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.”
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.
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.”
Public Lands Council tackles national issues during meetingWritten by Saige Albert
Cody – During their 2015 Annual Meeting, held Sept. 9-12 in Cody, the Public Lands Council (PLC) looked toward the challenges facing federal lands across the West, including the challenges with wild horses.
As the first topic in their Sept. 10 meeting, PLC President Brenda Richards said, “We are looking to develop some action items that we can sink our teeth into and start working out.”
Wild Horse Committee Chair and PLC Vice President Dave Eliason continued, “We need to be proactive and get moving in the right direction on wild horses. Lawsuits seem to struggle, and the wild horse program continues to get worse.”
Though limited, Eliason noted that there is some positive movement on wild horses, including spay and neuter programs and involvement in the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board.
“Right now, 14 to 17 herd management areas (HMAs) in Oregon will have spay and neuter programs implemented,” Eliason said. “That is good news.”
He also added that three positions on the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board are currently open for nomination. Those positions are for members representing humane advocacy groups, wildlife management organizations and livestock management organizations.
“The American Quarter Horse Association has come our really strongly against excess wild horses, as well,” he continued.
“We need to continue to talk to people and tell them that excess wild horses are degrading our natural resources, and wildlife are suffering,” he continued. “We need to make contact with those folks.”
Eliason also noted that it is important for PLC to take positive action to develop their position on wild horses, including increasing research efforts and exploring new options.
“We need to approach universities for research focusing on the damage cause by unmanaged, overstocked wild horse populations and the costs of the programs,” he continued. “We also need to continue to make contact with partners.”
Another effort that Eliason explained that is seeing some positive results is the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition (NHBRMC).
Callie Hendrickson of NHBRMC explained that the Coalition was formed in 2012 to bring 14 organizations together to work on the wild horse issue.
“By bringing together not only the ag organizations but also the conservation and wildlife communities, we hope to make more of an impact,” Hendrickson commented, noting that
“Our core value and focus is the rangelands,” she continued. “We can’t agree on all the issues, but we can agree that we need to keep numbers in check and focus on rangelands.”
Hendrickson explained that NHBRMC is working to focus on the local level and what is happening locally to increase awareness.
She also noted that they are working to develop a series of five television commercials to inform the public on the issue. The five commericials will detail horse health, wildlife, range health, taxpayer dollars and western heritage.
Wild horse meetings
Hendrickson also noted the she has been involved in the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, and recently, she has been frustrated by the lack of action seen.
“Everyone says, ‘We are working together and things are moving in the right direction,’ which is what we want to hear,” she said. “They also talk about managing healthy horses on healthy ranges, but we have to hold their feet to the fire.”
She continued, “When we ask what they are doing, we don’t get an answer from BLM. It is really frustrating. We have to put pressure on BLM to make sure we have work being done.”
The Wyoming State Grazing Board’s Dick Loper added that western states need to continue working together and within their states to determine what is happening locally.
“We need to aggressively pursue building a national coalition of people that can work with on the healthy of the land and wildlife habitat,” Loper said. “We need everyone’s help.”
While action is being pursued from a policy and public information standpoint, work is also being done in the court system.
Caroline Lobdell, executive director of the Western Resources Legal Center, noted that ongoing cases continue to tackle the issue of wild horses in California, Nevada and Utah, and each case is at a different point, though they are progressing.
Lobdell also noted that Western Resources Legal Center prepared a white paper titled, “Challenges Related to Federal Management Under the Wild Horses and Burros Act,” that looks at the challenges associated with BLM range management under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WHBA) of 1971 and if PLC has standing to bring those challenges through the legal system.
In short, the white paper noted that two main challenges are available under WHBA for grazing permittees.
“First, permittees can argue that BLM’s failure to remove excess wild horses as required by WHBA and its implementing regulations constitutes non-discretionary agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed in violation of Section 706(1) of the Administration Procedures Act,” Lobdell said. “This is based on the idea that wild horse gather management is a non-discretionary duty.”
Lobdell continued, “The second is that a failure to act under WHBA is arbitrary and capricious. This is more difficult.”
While they have not finalized a strategy, she mentioned that this is step one for taking future action.
Hendrickson notes, “We have a growing issue of horses that aren’t covered under the act.”
Those horses on Forest Service and Parks Service land, or horses that have just been left, are not covered by the Wild Horse and Burro Act. In addition, horses that are abandoned are not covered under the Act, but Hendrickson mentioned that advocacy groups are readily sweeping them in with the wild horses.
Others at the meeting noted that the court of public opinion will continue to be important. It was widely agreed on that a social media campaign would be advantageous and beneficial in spreading the word about concerns with wild horses.
“We have to do something. We just can’t talk about it,” concluded Eliason.
Richards added, “We have to stay focused on this issue.”
Look for more information on PLC’s meeting, including discussions about sage grouse, in upcoming editions of the Roundup.