The United States Bureau of Land Management published new public grazing regulations on July 12.
The regulations, collectively known as a final rule, will take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
The BLM indicated that the guidelines are intended to improve the federal agency's working relationship with grazing permits and lease holders, conserve rangeland resources and enhance administrative efficiency.
"These new regulations are aimed at promoting more effective and efficient management of public lands grazing, which is a vital part of the history, economy, and social identity of Western rural communities," pointed out BLM director Kathleen Clarke.
In developing the regulations, the BLM solicited input from stakeholders and the general public.
The BLM received more than 18,000 comments on the agency's proposed grazing rule and the draft environmental impact statement during a public input period which expired in March 2004.
The BLM published the final EIS on June 17, 2005 after which the agency prepared an addendum to respond to comments coming in after the public input deadlines, explained the director.
To improve working relationships with grazing permit and lease holders, the rule authorizes the BLM and a permittee or lessee to share title to future range improvements and permanent structures such as fences, wells or pipelines if they are constructed under the cooperative range improvement agreement.
The shared title provision reflects the view that ranchers, when contributing financially to the construction of improvements, should be able to share ownership in proportion to their investment of labor, materials or equipment, indicated Clarke.
In addition, shared title may help ranchers qualify for loans for operations and may serve as an incentive for range improvements.
The rule also phases in grazing use decreases as well as increases of more than 10 percent over a five-year period consistent with existing law and in recognition of the BLM's authority to respond as necessary to drought, fire and resource conditions.
Furthermore, a consistent approach by BLM managers in considering and documenting the social, cultural and economic effect of decisions that determine levels of authorized grazing use has been stipulated, noted the agency's director.
The result will grant ranchers sufficient time to make gradual adjustments in their operations so they can reduce adverse economic impacts resulting from grazing reductions and ensure that BLM managers consistently consider and document the factors they took into account in assessing the potential impact grazing levels have upon the human environment.
To conserve rangeland resources, a restriction has been removed that has limited temporary non-use of grazing permit to three consecutive years.
The new rule instead allows ranchers to apply for non-use each year, whether for conservation or business purposes, with no limit on the number of consecutive years.
The BLM is also required the use of existing or new monitoring data where the agency has found, based on an initial assessment, that a grazing allotment is failing to meet rangeland health standards, continued Clarke
The guideline will allow up to 24 months, instead of prior to the start of the next grazing season, for the BLM to analyze and formulate an appropriate course of action in cases where practices are an issue.
By using monitoring data, which shows land-condition trends in detail, the BLM will better be able to determine the reasons for an allotment's failure to meet such standards and to what extent, if any, grazing practices are at issue, added the federal agency's director.
The reasoning behind the 24-month time frame is that existing regulations have required implementation of an appropriate course of action before the start of the next grazing season. The specified deadline for taking appropriate action is often an unrealistic time frame in light of certain legal requirements, such as an environmental analysis under the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act.
Administrative efficiency is to be enhanced by eliminating, in compliance with federal court rulings, a 1995 Rangeland Reform regulatory provision allowing the BLM to issue long-term conservation use permits.
The final rule also expands the definition of grazing preference to include an amount of forage on public lands that is linked to a rancher's private base property which can be land or water which makes clear that grazing preference has a quantitative as well as a qualitative meaning.
The interested public is also given a new definition of only those individuals and organizations that actually participate in the process of leading to specific grazing decisions.
Under the provision, the BLM could involve the interested public in day-to-day grazing administration matters, but would no longer required to do so.
Flexibility is provided to the federal government in decisions relating to livestock water rights by removing a requirement that the BLM seek ownership of the rights to the maximum extend allowed by state law
The flexibility provision will help in negotiating arrangements for construction of watering facilities in states where the federal government is allowed to hold a livestock water right, explained the BLM director.
Certain service fees such as livestock crossing permits, transfer of grazing preferences, and cancellation and replacement of grazing fee bills will be increased to reflect more accurately the cost of grazing administration.
If a livestock operator is convicted of violating a federal, state or other law while the subject is engaged in grazing related activities, the BLM may take action against the permit or lease only if the failure to comply occurred on the agency's managed allotment where the operator is authorized to graze, pointed out Clarke.
The BLM will authorize grazing if implementation of a bureau decision affecting a grazing permit is temporarily stopped pending an administrative appeal.
However, the final rule clarifies that a biological assessment prepared by the BLM in compliance with the Endangered Species Act is not a decision of the bureau and, therefore, is not subject to protest and appeal, indicated Clarke
The final set of regulations retains key elements of the rangeland reform initiative and does not change the way the federal grazing fee is calculated, stated the BLM director.
The rangeland reform initiative was established by the U.S. Congress in 1978 and continues under a 1986 presidential executive order.