Recently the LOS ANGELES TIMES reported that a report on new federal land grazing regulations by the Bureau of Land Management didn't include environmental criticism from the Fish and Wildlife Service and some of BLM's own scientists.
At issue are proposed new regulations which restrict bureau expert's authority to act when they feel that grazing is doing environmental damage. Grazing regulations affect more than 160 million acres of public land. Under the new rules, federal land managers would have to conduct long studies before taking action to restrict grazing. The new guidelines also eliminate the BLM's obligation to seek public input on some grazing decisions. Environmental critics of the new rules say that they also expand ranchers' rights to water and permit private cattlemen's ownership of structures on public property.
Grazing on federal lands has long been a source of contention. Extensive environmental degradation from unrestricted grazing and a series of violent confrontations between sheep ranchers and cattle ranchers led to the first modern regulation, the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, which regulated grazing through permits and created the Bureau of Land Management. The bill was widely supported by ranchers and industry groups who welcomed the government's new authority. Additional oversight came with the founding in 1964 of the Public Land Law Review Commission, the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) in 1976, and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978. Executive Order 12548 of 1986 noted that there would be annual fees for domesticated livestock grazing on public rangelands fees pegged to various costs and prices: Forage Value Index (FVI), Beef Cattle Price Index (BCPI) and the Prices Paid Index (PPI).
The new heat generated over the proposed grazing regulation is but one of a series of ongoing conflicts over fees, water quality, and the very economics of rangeland ranching. Karen Merrill in her book, PUBLIC LANDS AND POLITICAL MEANING: RANCHERS, THE GOVERNMENT, AND THE PROPERTY BETWEEN THEM, suggests that the conflicts may stem from different ideas of property and of the best use of public lands. What do you think? Read more from the groups listed below and speak out on the message boards.
The following Web sites offer more information on grazing and on America's federal stewardship of natural resources:
National Forest Foundation
The National Forest Foundation is the official nonprofit partner of the Forest Service. The group creates community-based and national programs that promote the health and public enjoyment of the National Forest System. The NFF also administers private gifts of funds and land for the benefit of the National Forests.
National Park Service: Wilderness Area Management
This segment of the National Park Service's Web site details the history of the wilderness designation, and provides management plans and scientific studies on all wilderness areas under NPS control. The site offers a Wilderness Law Library, and provides information on all NPS areas currently under review for wilderness designation.
National Parks and Conservation Association
Established in 1919, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is the only private, nonprofit, advocacy organization dedicated to educating the public about our national parks and protecting, preserving, and enhancing the U.S. National Park System.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association
The trade group offers information on the economic role of the cattle industry and other matters.
National Resources Defense Council
The environmental group presents information on the impact of grazing on public lands.
The Sierra Club works to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
An agency of the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management Web site provides general information, facts and news related to the management of our public lands. Features include access to bureau publications, brochures, and current initiatives undertaken by the Bureau of Land Management.
U.S.D.A. Forest Service
The official site for the Forest Service contains area profiles and resource management procedures and pertinent news stories. Potential visitors can find information on permit and use guidelines for Forest Service areas.
Founded in 1935, the Wilderness Society is one of the most vocal advocates for wilderness advocacy. It's former president, Howard Zahniser, was one of the authors of the original Wilderness Act. Today the non-profit group is lobbying against changes to the roadless rule and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.