Interior Department Guts a Decade of Progress

WASHINGTON (July 12, 2006) -- The Bush administration today gutted sound livestock-grazing practices that have governed more than 150 million acres of public lands for more than a decade.

Issued by the Interior Department, the new rules will hasten the overgrazing of rangelands and lead to unsustainable grazing practices while eliminating the public's right to participate in decisions involving federal lands affected by grazing, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), and Earthjustice.

"The Bush administration is scuttling protections for our public lands. The new rules read like a wish-list written by the cattle industry," said Bobby McEnaney, a grazing expert at NRDC.

The new rules will:

  • Retard the ability of the Bureau of Land Management to stop and correct damaging grazing practices by forcing the agency to spend years monitoring and collecting data before initiating action against offenders.

  • Hamper BLM's ability to suspend grazing permits when ranchers violate federal regulations, such as when they kill endangered species or destroy archeological resources.

  • Allow livestock owners to own new water rights, fences and water tanks on public lands, making it harder for BLM to manage grazing in order to protect public resources.

  • Cut the public out of important grazing decisions by virtually relieving BLM of its duty to inform and consult the public before taking action.

In 1995, the federal government implemented new regulations to address decades of grazing practices that polluted watersheds, ruined soil, despoiled riverbanks, damaged wildlife habitat, and destroyed archaeological sites. But the new grazing rules will undo those reforms.

"The reforms of 10 years ago were implemented in the first place to allow public rangelands to recover from decades of abuse from overgrazing," McEnaney said. "Now the Bush administration has elected to ignore the scientific judgment of Interior Department scientists in exchange for rules written by cattle industry lobbyists."

"These new rules mow down the grazing reforms enacted in the 1990s," said Sara Tucker, legislative associate at Earthjustice. "The Interior Department's 'no cow left behind' policy would turn our public lands into stockyards, and hog-tie the agency's ability to protect other resources. It's a lose-lose proposition."

"Almost nothing in these rules benefits public lands, wildlife, or the millions of Americans who use these lands for recreation," said Tom Lustig, senior counsel for NWF. "BLM's new rules fence the public out of the process and let grazing trample recreation and wildlife."