BLM, Hay Creek see success in partnershipWritten by Saige Albert
Worland – “We’ve been working with Hay Creek Land and Livestock and Josh Longwell since roughly 2009 when he applied for some vacated Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing permits,” says Mike Phillips, manager of the Worland BLM Office. “We’ve been working hand-in-hand to build a level of trust in going through the permitting process.”
In December 2016, Longwell was awarded the permits, and he will begin using them this season after pre-grazing meetings in late December.
“We typically don’t have vacated permits,” Phillips says, “so this was a new process for our office.”
The process led to a three-step approach for Hay Creek and Worland BLM, where they divided the large ranch into three phases.
“The ranch is divided into the low county, the middle country and the upper country,” Phillips explains. “Each phase has unique characteristics.”
For example, in their low country, the rangelands provide sage grouse habitat, while the upper country sees Bighorn sheep, grizzly bear and wolf populations.
“We worked through a three-step approach, doing rangeland health, working through a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document with public scoping and then issuing a permit,” Phillips says.
For the permit reissuance, Phillips explains that one essential component meant working with the public and interested stakeholders.
“Throughout this whole process, we invited all the interested public to be involved, which included the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Wool Growers Association, the Governor’s Office, Western Watersheds Project, the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation and others,” Philips says. “This was a large project.”
The one protest that was received on the NEPA document was answered by Worland BLM and went without appeal from the commenter, meaning that the permitting for phase one, the low country that Longwell sought to use, is now issued.
“Right now, we have a pre-grazing season meeting with Josh in late December, and he’ll be using those permits this winter,” Phillips adds.
“We’re working on phase two and phase three now,” Phillips says. “We’re going to do those together.”
As they conduct their rangeland health evaluations, which will then be included in a NEPA document, he explains that they have an additional wrinkle in the form of new guidance that was issued, mandating that they collect additional data.
“We’ll collect the data on the upper country this field season, which is this summer, so by next winter, we’re hoping to have the rangeland health evaluation determination done,” Phillips explains. “Then, we’ll go right into the NEPA document and try to get those permits issued by 2018-19.”
The approach taken by Longwell and Worland BLM has yielded what both parties tout as a resounding success.
“We followed a process and worked together,” Phillips says.
As they worked to develop a positive relationship, Phillips notes that the biggest piece was establishing communication and being able to bridge some gaps that had deteriorated in the past.
“We worked together to come up with common goals and objectives, looking at the land holistically and what it can really produce,” he says. “We did a carrying capacity study of the allotments to look at what they can really produce and worked all that out together.”
Phillips adds, “I think the constant communication between Josh and our staff has been crucial. He’s been with us while we’ve done the monitoring, the field tours and all of this work. Josh has done everything we’ve asked of him, and we’ve developed a really good partnership.”
Longwell commends BLM for their professionalism and the partnership they’ve developed.
“This BLM office is really just a group of outstanding guys,” Longwell says. “They did a great job and deserve to be recognized for the work we’ve done here.”
Both Longwell and Phillips recognize the other as being necessary to completing the process and getting BLM permits reissued for Hay Creek Land and Livestock.
“Josh has been so key in all this,” says John Elliott, assistant field manager for resources in the Worland BLM office. “I talk to Josh so often, and if we have a problem about anything, we’re honest and direct.”
He adds, “Our success here doesn’t mean that either of us likes everything that happens all the time, but we’re up-front with each other and we work through it. Without Josh, I don’t believe we would have been able to reissue these permits as we have.”
Phillips notes that the success seen by Worland BLM and Hay Creek Land and Livestock can be replicated across the state, but permittees and BLM must work together.
“I think it’s really important that BLM and permittees get out on the ground together, kicking the dirt and seeing the problems, as well as the good things, that are happening out on the ground,” Phillips said.
He adds that permitees and BLM staff can’t be afraid of conflict or communication, which are both instrumental.
