, Montana and public policy director for the Western Watersheds Project, says the administration is looking to codify an informal process of regulating grazing on public lands.

"This is the same informal process that's led us to all sorts of problems on the rangelands where BLM employees are harassed and threatened by permittees, particularly those that are more akin to the Bundy philosophy of public lands," he points out.

Osher says this informal process also leads to more neglect because staff members don't keep a record of repeated offenses.

The BLM manages grazing on 155 million of the 245 million acres of public lands it oversees. It's filed a Notice of Intent for the proposal, which is open for public comment, and will hold a public meeting in Miles City on Feb. 6.

The agency also plans to make it easier for ranchers to graze cattle to reduce fuel loads for wildfire.

Osher says that assertion isn't backed up by science and that grazing can actually lead to greater wildfire risk because it leads to an increase in invasive grass species.

While he opposes these changes, Osher adds that reforms to grazing regulations are necessary.

"This has been a problem for many, many decades," he states. "It's one of the greatest environmental problems facing the western United States.

"It's something we really need to address in a substantial way to deal with climate change, to deal with wildfires, to deal with the extinction crisis that we're facing."

BLM has not yet published the new regulations. It's holding public meetings first, starting with Miles City, and then in New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming.

The public comment period closes Feb. 28. After that, BLM will draft an environmental impact statement.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT