Proposal needs comment
At present, a new grazing regulation proposal draft environmental impact statement is under consideration by the Bureau of Land Management.
As a rancher and citizen of this county and this country I would like to commend the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Secretary Norton, Director Clarke and their staff for responding to the needs of our Western lands and the people who live here. The revision of the existing grazing regulations in the manner that they are approaching this issue is definitely a step in the right direction.
There are a few issues of importance to the ranching industry that I think need some comment on.
First is the inclusion of monitoring is an important tool for land management. Documenting of field observations as a criteria to base decisions from, will make it possible to re-check information for accuracy and validity. It will also create a record of pertinent data long-term. This will improve the decision-making process and help to point to factors that could be significant to meeting acceptable rangeland standards.
Returning the term, "preference" to the original definition and concept will again attach Animal Unit Month's (AUM's) to private base property. This also provides an opportunity for ranchers to utilize increases in forage if weather and circumstances allow. But in times when use reduction is necessary for rangeland health, ranchers would not permanently lose AUM's. The AUM amount represents the value of grazing permits, subsequently it directly affects the base value of ranching operations.
An issue that also directly affects the base value of any ranching operation is the ability to own all, or part of the range improvements. Ranchers pay for and work to build and maintain these improvements on their allotments. Allowing the expenditure of the rancher's time and money to add collateral value to the ranching operation through cooperative agreements will help to increase the stability of the ranching base and that of the local communities.
It is well known to those who work the land, that being able to directly react to situations saves time, money and resources. By removing from the regulations the need to involve the "interested public" in many of the day-to-day planning and management actions and any consultations between BLM and ranchers will accomplish this goal. Although BLM could still consult voluntarily on numerous matters, this proposal will only facilitate a more rapid and efficient way to perform the management obligations of the land managers and the ranchers. The regulation still clearly protects our public's ability to speak out and comment in National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) reviews, resource management planning activities and the following decision processes.
The proposed regulation change that would remove the requirement that livestock water rights be acquired, perfected, maintained and administered in the name of the United States, would allow stock watering rights to be held by the beneficial user.
A fact that is not well known to the public is that, in the west the states have authority over all of the waters within the state, and that permittees on federal grazing allotments are responsible for all of the costs and labor involved in perfecting and maintaining these rights. The real costs and responsibility for any maintenance or mitigation would fall to the beneficial user. Since the allotment owner is the beneficial user of these rights this regulation change would increase the collateral value of the permittee's ranching operation. The ability to increase net worth, as in any business, only adds to the incentive for perfecting and maintaining these stock-watering rights.
A point to remember is that when good water is present and continually maintained it is to the benefit of all species of plants and animals and that in virtually all BLM allotments livestock grazing only takes place for a limited period of time yearly, whereas wildlife and plants have the benefit of the water use all year long.
Of course in states where the BLM is allowed to hold livestock watering rights, BLM could continue to have the option of acquiring the water right as long as they do so in compliance with states water law.
The proposed regulation change to provide that BLM cooperate with state, county or locally established grazing boards in reviewing range improvements and allotment management plans on public lands provides a way to give notice to, include, and involve the local governments and land users. The creation and use of these boards would give land managers and resource advisory councils direct resource related information from subject matter experts in the local areas, increasing its ability to advise and recommend accurate strategies for managing public lands under the multiple-use mandate. This is a very innovative and useful approach to implementing Secretary Norton's 4-C's concept to resource management
Over all ranchers want the same things on public land that every other citizen wants. We, additionally, have a financial need to maintain and improve the range. These regulation changes I believe will help to make it possible for us, the people on the land, to make needed changes and the flexibility to improve the land and at the same time give stability to a viable industry.
It will also allow Westerners to protect our heritage, culture and life-style to the benefit of future generations of Americans.
The grazing regulation DEIS comment period will end on March 2, 2004. The entire proposal can be found at http://www-a.blm.gov/nph/news/releases/pages/2003/pr031205_grazing.htm#factsheet and all interested parties should view it and submit their comm