“We can’t be afraid of being able to communicate or sit down with folks. We have to do that and get out into the field,” Phillips says. “It takes a lot of face-to-face, which takes more time, but that’s what we should be doing to see success on the ground.”
Wyo County Commissioners pursue initiative on public landsWritten by Saige Albert
On Dec. 3, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) launched their Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI). WPLI develops a locally led, Wyoming-specific legislative lands package to address designation, release or other management for wilderness study areas in Wyoming.
WPLI will bring interested stakeholders to the table to develop agreements on the final designation or release of Wyoming’s 45 wilderness study areas, as well as other potential land designations that could benefit from legislative intervention.
“WPLI seeks to resolve the final disposition of wilderness study areas and any other land designation issue,” says Fremont County Commissioner Doug Thompson. “We have a lot of land in wilderness studies areas and other classifications, and there are more suitable ways to classify some of that land. They may become wilderness areas, be released or be designated as any level of use in between, but it is important for the well-being of livestock, wildlife and economic activity to have those suitably classified.”
“The last time Congress passed a major lands bill specifically for Wyoming was more than 30 years ago,” Thompson adds. “We believe it’s time for a new effort that tackles the temporary wilderness study areas in Wyoming and faces head-on some of Wyoming’s most difficult land designation challenges.”
WCCA adds, “The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative is the first grassroots effort to create a comprehensive lands package for Wyoming in more than three decades. It is an opportunity to make meaningful decisions about the designation and use of public lands in this state.”
Beginning with a vision
“This started almost a year ago as a vision,” Thompson says. “There has always been a desire to get some final resolution on wilderness study areas.”
Similar efforts have taken place in other states, but Thompson says they are tailoring a process that will work for Wyoming.
“Idaho did a state-wide program to address roadless areas that was focused in the Governor’s Office,” he says. “This is going to be a county-level initiative, but we will have touch-points in the Governor’s Office.”
A look at WLPI
Thompson explains that Wyoming’s County Commissioners are currently preparing a draft process to help counties get involved and determine how lands should be classified.
“WCCA is putting together a draft process, and we need to finalize that,” he says. “At our next meeting, we will look at the latest draft and finalize the process.”
Each of Wyoming’s 23 counties was invited to be a part of the voluntary process.
Thompson comments, “Counties will have to look at the process, decide if they want to be involved and make a decision.”
Working individually or as a bloc, counties will appoint a County Advisory Team (CAT) charged with determining the scope of the land designations they seek to address, visiting the areas and making a recommendation on their designation, says WCCA.
CATs will be formed from a variety of interest groups.
“Everyone’s interests – from producers to wilderness advocates to wildlife advocates to industrial interests – will be considered.”
Thompson further notes that the process is fair and strives to bring all interests to the table, similar to the Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT).
“Everyone who has an interest in public lands and the ability and track record of working together to achieve goals will be invited,” Thompson says. “Everyone working together doesn’t mean that everyone gets what they want, though.”
After working together, Thompson explains that the final product will be in the form of a package of bills presented to Congress.
“Final designations will, optimistically, be finished in a year to a year and a half,” he said. “The final disposition would be a bill going to Congress to address a wide range of land designation issues.”
Because of the wide representation, Thompson notes that the effort is more likely to be successful.
Optimism for success
Thompson strongly believes that this process has the potential to succeed.
“One myth is that any change in the status of a wilderness study area would automatically be detrimental,” he says. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
“The well-being of wildlife will always be on the table, but it will be broad-based,” Thompson continues.
“The WPLI is about local Wyoming people making decisions that are best for Wyoming,” adds WCCA Executive Director Pete Obermueller. “Ultimately it is up to us to decide on the future of these areas. County Commissioners are well positioned to lead this effort given their knowledge of the land in their counties and their elected mandate to represent the best interests of their entire county. This will be a long and sometimes difficult process, but if we don’t work together to make decisions about these lands, eventually someone else will do it for us.”
