Grazing workshops: SCCD hosts grazing-permit workshopsWritten by Joy Ufford
Pinedale – Although any time of the year can be a busy one for livestock ranchers, about 100 attended the two grazing-permit renewal workshops hosted last week by the Sublette County Conservation District (SCCD) and its partners.
The program, “Grazing Permit Renewal Workshop: A Comprehensive Guide for Permittees and Local Government,” was brainstormed by SCCD manager Mike Henn and range program’s Shari Meeks.
Although the workshops were specifically presented first within Sublette County – first in Pinedale and then in Marbleton – the Wyoming Department of Agriculture will use the Sublette sessions as a “guinea pig” and fine-tune it as a template to go statewide.
The workshops’ events included a trade show, breaks and lunch with sponsors such as the Green River Valley Cattlewomen, Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association, Wyoming Public Lands Coalition, Y2 Consulting and SCCD.
One of the workshop highlights was the added bonus of experienced public and private consultants and experts completely donating their time to the grazing-permit renewal workshops, Meeks told the Pinedale audience.
“We understand this is a very busy time of year between your feeding schedules and getting ready for calving,” she said. “We can all agree the grazing permit renewal process has seen its changes over all the years.”
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) are the two federal public-land management agencies that offer 10-year livestock grazing permits in Sublette County and across the state, and both have very different methods of reviewing and approving those permits, Meeks noted.
Meeks referred to the threats of lawsuits from conservation and environmental groups – naming the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) in particular – whose attorneys search for reasons the agencies should not renew permits.
“We’re giving ranchers tools for their permit renewals, when and how for ranchers to be involved,” she said.
Speakers packing their expert information into each workshop included attorney Karen Budd-Falen, University of Idaho Extension’s Jim Sprinkle, Y2 consultant Brenda Younkin and a roundtable of local ranchers Mary Jones, Joel Bousman and Albert Sommers.
The goals of the workshop were to outline what is required for grazing permit renewal; how to identify, define and resolve resource concerns for National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) grazing permits; Wyoming standards and guidelines and their role in renewal; how to be engaged as a rancher in the NEPA process; and how to use monitoring data for adaptive management.
Standards and guidelines
Y2 Consulting’s Brenda Younkin surveyed the crowd to see who has BLM grazing permits, USFS permits – and in a number of situations, both.
She pointed out the BLM’s allotment management plan is a “standalone” document for permits that can be reauthorized every two years with no changes allowed.
For USFS grazing permits, allotment management plans are part of the permit, which can be reauthorized with no changes allowed. A “fully processed permit” means a NEPA environmental analysis (EA) has been done to continue permitted grazing on public land allotments, Younkin explained.
That is the status many ranchers find themselves mired in at times when trying to renew allotment grazing permits as an association or individual, she said, noting, “Neither option seems to work very well.”
Focusing on the BLM’s process, Younkin pointed out the 1997 Rangeland Reforms describe “standards for healthy rangelands and guidelines for livestock grazing management for public lands.”
“Livestock seems to be the main focus of ‘standards and guidelines’ challenges,” she said. “The process is supposed to identify if six standards are met. If not. they have to show a ‘causal factor’ – this is supercritical to ranchers and their operations.”
Permittees need to get involved in the renewal process while it’s in the “standards and guidelines determination” stage because the next step is the NEPA document, usually an EA, but “rarely” a more in-depth environmental impact statement (EIS) might be sought by those not wanting you to renew their permits.
Ranchers should ask for copies of their files, Younkin added. “Once something’s in a file, it’s there. This is the best part of the process where we can get involved with NEPA to make sure procedural errors aren’t made that could be challenged.”
Younkin provided a step-by-step view of the process and later in the workshop, talked in detail about Wyoming Standards and Guidelines.
The importance of proper, acceptable rangeland monitoring and data collection were emphasized by three well-known local ranchers and permittees, with Albert Sommers of Pinedale, Mary Jones of LaBarge and Joel Bousman of Boulder.
Bousman pointed out a WWP legal challenge that the BLM had “not properly” renewed a grazing permit was deterred by having a consistent and detailed rangeland-monitoring plan.
“We had the data to completely justify the permits,” he said, adding he might spend five full days a year to ensure the federal grazing allotment is being properly managed and monitored.
Sommers advised the audience to make use “of the expertise here now,” at the SCCD and other offices, saying, “They are very well educated.”
“We’re in better shape in our county than we’ve ever been to have these tools to support livestock grazing on public land,” he said, adding he spends eight to 10 full days on monitoring not counting discussions with USFS and BLM.
“It’s a better relationship if we’re all out there looking at the same stake,” Sommers said.
Jones informed participants that with a grazing association, each permittee needs to be comfortable with how and where monitoring occurs, commenting, “We didn’t want any sites to be the source of controversy.”
She referred to SCCD’s term grant to help get permits renewed while creating working relationships, which calls for a third party to bring the partners together
University of Idaho Extension’s Jim Sprinkle developed an earlier, similar workshop template that went statewide in Arizona and offered his assistance to help Henn and Meeks develop this pilot program.
Sprinkle addressed ways and means to be actively involved in the permit renewal process; how to identify and define natural resource issues in an allotment; and how to use rangeland-monitoring data for best management.
He also showed a number of before and after slides from Arizona range-management projects, including the Diamond Allotment burn area illustrating how objectives were defined and reached through adaptive management.
As speakers continued taking faster and faster through the day, Henn commented on their “amazing commitment” to their areas of expertise and willingness to share.