WASHINGTON (June 16, 2005) -- The Bush administration today issued new rules rolling back advances the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) made over the past 10 years to reform livestock grazing on millions of acres of public lands. Those reforms were implemented to allow rangelands to recover from decades of abuse from overgrazing and other unsustainable grazing practices. The new rules are available on the BLM's Web site.
"Almost nothing in these rules benefits the public lands or the millions of Americans who use them for purposes other than raising cattle," said Tom Lustig, senior counsel for National Wildlife Federation. "BLM's new rules fence the public out of the process and let grazing trample over wildlife protections."
Livestock grazing takes up more federal land than any other commercial use, covering more than 200 million acres. In 1995, the Clinton administration implemented new regulations to address decades of grazing practices that polluted watersheds, ruined soil, despoiled riverbanks, damaged wildlife habitat, and destroyed archaeological sites. The Bush administration's new grazing rules gut these reforms and reward a relatively small number of livestock owners. The new rules also will cut out public participation in the public land decision-making process.
"These new rules mow down the grazing reforms enacted in the 1990s," said Bobby McEnaney, a grazing expert with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "The administration's 'leave no blade behind' policy will rip up our public lands and hogtie the agency's ability to protect other resources. It's a lose-lose proposition."
Even BLM resource management professionals have raised concerns about the new rules. Commenting on the proposed rule changes, one BLM staff member wrote in a December 2003 internal agency document that "The cumulative effects resulting from all these changes will be significant and adverse for wildlife and biological diversity in the long-term."
(To download BLM's suppressed December 2003 internal report on the proposed version of the rules, click here.)
BLM's new rules will:
- Cut the public out of important grazing decisions. The new regulations virtually eliminate BLM's obligation to notify and consult with the public about its on-the-ground grazing decisions.
- Make it harder to stop destructive grazing. Nearly a decade ago, BLM eliminated a rule requiring the agency to spend years monitoring and collecting data on range conditions before determining that grazing was damaging federal lands, wildlife, and other resources. As a result, the agency allowed grazing abuses to continue. BLM's new regulations reinstate this rule.
- "The new rules let the BLM turn a blind eye to obvious grazing damage while collecting unnecessary and redundant evidence," said Joe Feller, a law professor at Arizona State University. "In the meantime, our wildlife, streams and rivers will pay the price."
- Delay remedies for destructive grazing. If BLM finds that repairing rangeland damage requires more than a 10 percent reduction in livestock, it now must phase in the reductions over a five-year period. In addition, the new rules extend the time for BLM to take remedial action from one year to two.
- BLM again will allow livestock owners to own new water rights, fences, water tanks, and other structures in the middle of public grazing lands. This inevitably will make it harder for BLM to reduce, eliminate or manage grazing when necessary to protect other resources.