Budd-Falen looks at legal implications, lawsuits regarding federal lands, grazing allotmentsWritten by Joy Ufford
Pinedale – The brightly dressed woman paced quietly around the room but didn’t waste time when she took the floor.
“Okay, let’s get this out of the way – I am Dan Budd’s daughter,” attorney Karen Budd-Falen told the audience gathered at the Pinedale Library Jan. 27 for the Sublette County Conservation District’s (SCCD) grazing permit renewal workshop.
Budd-Falen – a celebrity of sorts for public-land use and ranchers across the West – offered to speak to workshop audiences in Pinedale and Marbleton, many of whom recognized her for growing up in Big Piney as “Dan Budd’s daughter.”
She has her own law firm, Budd-Falen Law Offices, and represents many battling with government agencies and “enviros” across the West.
With the header of “Permit Renewal Court Cases in the West: Who Won, Who Didn’t and Why?” Budd-Falen immediately updated the audience on the Jan. 22 Ninth District Court hearing in Lander, in which private landowners filed suit against Western Watersheds Project (WWP) state director Jonathon Ratner.
Budd-Falen represents the group of ranchers who are suing Ratner for trespassing on their lands to collect water quality samples, which he submitted to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
In the hearing, Judge Norman Young allowed Ratner was “likely trespassing” but took the issue of damages under advisement, she recounted, noting she has seen and heard of the WWP director riding along with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) range specialists.
“Jon Ratner doesn’t have the right to ride along with anyone out there,” she stated.
Quickly warming to her topic, Budd-Falen advised permittees to “understand and know before litigation that WWP is in litigation with the agency.”
“The first thing I want to tell people about is FOIA – the Freedom of Information Act. FOIA allows us to get a copy of every document in our files,” Budd-Falen said. “Get that file. See if there’s anything in there. Western Watersheds puts lots of stuff in our files. We might be shocked.”
Regarding the above-mentioned WWP trespass lawsuit, Budd-Falen asked the audience how many Wyoming BLM allotments they thought WWP might have requested information about.
“WWP has requested information about every single allotment,” she replied. “Every single one of us is on Western Watershed’s list.”
Budd-Falen said the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) is a non-mandated procedure used incorrectly by “enviros” to get their desired outcomes.
If an organization suing the BLM seeks even a temporary stay of grazing, Budd-Falen said, “Know we can get kicked off our land for a year or two,” and many decisions take much longer.
“BLM voluntarily stopped using categorical exclusions (CX) to renew term grazing permits. The CX actually is a NEPA document and is preferable when renewing Forest Service permits,” she added.
Budd-Falen continued outlining the grazing permit renewal and appeal processes, with a stream of information about agency data starting two steps above whatever a rancher collects.
“And if there’s no other data but theirs, we’re going to lose – end of story,” she said.
One rancher asked her, “When a permittee has little experience with NEPA, should they call an attorney?”
Budd-Falen commented, “I think ranchers need somebody to make sure they’ve got all those legal arguments in there.”
BLM encourages feedback for proposed planning processWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Planning 2.0 is an initiative from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review the way in which the agency develops and updates Resource Management Plans (RMPs). Shasta Ferranto, the Planning 2.0 project manager for BLM’s Washington Office, described changes in the proposed planning rule on March 21, during a live webcast.
“Under the last four years of developing resource management plans under the federal land and policy management act (FLPMA), we gained a lot of experience, and we have learned many lessons and also many best practices of planning in collaboration with our partners and with the public,” she stated.
The Planning 2.0 proposed rule aims to develop RMPs that are responsive to issues and opportunities within planning areas.
“We’ve learned that collaboration is most effective when it happens early and often,” mentioned Ferranto.
Proposed changes have been developed to address best practices and address collaboration efforts, including those that cross administrative boundaries, such as migration routes that cover multiple states or concerns that affect multiple agencies.
“Although BLM recognizes the need for a landscape approach to resource management, we also acknowledge the importance of local issues and the important role that local partners play in the planning process. Our proposed landscape approach is meant to enhance local planning and involvement, not to replace it,” she added.
