Richmond speaks about National Forest updates to the NCBA
Nashville, Tenn. – The Forest Service has approximately 6,000 permits that are filled with 2 million permitted livestock on its lands. Of those livestock, 1.2 million are cattle and 800,000 of them are sheep.
“We have about 8,000 active grazing allotments and 870 vacant allotments,” said Charlie Richmond, director of rangelands management at USDA Forest Service. “About 60 percent of those are sheep allotments, and 40 percent are cattle allotments.”
The total area of land the National Forest grazes in a little over 90 million acres.
“When looking at the past 10 years, the trend in grazing is pretty stable even with these past few years of drought,” said Richmond.
“In 2013, we had about 2,500 permites that were affected by drought,” commented Richmond. “We spent about $150,000 in drought mitigation drilling new wells primarily on the National Grasslands.”
The Forest Service also offered about 75 alternative allotments to people affected by the drought, and 25 of those allotments were used.
“Outside of beef consumption, one out of every three bites of food a person consumes depends on pollinators,” explained Richmond.
Recently, there has been a trend of decreasing numbers of pollinators, such as monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, bumblebees and honeybees.
The Forest Service has developed some management practices that include seeds of flowering plants in their seed mixtures used on aftermath burn areas and alongside roadsides.
“We traditionally use grass species, but we are tying to put a lot of these flowering species that attract pollinators in our mixes,” said Richmond.
Richmond mentioned farming practices could leave some native habitat to help the pollinators, as well.
Crop wild relatives program
A project the Forest Service is working with the Agricultural Research Service and USDA is the crop wild relatives program to collect seeds from native plants on the national forests.
“Most of the food sources and plant species we use in America for our food come from native plants, and they have been modified over the years to increase production and yields,” explained Richmond.
“This project is about preserving the genetic integrity of those native plants that exist on the national forest,” said Richmond.
There are about 400 native plants that reside solely on the national forests – varying from sunflowers to grapes to the Chiltepin peppers.
“We are also working with botanical gardens throughout the U.S. to keep these seeds in their seed storage. In case of some sort of disaster happens in the future, we will have those native seeds,” said Richmond.
A challenge the Forest Service has dealt with the past few years is controlling invasive species – mainly animal invasive species.
One example of an invasive animal species they are trying to control is the Zebra mussels, which attach themselves to any firm surface, block water pipelines and clog water intakes for municipal water supplies and hydroelectric companies.
They can also attach themselves to native mussels and kill them.
The Forest Service has begun inspecting boats in lakes and washing them off to keep the spread of the mussels down.
“We are treating about 400,000 acres of invasive species each year,” said Richmond. “We have treated about 1.5 million acres since 1998, but we are still losing ground. We spend a lot of time with invasive species and don’t have nearly enough funding to do that justice.”
Wild horses and burros
“Our priority with the wild horses and burros is to get our National Environmental Police Act (NEPA) documents done on several of our very large wild horse and burro territories,” said Richmond.
NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions.
To meet these requirements, federal agencies have to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.
“Just in the last few months, we’ve had a lot of instances where our field personnel have come to us with some sort of proposal wanting to buy out permit use from a permittee and take an allotment out of production,” stated Richmond.
“We cannot do that, and we won’t do it,” reassured Richmond.
Richmond advised permittee holders, saying, “Producers must make sure in their grazing permits that it talks about the needs of a permittee holder on their allotments, especially for motorized use and recognized use of vehicles.”
Forest Service handbook
An issue the Forest Service is going to face in 2014 is working on their manual and handbook.
“One thing we discovered was each region of the Forest Service has their own handbook that describes the methodology for analysis and monitoring, and they are all a little different,” said Richmond.
As a result, a national handbook is in development to establish consistency. The handbook will be published in 2015 and serve as a resource for states to use in developing monitoring guidelines.
“Its really important for the future for all of us to be on the same page with ecological sites,” described Richmond.
Richmond spoke at the Federal Lands Committee Business meeting at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Convention in Nashville, Tenn. on Feb. 6.