On June 16, the Bureau of Land Management announced the availability of a final environmental impact study that concluded upcoming grazing regulation changes will produce longterm benefits for public rangelands. An official notice of the study's availability was published in the Federal Register on June 17.
"This environmental-impact analysis underscores grazing's role as a vital use of public lands in the rural West," Rebecca Watson, assistant secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals, said. "The revisions will improve BLM's management of public lands ranching, an activity that not only supports rural economies but also preserves open space and wildlife habitat in the rapidly growing West."
The final environmental-impact study, posted on BLM's national Web site, (www.blm.gov/grazing), analyzes the impact of the upcoming grazing-regulation revisions, including their ecological, cultural, social, and economic effects. More specifically, the study examines the impact of a grazing-management option that tracks with the provisions of the upcoming grazing-regulation changes, as well as the effects of two other management alternatives.
"This environmental-impact study shows that grazing management under the new regulations will produce long-term rangeland-health benefits," BLM Director Kathleen Clarke said. "These benefits include increased vegetation along stream banks, which will reduce soil erosion and provide more habitats for wildlife." Under the new regulations, she noted, the BLM's grazing-management decisions will be based on better information about rangeland conditions.
"Our agency feels strongly that the public lands should be managed in partnership with those closest to the land, and that's why we sought extensive public input on this regulatory initiative," Clark added. The BLM received more than 18,000 comments on a draft impact study and a proposed set of regulations, which preceded the agency's work on the final version of those documents.
The new grazing regulations, to be published next month in the Federal Register, are aimed at improving BLM's working relationships with public lands ranchers. The revisions also reflect the agency's commitment to managing the public lands for multiple uses, including grazing, while ensuring the health and productivity of these lands.
The revisions will retain key elements of the "Rangeland Reform" initiative that revised grazing regulations nearly a decade ago. Specifically, the regulations will continue the role of BLM's Resource Advisory Councils, composed of citizens across the West who advise and make recommendations to the agency on public land issues. The revised regulations will also leave intact the rangeland health standards and guidelines developed by the RACs.
In general, the regulations seek to do three things;
Improve the agency's working relationships with those holding BLM grazing permits and leases.
Advance the bureau's efforts in assessing and protecting rangelands.
Address certain legal issues while enhancing administrative efficiency.
In addition, the new regulations will continue to require the bureau to consult with the interested public on key matters, such as developing or changing grazing-activity plans; planning rangeland-improvement programs; and developing reports that are used as the basis for BLM decisions affecting grazing permits or leases.
The BLM manages more land, 261 million surface acres, than any other federal agency. Most of this public land is located in 12 western states, including Alaska. The bureau, with a budget of about $1.8 billion, also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The agency's multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The BLM accomplishes this by managing such activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development, and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical, cultural, and other resources on public lands.