Colo. Cattlemen's Association Convention: Ranchers Sound off to BLM

June 21, 2023

The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rule that would define conservation as a use was a major topic of discussion at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Annual Meeting.

Sigrid Johannes, director of the Public Lands Council, told Western Ag Network’s Lane Nordlund the Conservation Land Use Rule is a major change to multiple use land management.

“It’s so major, it’s the type of thing we would normally expect to see in a 12-month scoping period and rather than going through that period to gather input from grazers, from recreation users, from energy folks, from all the different people who depend upon public lands, BLM jumped straight to putting out the draft rule,” Johannes said. “There’s a couple of pieces in there that are extremely concerning to us. It alters how conservation is treated under FLPMA, the guiding statute that the BLM gets its marching orders from, and we don’t think they have the authority to do that.”

Johannes said that power lies with Congress alone, which is one of the reasons the rule is deeply concerning to all public lands users.

Tim Canterbury, board member of the PLC, attended the informational meeting hosted by the BLM in Denver, one of three with the other two in Albuquerque and Reno. The lack of engagement at the meetings has been a point of contention, but Canterbury said the locations of the meetings were also frustrating.

“It was totally set up and totally disregarded the public lands users, especially the grazing and the livestock industry,” he said. “To hold three meetings in three states and leave all those other folks out.”

View Lane Nordlund's entire conversation with Johannes and Canterbury:

Canterbury said for the large number of public lands users in other Western states were likely unable to attend based on the distance to the metro meetings, all located significant distances from public lands themselves.

Johannes said PLC was quick and committed to mobilizing their members to provide public comment. However, she said the amount of time the BLM spent answering questions from stakeholders at the three meetings combined was perhaps five minutes, a fact she said speaks to the lack of a good faith effort by the BLM.

“We’ve been working closely with all of our partners in all of the Western states that will be impacted by this, but one of the things we’re pushing for, in addition to submitting those comments, is more opportunities for people to speak with BLM in person and get those questions answered,” she said. “This is not going to work if this is not developed in cooperation with permittees.”

Johannes said the title of the proposed rule is disingenuous, as the livestock community is certainly committed to conservation.

“Permittees want to make sure the land is healthy, sustainably managed, and also for sustained yield, as we see in FLTMA, for beneficial use and sustained yield,” she said. “What’s different in this rule is the BLM has created a system under their so-called conservation leasing system where it’s up to third parties to come in and say what they think is a use that is compatible with conservation.”

She said one of PLC’s major concerns is that anti-agriculture groups will claim that ceasing grazing is the best conservation practice.

“We don’t agree with that, science doesn’t support that, and it certainly runs contrary to the BLM’s mission of multiple use management,” she said. “We’re concerned that the rule, through it’s conservation leasing system and through its emphasis on designating what are called Areas of Critical Environmental Concern is going to create an environment where there’s a huge pressure to reduce AUMs, to pull back on permits across the West, and we don’t think that is actually compatible with conservation. It’s certainly compatible with the views of the people who don’t like grazing on public lands, but it’s not true conservation.”

Johannes said it’s notable that this proposed rule process is running parallel to Land Use Planning revisions, a process she said isn’t synching well with the timing of the rule considerations, creating a bureaucratic nightmare for the BLM and permittees.

Canterbury said according to the proposed rule, a conservation lease could be layered on top of a grazing lease and the BLM has said the conservation use would have elevated preference over a grazing lease or any other uses. As for what might happen when a conservation lease expires, Johannes said it’s unclear whether subsequent leases would be required to honor historic use, or the previous lease on that allotment.

“There is a real possibility of a widespread loss of permits here,” she said.

The PLC requested a 150-day extension of the comment period based on the scope of the rule. BLM announced a 15-day extension, with all public comment due prior to July 5.


Source: Western Ag Network