Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt launched his second attempt at grazing reform last month, issuing a giant 224-page draft plan to revamp grazing practices on 170 million acres of Bureau of Land Management rangeland.
initial proposal last summer, the revised plan would double grazing
fees and tighten environmental regulations. But, in a major
departure, Babbitt also is proposing to give local ranchers and
environmentalists a key role in the implementation of the new
It's a groundbreaking proposal,
and for Babbitt, a major gamble. However, early indications are
that it would do little to end the grazing wars.
Despite cautious support from most Western
governors, Babbitt's compromise has already come under heavy fire
from both Western livestock interests and national environmental
groups. Both sides are churning out attack press releases and vying
for headlines. Public hearings on the plan - tentatively scheduled
to occur simultaneously in 10 Western states on June 7 - may well
turn into a series of slugfests.
To get beyond
the rhetoric, here are the nuts and bolts of the draft regulations.
Grazing Fees: Over the next three years, fees to
graze livestock on BLM lands would double, from $1.98 per animal
unit month today, to $2.75 in 1995, $3.50 in 1996 and $3.96 in
1997. (An animal unit month is the amount of forage consumed by a
cow-calf pair in a month.)
That is below the
$4.28 per AUM grazing fee initially proposed by Babbitt, and higher
than the $2.43 per AUM alternative backed by ranchers. Interior
must analyze the impact of the increased fees after each year. If
there are significant negative impacts, the fees would be
reevaluated, but the mechanism to do that is not spelled out in the
Incentives: The proposal would allow a
grazing fee discount of 30 percent, to $2.77 per AUM, to ranchers
whose stewardship exceeds the BLM's environmental regulations. The
criteria to determine who qualifies for the discount would be
established in a future process. Until then, Interior has promised
not to enforce the third year of fee
Standards and Guidelines: For the
first time ever, the federal government would require ranchers who
graze public lands to meet specific environmental standards and
guidelines. In the initial draft, these would have been national
criteria. In the new plan, Interior proposes that they be state
guidelines, written and implemented in coordination with the state
BLM offices and new Multiple Resource Advisory Councils established
for each BLM district.
Each state's grazing
requirements must be approved by the secretary and must meet broad
national goals listed in the new proposal. Those goals are to
enhance and protect rangeland ecosystems, riparian areas, water
quality and threatened and endangered species.
In addition, each state must address technical
issues such as soil stability, watershed functions, and vegetation
targets, as well as evaluate grazing techniques such as fencing,
rest and rotation, salting and supplemental feeding. States that do
not produce an approved plan within 18 months would automatically
be forced to use fallback standards included in the
Advisory Councils: The plan leans
heavily on local public involvement, but from all sides. The BLM's
old rancher-dominated grazing advisory boards would be abolished,
to be replaced with 15 member Multiple Resource Advisory Councils.
The councils, incorporated at each BLM district
office, would consist of five permittees, loggers, miners or other
commodity interests active in the district; five representatives of
environmental and conservation groups; and five members from other
public-land users and state and local
Members would be nominated by state
governors and appointed by the secretary of Interior. All must have
intimate knowledge of the area. The permittees and other commodity
interests must work within the district; the environmental
representatives need only to have a letter of recommendation from a
legitimate environmental group that operates within the district
or, if none do, within the state.
Authority: The councils would advise the BLM on all district range
management decisions and help design their state's standards and
guidelines. At the option of each state, the councils may also
control a portion of the state's 25 percent share of federal
grazing fee receipts.
To encourage consensus
decision making, all actions taken by an advisory council must be
approved by 75 percent of its members, as well as a simple majority
of each of the three special-interest categories represented. The
councils would also have the right to appeal BLM decisions directly
to the secretary of Interior, but only by unanimous
Rangeland Ecology Schools: To improve
understanding of rangeland ecosystems, and to foster collaboration,
all federal agents, permittees and Multiple Resource Advisory
Council members would attend new schools, called Range Ecosystem
The schools would be
independent, non-profit organizations governed by a separate board
of trustees for each state. The structure and curriculum for these
schools would be developed through a special public process, using
the Colorado proposal as a starting place (HCN,
Water Rights: The new plan clarifies
several problems over water rights that proved a major stumbling
block in Babbitt's first proposal. As proposed before, all new
claims for water rights for grazing purposes on BLM lands would be
held in public ownership, instead of the current practice of
awarding water rights to ranchers. This guarantees, says Babbitt,
that "the water will stay with the land," and that "any future
permittee will have access to water, without having to pay the
inflated rates that a private owner could charge."
The proposal also explicitly states that these
changes would not affect valid existing rights, and would not
change BLM policy on water rights for municipal, industrial or
irrigation uses. All federal water rights must be administered
under state laws, and no new federal reserved water rights would be
Range Improvements: Like water,
ownership of all range improvements - fences, stock tanks, wells
and other projects - would remain in federal hands, instead of
being given to ranchers. This would not affect existing rights to
range improvements, and ranchers would be compensated for any
contributions they make.
Range Improvement Funds:
Currently 50 percent of federal grazing fees are returned to BLM
state and district offices. Traditionally, those funds were used
for range improvement projects such as listed above. In the new
plan, funds would be used primarily for ecosystem restoration,
including projects for wildlife, watershed restoration and wetlands
protection. Half of the money would go to the states and districts
from which the fees were raised, and half would be allocated by the
Subleasing: Interior would levy a 20
to 70 percent surcharge on ranchers who sublease their allotments.
However, leasing within one's family, to sons or daughters, would
Prohibited Acts: The BLM would revoke
grazing permits of any rancher convicted of violating federal laws
such as the Bald Eagle Protection Act, the Wild Horse and Burro
Act, the Migratory Bird Act, the Endangered Species Act and
numerous other environmental laws.
Use: The proposal would allow environmental groups to buy grazing
permits and "rest" their allotment for conservation purposes.
Currently permittees forfeit their grazing rights if they do not
use them. Other major issues for environmental groups, such as a
review to remove unsuitable public lands from grazing, are not
included in Babbitt's plan.
permits would be good for 10 years. Babbitt's first proposal would
have cut tenure to five years.
decisions by BLM field officers, such as reducing grazing numbers,
changing time of use or penalties for violations, would go into
effect immediately, unless a rancher files an appeal and request
for a stay. Under existing rules, a rancher can appeal and
endlessly delay decisions. Under the new proposal the BLM must rule
on a request for a stay within 75 days.
Interests: Currently, only people or groups who can prove they have
an affected interest can appeal a BLM range plan. Under the new
proposal, any member of the public or any special interest group
may participate in and appeal range decisions made by the BLM.
Copies of the draft
regulations appeared in the Federal Register March 25, 1994, and
are also available from your local BLM office. Otherwise, write to
Rangeland Reform "94, Bureau of Land Management, Box 66300,
Washington, DC 20035