President Signs Resolution to Repeal BLM Planning 2.0

President Trump today signed a congressional resolution directing the Bureau of Land Management to repeal their Planning 2.0 Rule. Wyoming rancher and NCBA and PLC member Joel Bousman was in attendance at the White House for the signing. Ethan Lane, executive director of PLC and NCBA federal lands, applauded the action and called it a significant victory for western ranchers.

“BLM’s Planning 2.0 Rule would have caused a wholesale shift in management focus at BLM by prioritizing ‘social and environmental change’ over ensuring the multiple use of public lands,” said Lane. “When you couple the wholesale shift away from multiple-use with the elimination of stakeholder and local input, the rule was unworkable for western communities. We applaud the action by President Trump and look forward to working with the new Administration to bring together a streamlined planning process that works for livestock ranchers and the western communities that depend on the use of BLM lands.”

Livestock, Ag groups oppose grazing changes at Flat Creek Allotment

Livestock and agricultural groups including the Montana Stockgrowers Association, R- CALF and the Montana Farm Bureau have filed written protests to a Bureau of Land Management proposal to change the land-use provision on the Flat Creek Allotment in Phillips County, MT. At issue is a change in the class of livestock from cattle to bison, removal of interior fencing and allowing bison to graze year around.

Currently the grazing permit for the allotment designates cattle as the approved species.

The American Prairie Reserve (APR), a Bozeman, MT-based wildlife group, submitted the change request. APR has been purchasing private ranch land and acquiring BLM grazing permits for several years in an effort to create a private wildlife reserve for bison. The stated mission of APR on its website is “to create and manage a prairie-based wildlife reserve that, when combined with public lands already devoted to wildlife, will protect a unique natural habitat, provide lasting economic benefits, and improve public access to and enjoyment of the prairie landscape.”

The notice of proposed change was issued in late December by BLM Field Office Manager Vinita Shea. The notice provided for a “right of protest and appeal” whereby any applicant, permittee, lease holder or other affected person could file a written protest. The protest period closed Jan. 20.

In the notice, Shea wrote, “In the absence of a protest, this proposed decision will become my final decision without further notice.”

Jonathon Moor, Public Affairs Specialist with the BLM in Lewiston, MT, told WLJ the office received 125 protests. He noted that those letters were required to state a clear reason why the proposed decision is in error so the BLM could address the protest points.

A number of state and national agricultural organizations expressed opposition when the proposal was announced in 2015, and several issued formal letters of protest to the latest proposed decision.

Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) Natural Resources Director Jay Bodner told WLJ his organization was submitting a formal protest. He noted some of the concerns included removing interior fencing to allow a common pasture that would include private and BLM land. In addition, MSGA voiced concern over bison getting out of the remaining exterior fences and infringing on private land or other BLM permittee allotments.

Montana Farm Bureau (MFB) submitted a letter to Shea noting the organization voiced opposition in April 2015 when the initial application for changes was made. MFB President Bob Hanson wrote, “Our members are very concerned with the idea of and movement toward establishing a ‘wild’ bison herd in Montana. We think this decision symbolizes the BLM’s endorsement of doing just that.”

The letter from MFB, the state’s largest agricultural organization, noted it is especially concerned with the term “indigenous” bison in indicating the class of livestock. The group said that under Montana law, bison are considered “a species in need of management,” citing Montana Code Annotated 87-1-216, and thereby is under the authority of the Department of Livestock and the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“For all intents and purposes, we believe they should be classified and referred to strictly as ‘bison’ to avoid any confusion or ambiguity regarding Montana state law,” Hanson said. “Nowhere in state law are bison classified or referred to as ‘indigenous bison.’” Further, Hanson said, “It appears APR and BLM freely manipulate the term considering bison are not listed as a class or kind of livestock in the BLM Hi-Line RMP [Resource Management Plan] Appendix.”

Hanson went on to say the approval of year-round grazing to foster economic development for the community and private ranchers is wrong. “This decision does the exact opposite,” he said. “It ensures, for the foreseeable future, these allotments are merely an extension of APR’s boundaries and serves no economic benefit to any rancher or citizen of Phillips County or the State of Montana.”

R-CALF also submitted a formal protest asserting the BLM overstepped its authority saying, “R-CALF USA believes the BLM’s proposed decision is contrary to the BLM’s stated objective of promoting the improvement of rangeland ecosystems for the purpose of sustaining the western livestock industry.”

Citing information from APR’s website, R-CALF said the conservation group states its purpose is to “maintain a fully-functioning prairie-based wildlife reserve.” In its protest points, R-CALF—like MFB—says BLM regulations exclude bison from animals eligible to be included as livestock on BLM grazing permits. Only cattle, sheep, horses, burros and goats are listed as species considered livestock.

APR’s Communications and Outreach Manager, Hilary Parker, defended the organization’s request to remove interior fences on the leased land saying it is a way to accommodate the way bison graze, saying bison roam farther from their water source than cattle.

She said the changes to the Flat Creek Allotment are not a step toward freeroaming bison and the animals are managed as livestock. However, she told WLJ that doesn’t mean the group wouldn’t consider a free-roaming bison plan in the future if the state proposed one. Montana has considered establishing a free-roaming bison herd, but hasn’t taken any action. “If the state decides it wants wild bison in that area, we would consider taking the fences down and would consider allowing those bison to go under state management,” Parker said.

The bison are currently contained by exterior wildlife friendly fences. These have a bottom wire high enough above the ground to allow antelope to go under it and an electric “hot” wire across the top that is supposed to contain buffalo.

In the proposed decision notice, Shea said the rationale for her opinion in part was APR’s proven positive record on the Box Elder and Telegraph Creek Allotments which have been amended to accommodate the group’s bison. She wrote, “Removal of interior fencing will likely be a benefit to wildlife species by removing manmade barriers and reducing habitat fragmentation, especially when combined with the addition of 6,130 acres of private lands not previously part of the allotment which will be returned to rangeland habitat.”

APR shares some of the same concerns as ranchers when it comes to maintaining a healthy rangeland, according to Parker. However, the organization doesn’t believe in the Savoy rotational grazing system followed by many ranchers. She acknowledged this is one of the areas where APR and livestock producers have a different mindset. “Bison just interact with the land differently,” she said.

The conservation group has radio collar data that, according to Parker, shows the animals’ movement. In addition she said they invite people to come see the condition of the rangeland where bison graze.

The APR bison herd started with just 16 head and now includes about 620 animals. Parker said the group continues to expand its land and BLM lease holdings in anticipation of continued herd growth. The proposed decision would not change the recommended animal unit months, according to Moor, who said the permitted number is 1,247.

APR makes no apologies for being well-funded, and from small one-time gifts to large contributions it has raised in the neighborhood of $75 million. That money has helped the group complete about 23 transactions so far.

Parker said the purchases have been from willing sellers, who for a variety of reasons have decided to get out of the ranching business. She acknowledged the project is viewed as controversial by some, and noted that is because it is changing the scope of how the land is being used.

“We may be benefiting from that change, but we didn’t start the change,” Parker told WLJ. “We’re not trying to run people off or bullying in any way.” That said, she noted APR is benefiting from people not coming back to the farms and ranches in the area. “We recognize we have different uses for the land, different ideas about use of the land, but we are in no way antirancher.”

And while APR wants to be rancher-friendly, there are conflicts. Peggy Bergsagel, whose family has the Billie Lou Arnott Ranch that borders APR land south of the Flat Creek Allotment, said they have had problems with a bull buffalo “standing off” with Hereford bulls. Bergsagel said they tried to contact APR but received no response and finally called the county sheriff who shot the buffalo.

Parker said they have met with surrounding landowners and told them if bison are on private land or leases to shoot first and ask questions later. “If they feel they or their animals are being threatened, shoot.” Bergsagel, however says although shooting the animal was the result, she wasn’t aware taking that action was approved by APR.

Moor told WLJ Shea will take a hard look at the protest points, and to ensure all protests are adequately considered, there is no set time frame for a decision. He said after reviewing the protests, Shea will have three options: issue a final decision, which would be open to a public appeal period; issue a revised proposed decision, which again would be subject to protest by qualified interested parties; or a new Environmental Assessment could be prepared, which would be subject to the normal public engagement opportunities afforded under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Bodner said the protest period is an administrative process and typically, based on previous actions, agencies don’t deviate very much from their original decision, either in the protest or appeal processes. He said at that point, the individuals or groups opposed to the decision will make a decision of whether or not to take legal action. — Rae Price, WLJ Editor

Source: Western Livestock Journal

 

Sage Grouse not listed as Endangered Species

sageGrouseOn Tuesday, September 22, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services announced that the greater sage grouse would not be listed as an endangered species. This is a significant accomplishment following extensive work by officials, industry and conservation groups in 11 states who have worked to form plans for conservation of the bird’s habitat.

Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made the announcement on Tuesday via video. Click here to watch and read her statement.

Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Public Lands Council and Montana Association of State Grazing Districts are supportive of the recent decision. Even with sage grouse not listed under ESA, our organizations will still be working on this issue on our members’ behalf, at both the state and federal level.

At the state level, Montana has developed state legislation and a state plan, which will be operational by January 1, 2016. In order to accomplish this accelerated time schedule, we will be participating in all facets of the program, such as:

  • Attendance at the Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team (MSGOT) meetings
  • Further developing program rules for mitigation and habitat exchanges
  • Development of landowner incentives

The MSGOT will hold two more meeting this fall, with the next being November 17 in Helena. Click here to learn more about Montana Sage Grouse Management.

In addition to the state plan development, our organizations will be also working on the federal level. On the federal side, BLM has just released their Resource Management Plans (RMP) for the state. These plans provide the direction for public land and federal minerals managed by the Bureau of Land Management and provide a framework for the future management direction for the planning area.

With the release of these RMPs, we will be:

  • Reviewing these plans as it relates to impacts to livestock grazing
  • Work with the agency to ensure livestock grazing is not impacted by sage grouse decisions
  • Clarify specific criteria and requirements within the document and how they will impacting livestock producers.

Montana’s leadership provided statements regarding the DOI and USFWS announcement on Tuesday:

Our organizations also request input from our members on areas of possible concerns or program areas where livestock producers can receive some benefit. Please contact the MSGA office if you have any further questions. Stay tuned to MSGA News updates and emails for more information as it becomes available.

Catastrophic Wildfires Across the West Bring Attention to Need for Management

PLC LogoWASHINGTON – As massive wildfires blaze across the West this week, the need to address the increasing wildfire threat is even more apparent. According to the Agriculture and Interior Departments, there are currently 19,000 interagency personnel fighting wildfires across 13 states. The Soda Fire that burned across southern Idaho and eastern Oregon consumed roughly 300,000 acres of rangeland, threatening the homes and lives of residents, livestock and wildlife.

While Washington bureaucrats call for more funds to suppress the growing fires, the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sent a letter to the White House today stressing the importance of proper natural resource management in order to help prevent these catastrophic events in our nation’s forests and rangeland which are managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, wildfire suppression now costs the agency more than $1 billion annually and for the first time in its 110-year history, the agency is spending more than half of its budget on wildfire suppression. When the cost of suppression exceeds the budgeted amount, USFS is forced to reallocate funds from other programs to cover the cost of fire suppression, known as fire-borrowing. While PLC and NCBA believe that having fire suppression funds available to cover the cost of fighting fire and prevent fire-borrowing is important, the organizations firmly believe that proper forest and rangeland management is the key to reducing catastrophic wildfires in the first place.

PLC President Brenda Richards said the mismanagement of federally-owned forests and rangelands has created great economic hardship and danger for ranchers that depend upon the land.

“This year’s fire season has proven once again the federal mismanagement of our forests and rangeland,” said Richards, whose ranch has suffered damage in the current Idaho/Oregon fire. “The livestock industry and rural economies will spend decades attempting to recover from the millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure damage and forage loss that have been the result of catastrophic wildfire in recent weeks and years, not to mention the loss of valuable wildlife habitat. Because of frivolous litigation and attempts to keep peace with extremists, our government agencies have hampered the most natural and cost-effective wildfire prevention techniques, and subsequently put the lives of ranching families like mine and others in rural communities at risk.”

As the letter stresses, natural forest fires were nature’s tool to burn the underbrush and smaller trees, creating less competition for resources and resulting in healthier forests. Due to population growth and urban sprawl, people now live in the natural path of fires and as a result humans must take over managing the resources. However, Philip Ellis, NCBA president from Chugwater, Wyo., said with 82 million acres of Forest Service land at an elevated risk of catastrophic wildfires, insect, or disease outbreak, it is clear the federal agencies tasked to manage our forests are failing to exercise their responsibility.

“We have seen more red tape and regulation than ever before, and our natural resources are paying the heavy price,” said Ellis. “This administration continues to push the best caretakers off the land, and now it’s up to Congress to rein the agencies in. As Congress continues discussions to address the lack of stewardship these agencies have shown to the land and natural resources, we encourage them to find a solution that will help prevent these wildfires, rather than simply throwing more money in the attempt to control them after the fact.”

