NATION

To help public-lands ranchers and "preserve open space," the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to revise its nine-year-old grazing regulations. Some say those changes will let cattlemen ride roughshod over public lands.

In 1995, President Clinton’s Interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, overhauled the rules that control ranching on public lands (HCN, 04/17/95: Back to grazing reform … maybe). But in December, President Bush’s Interior secretary, Gale Norton, proposed a rule that undoes those reforms, giving ranchers more rights.

Under the proposed rule, permit holders will have part ownership of any fences or wells they install. If they’re asked to remove more than 10 percent of their cattle, they have 5 years to comply. The BLM can’t act to improve damaged rangeland until it does extensive monitoring. And range managers no longer need to seek public input for most grazing decisions.

"We think the changes are a win for all public-lands users," says Brenda Richards of the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association. But environmentalists say the new rule will damage rangeland. Under Babbitt’s rules, ranchers who violated a federal law, such as the Endangered Species Act, on any public land would not only face prosecution, they’d also lose their grazing permits. If the new rules go into effect, they’ll lose permits only if they break the law on their own allotments. "It’ll be like getting your license revoked on the street on which you were caught driving drunk, but being able to drive on any other street," says Randy Moorman, legislative research assistant for Earthjustice.

The public comment period ends March 2. For more information: http://www.blm.gov/nhp/news/releases/pages/2004/pr040102_grazing.htm.