The proposed rule has also been designed to acknowledge changes that inevitably occur in resource management scenarios.
“Whether it be environmental change, ecological change, social change, economic change or changes in the best available science or management techniques we have available to us, when change occurs, we need to be ready for it, and we need to be able to respond quickly and meaningfully,” she explained.
BLM’s mandate to develop land use plans comes from the Federal Land Use and Policy Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976.
FLPMA directs BLM to provide for public involvement when developing those land use plans, and to coordinate with state, local and tribal governments. It also directs BLM to seek consistency with state, local and tribal land use plans to the extent practical.
“Planning 2.0 will revise two key components of BLM’s planning policy that implements FLPMA,” noted Ferranto.
Both the land use planning regulations and the land use planning handbook will be updated if the current proposed rule goes into effect.
“Regulations provide the framework for developing resource management plans, as required and directed by FLPMA. Although minor changes were made to these regulations in 2005, the last major revision occurred in 1983, making our current planning regulations over 30 years old,” she explained.
The new handbook will be based on how procedures are described in the final regulations and provide details about how to implement procedures. A draft of the handbook is expected to be available by next summer or early next fall.
“We began this process formally in the fall of 2014. At that time, we hosted two public listening sessions, and we accepted written comments,” Ferranto stated.
Input from BLM staff, the public and other stakeholders was considered for the proposed rule, which was formally published on Feb. 25, 2016 in the Federal Register. The proposed rule is out now through April 25 for public comment, and BLM encourages feedback.
One proposed change is an overall planning framework that would describe the content of RMPs, as well as supporting documents included with the plans.
“The goal of our proposed changes to the planning framework is to improve the BLM’s ability to apply adaptive management approaches and also to focus BLM management on achieving desired conditions in the planning area,” Ferranto commented.
Planning components and implementation strategies are two key categories that would be adapted in accordance to the proposed rule. Plan components include land use decisions, and implementation strategies would assist in implementing the land use plan.
“The plan components would be required for every single land use plan and would provide ‘planning level management direction,’” she noted.
Implementation strategies and contrast would be developed as needed and would be updated on an ongoing basis to incorporate new information and the best available science.
The six kinds of components described in the proposed rule include goals, objectives, monitoring and evaluation standards, designations, resource use determinations and lands available for disposal. Of those, goals and objectives will be achieved through the direction of the other four components.
“The intent is that the goals would be landscape-minded and responsive to cross-boundary concerns when it is appropriate, or the goals might focus on a small area and unique local concerns when that is appropriate,” remarked Ferranto.
Objectives would be required to be specific and measurable, while also intending to be aligned with specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, or SMART, objectives.
Key attributes and indicators would be implemented to address the outlined goals and objectives and a revised planning handbook would provide detailed guidance for those factors.
“To the extent that it makes sense, we would like to align with national indicators in coordination with BLM’s Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring program, also known as the AIM program,” Ferranto continued. “That being said, for some resources, we won’t be able to use national indicators, and we’ll develop them locally for that particular planning effort.”
A number of new steps would also be included in the planning process, including planning assessments, information gathering and other steps designed to involve the public and other stakeholders as early as possible in the planning process.
“It’s going to be additional work, and it’s going to be additional time for the BLM upfront. But, we believe this is going to be time well spent, and ultimately, it’s going to result in a better plan and probably some efficiencies,” Ferranto explained.
By gathering more information upfront, BLM hopes to develop more robust draft plans that have already considered issues that impact RMP development.
Changes in the protest process have also been proposed, with the intention of creating a system that is easier for protesters to use, so BLM is able to receive quality and timely feedback.
Other procedural changes have been proposed, as well, and BLM strongly encourages the public and other entities to review the proposed rule and provide feedback about Planning 2.0.
Ferranto suggests that feedback should be specific with reference to specific section numbers and concise explanations about why certain aspects are supported or not supported.
“We would really like to know what people think and why,” she said.