PLC and NCBA strongly supported H.R. 2647 introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) which passed the House on a bipartisan vote, and continues to support S. 1691 introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) which saw a hearing in July. These bills would require the Forest Service to treat a minimum of 2 million acres with mechanical treatment or prescribed burns each year, with reduced NEPA requirements for these projects. Further, this legislation would discourage frivolous litigation by requiring litigants to post a bond equal to the estimated costs of court proceedings and would require an arbitration process to precede the lawsuit. The legislation would also prevent fire borrowing and stop the federal agencies from raiding accounts necessary for proper forest and range management. PLC and NCBA encourage the Senate to take up this legislation and pass it without delay and call for federal land management agencies to streamline regulations that will allow for active management of forests and rangelands and discontinue harmful closed-door settlements with litigious radical groups that seek to see non-management on all lands across the west – the very action which leads to catastrophic wildfire.

–Press Release, Public Lands Council

Livestock Organizations Encourage BLM to Deny American Prairie Reserve’s Flat Creek Allotment Requests

Montana PLC LogoThe Montana Association of State Grazing Districts (MASGD) and Montana Public Lands Council (MPLC), recently submitted comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in response to a request by the American Prairie Reserve (APR) to change class of livestock from cattle to bison and to remove interior fences on Flat Creek Allotment in south Phillips County.

These organizations, along with Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA), National Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), do not support the changes requested by APR.

In the application submitted by APR to the Malta Field Office, requests were made to change the class of livestock allowed on the grazing allotment from cattle to bison. APR seeks permission to remove interior fencing and manage their private lands along with the public lands as one common pasture. The request also included changing the allotment grazing season to year-round from the current May 1 – Nov. 15 grazing.

Change the class of livestock from cattle to bison

Given the APR’s plan for bison restoration on a desired millions of acres of contiguous land, the local, state and national livestock organizations request BLM consider a comprehensive review of bison management, before allowing additional change requests to occur.

MASGD LogoAPR’s application for class change from cattle to bison appears to be a simple request for a change of livestock. However, BLM’s decision to convert grazing leases from cattle to bison represents a significant management change, which requires consideration of many other factors beyond the conversion of grazing from one livestock category to another.

Removal of Interior Fencing

The request to remove all interior fencing has raised considerable concerns in the livestock communities. In recent years, BLM has supported range management plans that utilize cross fencing, which allows livestock producers to increase carrying capacity and maintain additional control over the livestock movements. Removal of interior fences decreases management options and reduces carrying capacity when animals concentrate in desired areas.

Mr. Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch in Gallatin County provides a prime example of this type of management action and reversal. During an interview in reference to his book (Last Stand, 2013), Turner described how he sought to “re-wild” the land and help the bison by tearing down all the fences on the ranch’s 170 square miles.

A few years later, Turner recognized the grazing management strategy was not working as planned. The ranch replaced some of those same fences to better manage bison grazing. A similar situation would exist should APR’s request be permitted on the Flat Creek Allotment.

Questions are raised for the need to remove interior fences when APR reports the success of wildlife friendly fences already in existence. APR’s website promotes its replacing of old fences and constructing “new fences designed specifically to manage bison and allow for the free movement of wildlife.”

Year-Round Grazing

BLM generally allows for very limited permits where year-round grazing is allowed. This application questions whether this is a special exception due to the animals being bison.

Concerns should be raised over the magnitude of this allotment management change, including how range monitoring will be completed and documented to meet BLM range standards. With the possibility of no interior fences and year-round grazing, it will be difficult for BLM to address range conditions that are not meeting standards and take corrective actions.

An additional concern is the impact this request may have on sage grouse and the pending decision on the status of the species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While grazing is certainly compatible and beneficial to sage grouse, it is important to implement grazing practices based on sound management principles. BLM has typically supported, encouraged and, in most cases, required grazing systems that allow for control of domestic livestock in a form of rest-rotation systems.

These time-controlled grazing practices tend toward increased herbaceous cover on rangelands, which is beneficial to wildlife and the resource itself. Given the importance of this potential listing and reduced options to address resource concerns, livestock organizations recommend BLM deny this request.

From the local, state and national level, MASGD, MPLC, MSGA, PLC and NCBA are directed and made up of ranchers representing the West’s livestock producers. The livestock organizations’ missions are to maintain a stable business environment for ranchers that utilize combined state, federal and private lands so that ranching families may continue their traditions of livestock production and stewardship.

Many of the requested changes in this grazing allotment have raised a number of resource concerns that these livestock organizations feel have not been fully vetted and analyzed by the BLM. Given these concerns, local, state and national livestock organizations request that BLM deny APR’s application for the proposed changes to the Flat Creek Allotment.