12/15/2017 - Regulatory Rollback

Public Lands Grazing Rules

by EELP Staff

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule, please email us.

Why it Matters

Livestock grazing takes place on 155 million acres of public lands in the United States. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers nearly 18,000 grazing permits and leases. A 2016 report by the Department of Interior noted that 30% of assessed federal rangelands were not meeting the promulgated land health standards, and the damage is significantly attributed to livestock grazing. Strict grazing regulations and permit standards governing where, when, and how many cattle can graze protect native species and ensure that lands are healthy and productive in the future.

Generally, BLM issues 10-year, renewable permits to private ranchers for livestock grazing on public lands. By law, permits must include the kind and number of livestock for which the permit is granted and the periods, location, and amount of use authorized. Permits often include additional conditions and restrictions. Throughout the life of the permit, BLM and other regulators monitor the health of the leased land and may temporarily alter permits in response to changes in land quality.

Current Status

BLM has selected 11 demonstration projects for outcome-based grazing as part of a pilot program. Outcome-based grazing authorizations could weaken the stringency of grazing restrictions and accountability standards for permit and lease holders, giving them “an unprecedented level of flexibility in the management of livestock.”

Jan. 21, 2020 BLM publishes a Notice of Intent to overhaul grazing regulations for public lands. BLM intends that the revisions will address 2014 amendments to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which allow for the automatic continuation of expired grazing permits or leases pending any remaining environmental review, and exclude certain permit and livestock transport decisions from environmental review. The Bureau also plans to address GAO’s recommendation that BLM provide a procedure for informal resolution of unauthorized grazing violations at the local level. BLM states that it is interested in improving permitting efficiency, promoting land health, and allowing adequate public participation without burdening the administrative process. Western Watersheds Project notes concern that the changes will result in decreased enforcement against illegal grazing. 

The public comment period is open until March 6, 2020. Public comments can be submitted online here.

History

BLM last amended its grazing regulations in 1995 and in 2006.

Aug. 11, 2006 The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho prevents BLM from implementing portions of the 2006 revisions that would have limited BLM’s obligations regarding public input. Western Watersheds Project v. Kraayenbrink, 2006 WL 2348080 (D. Idaho).

Sept. 25, 2006 The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho prevents BLM from implementing additional revisions regarding criteria for determining rangeland health and ownership of range improvements. Western Watersheds Project v. Kraayenbrink, 2006 WL 2735772 (D. Idaho).

Trump Era

June 7, 2017 Interior Secretary Zinke issues Order No. 3353, “Greater Sage-grouse Conservation and Cooperation with Western States.” This order established the Sage-Grouse Review Team and charges it with examining the 2015 sage-grouse state land use plans to identify policies that could be modified or rescinded. More information on the history and current status of these plans is available on the Greater Sage-Grouse Protection page.

Aug. 4, 2017 the Sage-Grouse Review Team includes outcome-based grazing demonstration projects in its list of policy recommendations for revising the state land use plans.

Sep. 22, 2017 BLM announces a pilot program for outcome-based grazing authorizations, resulting in an “unprecedented level of flexibility in the management of livestock” for livestock operators. Under the pilot program, BLM will grant outcome-based grazing authorizations (permits, leases, or exchange-of-use agreements) to around twelve projects. These authorizations are expected to be valid for 10 years and will broaden the authority of permit holders to graze cattle where and when they choose. BLM state offices accept proposals for the project through Oct. 27, 2017.

March 28, 2018 BLM announces “11 demonstration projects in six states for its outcome-based grazing authorizations initiative, which is designed to provide BLM managers and grazing permit holders greater flexibility in the management of permitted livestock.” Click here for a list of the projects.

Jan. 21, 2020 BLM publishes a Notice of Intent to overhaul grazing regulations for public lands. BLM intends that the revisions will address 2014 amendments to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which allow for the automatic continuation of expired grazing permits or leases pending any remaining environmental review, and exclude certain permit and livestock transport decisions from environmental review. The Bureau also plans to address GAO’s recommendation that BLM provide a procedure for informal resolution of unauthorized grazing violations at the local level. BLM states that it is interested in improving permitting efficiency, promoting land health, and allowing adequate public participation without burdening the administrative process. Western Watersheds Project notes concern that the changes will result in decreased enforcement against illegal grazing. 

The public comment period is open until March 6, 2020. Public comments can be submitted online here.