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Guest Opinions

Update on Situation in the Green Mountain Allotment

Written by Dick Loper

By Dick Loper, Rangeland Issues Consultant, Wyoming State Grazing Board

On May 20, the Lander BLM issued the latest Final Grazing Decision for the Green Mountain Allotment. It represents the latest item in a long-running saga that will be considered historic when the next book about livestock grazing on federal lands is written. This new decision can in no way be considered the last chapter in this saga, but it’s the next step in the lives of the 19 family ranches that continue to try to make a living from that area of Wyoming rangelands.

This latest decision from the Lander BLM does make a few changes to the very large 550,000-acre common allotment that are desired by the permittees. The ranchers have proposed, and the BLM has now agreed, to divide the large common allotment into four smaller allotments, largely based on historic use patterns of groups of permittees that have not recently mixed (on purpose) their livestock with each other. The “west-side” group of permittees live mostly in the Lander/Riverton/Kinnear area, while the “east-side” permittees live mostly in the Jeffery City and east areas, and a new sheep allotment will be in the middle of the area. Also, the 46 Ranch on the far east side will now be separate from the old Green Mountain allotment area. In consideration of wildlife and recreation concerns, these new allotments will not have internal fenced boundaries and we hope the BLM will allow drift use along these new boundaries that would not be considered as trespass.

This allotment has suffered from a severe lack of science-based monitoring studies of the condition and trend of the rangelands and riparian areas. The lack of adequate quality and quantity data continues to contribute to significant disagreements between the BLM, the permittees and the radical “enviros” over the impacts of livestock and wild horses and the actual on-the-ground health of the land.

Three percent of the allotment is considered riparian, and the BLM owns only one-third of that type of habitat. But, the one-third they do own has been, and will continue to be, the “tail that wags the dog” with respect to how livestock are managed. To date, and for the foreseeable future, the new decision conveys that the BLM will continue to use “stubble-height” standards on riparian areas as the basis for moving livestock from pasture to pasture during the grazing season. If the “stubble-height standard” is not met, the permittees will be considered in violation of an important term and condition of their permit and future reductions will be imposed.
The Wyoming State Grazing Board, the state of Wyoming, our university and the permittees agree with the published literature in the range science community that stubble-height and utilization might be useful management tools on some sites, but they should never become the “objective,” per se. We continue to try to convince the Lander BLM that resource issues in this allotment can not be resolved until all parties are able to observe and agree on the actual cause and effect on the trend in the health of upland rangelands and riparian areas.  

The new decision does propose to accept the offer of the Wyoming State Grazing Board to facilitate an effort by the permittees and the BLM to determine site-specific resource objectives and develop a comprehensive, science-based Joint/Cooperative Monitoring (JCM) program. Our UW Range Department, Office of State Lands and Investment (OSLI) and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture will be active and valuable participants in this monitoring effort. The BLM, by statute, is required to involve all “interested publics,” (read: radical enviro groups) in a monitoring program, but the WSGB and the permittees will not include them in our efforts because they don’t want to contribute to solving resource issues – they want to eliminate livestock grazing and the livelihood of family ranches.

Unfortunately, the new grazing decisions continue to refuse to develop an Allotment Management Plan (AMP) in consultation, cooperation and coordination with the permittees and the OSLI. Many of us share the opinion that future management under the principals of consultation, cooperation and coordination is preferable and increases the odds for success over management by the BLM under a formal decision process.

A serious complication to the path towards sustainable ranching in these four new allotments is the continuation of legal challenges by Western Watershed Project (WWP) and a few local radical so-called “environmentalists” to remove all livestock grazing from these federal lands.

Last year WWP filed a legal challenge to the BLM and west-side permittee proposal to construct a fence that is vital to the ability of these ranchers to manage riparian areas just south of the Sweetwater River. An Administrative Law Judge agreed with WWP, and the BLM had to rewrite the plan to manage this allotment.

Last December WWP and local residents Tom Bell and Mike Hudek filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne to try to stop all livestock grazing in this allotment in 2011. U.S. District Judge Nancy Fredenthal recently ruled that livestock grazing could continue during the 2011 grazing season, but she has yet to dismiss the case, so this legal threat to these permittees is yet to be resolved. The next hearing on this challenge is set for July 7 in Cheyenne.

Many of the permittees hired a lawyer to help fight this effort to put them out of business. The Budd Falen law firm did an excellent job on their behalf, and the WSGB and the state of Wyoming aggressively participated in this defense. The economic costs to these permittees to help fight these legal battles is enormous. They are on the front line in Fremont County in the legal battle to keep livestock grazing on federal lands. But, if the radical “enviros” are successful in removing livestock from the Green Mountain area, many of us fear that other allotments in the Lander BLM Field Office area will become the next target of these people and organizations that want all livestock removed from federal, state AND private rangelands in the West.

The recently released final decision on the Green Mountain area will certainly be appealed by WWP, and perhaps some local radical “enviros.”

The permittees in the Green Mountain area will soon have to consider if they can afford to help the BLM fight the appeal from the “enviros” to put these family ranches out of business. The permittees must also consider whether or not there are terms and conditions imposed by the BLM in the new decision that they could not accept. Thank goodness for the recent moisture in this area that helps grow the forage necessary to support the grazing program.

On behalf of these permittees, the WSGB would like to suggest that all ranchers and local government and businesses in the Wind River area have a “dog in this fight.” If they lose, we all lose. Please consider how you can contribute to ward off these efforts to change forever our Western way of life. There are lots of ways we can help them that will also be helping ourselves. Your personal efforts to encourage the BLM, our local, state and national elected officials and the business community to support our ag community is critical. Please also take every opportunity to convey your appreciation to those whom you know are in support of the customs and culture we all enjoy.