Wyomingites consider past when looking forward with public lands initiativeWritten by Saige Albert
Lander – In the first meeting of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI), an effort spear-headed by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA), WCCA Executive Director Pete Obermueller noted that the new strategy comes with some tough questions to be answered.
“This is a new strategy, and it hasn’t been tried,” Obermueller said. “The question is – is the status quo ok?”
Wilderness study areas (WSAs) across the state are the focus of WCCA’s initiative, and Obermueller noted that the initiative strives to bring together stakeholders from vastly different backgrounds and interests to design a process to appropriately designate those federal lands.
“We all have our own opinions of what federal lands should look like, and we all share the status of having to ask, fight and in some cases beg for what we want,” he added.
“No matter what we desire, WSAs do not share a permanency we can rest on,” Obermueller said. “We have designed WPLI such that it is an opportunity for us to design what we want.”
During a daylong meeting, 75 stakeholders were invited to learn about the history of collaborative efforts surrounding federal lands and discuss their perspectives.
“This process has been developing for at least four years – if not longer,” Obermueller explained of WPLI. “It is an organic effort that has been growing over time.”
WPLI, he added, is not a wholesale effort to transfer ownership of public lands, but it is also not just an administrative effort.
“We are all in a position to ask for what we want – but we aren’t asking this time. We are creating what we want and passing it along,” Obermueller said.
Most importantly, he also noted that the process allows for everyone to come to the table with no ulterior motive.
“We need honesty and openness to make this work,” he added.
With an open, flexible and adaptive process, Obermueller also noted that success is not guaranteed through WPLI.
“At the end of the day, this is not going to be easy,” he said. “There is no guarantee of success, and I think that it is guaranteed we won’t be successful if we aren’t open.”
Additionally, without consistency, Obermueller said that success would be next to impossible.
WCCA serves as the umbrella organization to monitor and facilitate the process moving forward.
However, before looking at the next steps in WPLI, Obermueller suggested looking at what has worked in the past, as well as lessons that have been learned by various groups.
Paul Spitler of the Wilderness Society said, “There are a lot of examples of comprehensive efforts on public lands. Each of these has its own story. They contain different elements, but there are a lot of commonalities.”
He noted that successful efforts are all place-based, locally crafted and developed within a limited geographical scale.
“Another common feature of these bills is broad stakeholder support,” Spitler said. “In Congress today, there needs to be support on both sides of the aisle for a bill to pass.”
Travis McNiven of Sen. John Barrasso’s office further noted that Congress as a whole has been receptive to bills that originate from constituent groups. However, he added that everyone will not get everything they want.
“Usually, the situation is that groups come together, hash everything out and say, ‘We are all supportive of this product, recognizing we didn’t get everything,’” he said.
While looking at designations, McNiven said that creativity in working through the complexity of the issue will also be important.
“Process is important when looking to advance legislation,” he explained. “We have to point to an inclusive process when we speak with other members of Congress and their staffers. It needs to be robust because the process gets checked on.”
Spitler also explained that successful bills will also avoid hot-button issues and controversial topics.
“There are political ground rules,” he said. “They aren’t written down anywhere, but they are there.”
Hard release or Antiquities Act exemptions are several examples, and Spitler noted that those issues prevent passage of bills.
“There is a window of opportunity,” McNiven noted. “Wyoming’s delegation has seniority and some good committee positions. That will be helpful once there is agreement on the recommendations and a bill is ready to be introduced and advanced.”
He added that constituent groups working together also minimizes potential negative impacts of outside groups once a bill reaches Capitol Hill, simultaneously increasing chances for success.
“We have to share a commitment to win-win,” Spitler commented. “If we come into this process with an idealized version of the outcome, we are bound to be disappointed. If we come in looking at options and what we can do better, we are more likely to be successful.”
He added, “Success or failure is a fine line, and it often comes down to people. We have to be committed, willing and able to find a solution.”
Look for more information on WPLI in upcoming editions of the Roundup.