Forest Service slows review of Trump-era livestock directives for public lands
Conservation groups hope to see climate and biodiversity impacts of public lands livestock grazing examined
In late 2020, some of the Trump administration’s last-minute land-management efforts included a plan to ease rules on mining, drilling and grazing across millions of acres of Western states.
The U.S. Forest Service published a notice in the Federal Register on Dec. 18 initiating a 60-day comment period on its Proposed Directives for Rangeland Management, which “could have far-reaching effects for on-the-ground management of livestock grazing programs,” writes Matthew Koehler with WildEarth Guardians, a nonprofit grassroots environmental organization.
The effort to revise the Rangeland Management Directives is to provide “greater management flexibility and improve the clarity of policies and procedures to guide responsible and consistent management of NFS lands,” according to the Forest Service.
Western slope ranchers hold dozens of grazing allotments in the White River National Forest, where sheep ranching near Vail pre-dates the ski resort.
While the current Rangeland Management Directives have been in place for roughly 30 years, an update of outdated manuals and handbooks is needed, according to the Forest Service. But conservation activists are skeptical of the effort.
“For over 100 years, the Forest Service has allowed the livestock industry dictate grazing policy with minimal oversight and accountability for its damaging ecological practices,” Koehler writes.
With a goal of “restoring balance to the management of our public lands and waters, creating jobs, confronting the ongoing decline of nature, and aligning the management of America’s public lands and waters with our nation’s climate, conservation, and clean energy goals,” the Biden Administration begun the process of reversing Trump-era environmental policy.
In January, the Interior Department announced it was postponing quarterly oil lease sales in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming, and in February the Forest Service extended the deadline to comment on its Proposed Directives for Rangeland Management, a process which was favored, Koehler writes, due to the fact that it “conducted no environmental analysis to examine the impacts of the proposed changes nor provided any alternatives for the public to consider.”
The proposed Rangeland Management revisions reflect “the public land management paradigm of the past four years,” Koehler wrote on Feb. 16, “demonstrating a blatant disregard for the climate crisis, native ecosystems and wildlife, science, and public input.”
Tina Johna Terrell, associate deputy chief of the National Forest System, said the Rangeland Management proposed directives were drafted “in a good faith effort to provide greater management flexibility and enhance the clarity of policies and procedures applicable to the rangeland management program.”
But Terrell acknowledged that the process didn’t allow much time for public comment.
“To ensure that all members of the public who have an interest in rangeland management have the opportunity to provide comment, we are extending the comment period on the proposed directive to April 17, 2021,” she wrote on Feb. 11.
“We are thrilled the U.S. Forest Service is signaling its willingness to slow down and reexamine this process,” said Madeleine Carey, of WildEarth Guardians. “Public lands grazing is one of the most ubiquitous uses of public lands in the American West. Reforming how public lands grazing is managed must be part of the domestic climate action agenda.”
Chris Bugbee, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, expressed optimism that the Biden administration will use the opportunity created by the Trump administration rangeland examination to “rein in grazing and allow wildlands to recover,” he said. “Grazing has devastated critical habitat and destroyed ecosystems across the West. We’re in the midst of climate and extinction crises and it’s long past time to take an unvarnished look at this damage and focus on repairing our public lands.”