Green Mountain receives new grazing decision from BLM officeWritten by Christy Martinez
The Green Mountain Common Allotment is a piece of land in central Wyoming that’s about 50 miles long and 30 miles deep at its widest point. The allotment hosts 16 grazing permittees, and recently the BLM issued a new decision dictating new rangeland management parameters – only the latest in a long list the permittees have had to fulfill.
According to the BLM Lander Field Office, the decision is based on the analysis of alternatives in a new environmental assessment (EA), and is the result of “extensive consultation and coordination between BLM, grazing permittees and interested publics.”
The new EA divides the allotment into four separate allotments, implements deferred grazing systems specific to each new allotment, reduces animal unit months (AUMs) to levels that are “more appropriate for the lands within the allotment,” implements forage use standards and authorizes “new, carefully designed range improvement projects.”
Permittee Tom Abernathy, who has been involved in the allotment in some way for 37 years, says there are some things he and the other permittees can’t live with, including the reduction of AUMs by 45 percent, and, instead of suspended non-use, those AUMs will be canceled.
“We asked them to put them in conservation non-use, so as conditions improve we can move up in our AUMs,” explains Abernathy.
Additionally, the BLM Lander Field Office has been using stubble height as the final parameter by which to measure the allotment’s health, contrary to the requests of the permittees.
“We’ve been adamant to go to a more science-based monitoring program,” says Abernathy, adding that they’ve even raised the bar from four inches of stubble height to six. “Less than three percent of the allotment is riparian areas, and only one percent of those riparian areas are federal land. It’s hard to achieve that stubble height when so little of the acreage is riparian.”
Under the new decision, the west side of the allotment will also decrease from a six-month to a four-month grazing season.
“We had told them we have to have at least four-and-a-half months,” says Abernathy.
The allotment’s extensive herding requirements will continue, using an imaginary boundary.
“We’ve tried herding for 10 years – since the 1999 decision,” says Abernathy. “Herding livestock is very difficult, particularly in the hot season when the cattle congregate on riparian areas. We get a lot of pneumonia, and it’s impossible to drive the cows 10 miles in 100 degrees when they turn around and walk right back.”
“Rubel Vigil of the BLM Lander Field Office has stated that he’s read about herding in the book, and that it can be done,” he adds.
Abernathy says the agency also restricts fencing near the Oregon Trail, and that the permittees have eight-and-a-half miles of electric lay-down fence that can only be up for 60 days.
Abernathy estimates the intensive management practices required by the BLM add $20,000 each year to running livestock on the allotment, but even at that cost it’s nearly impossible to hire good enough herders for any amount of money.
“They’re way more expensive than the BLM thinks – they used to tell us we could hire a herder for $800 per month, and they got us to start by loaning us a camper and helping us out,” says Abernathy, adding that The Nature Conservancy also contributed grants to pay for the herding for the first year or two. “But that railroaded us right into the program, and now 10 years later we’re trying to fund it ourselves.”
Abernathy notes that the new decision fails to mention any of the positive management efforts by the permittees over the last 10 years.
“In the last 11 years we’ve been operating under a 40 percent preference, have built numerous wells, water gaps and everything the BLM has asked us to do,” he says. “We reduced AUMs and season of use, and during the really dry years they told us that when conditions improved we could move back up on AUMs.”
Abernathy says he’s heard it quoted that every AUM lost costs the local community $78. Multiplying that by what’s been given up on the Common, he estimates $1,847,000 has been lost in the local economy.
“We don’t know where we’re going to go with this decision,” he says of the future. “We’re sure some entities will appeal, but not all are on board.”
The permittees have already been involved in a case relating to Western Watershed Project’s preliminary injunction filed to stop grazing for 2011. While grazing was allowed for the 2011 season, the case hasn’t yet been dismissed, and the next hearing will be July 7.
“People have the perception that the allotment is in horrible condition, when, in reality, very few of the allotments in our district are in as good of condition as the Green Mountain Common,” states Abernathy. “The BLM states the horrible condition the allotment’s in, and that’s just not so. We’ve been through 10 years of less than 40 percent preference, and the allotment is in an improving state, but that’s not been recognized by the Lander Field Office.”
Wyoming State Grazing Board Rangeland Consultant Dick Loper has been assisting the permittees where he can, and he says, “These folks pay attention, and are trying to save their ranches.”
To others who graze on public lands, Loper says to talk to local BLM personnel as often as they feel comfortable to see what’s going on with their allotment.
“Become a lot more knowledgeable about your allotment, and do as much monitoring as you can alongside the BLM,” says Loper. “We encourage all of you to do it at the same time, same place.”
Of the Wyoming State Grazing Board, which was established in 1979, Loper says, “When a group of ranchers has problems, like the Green Mountain people, we try to provide technical assistance and work with their lawyers. Now we’ve got a brand new decision on the books for Green Mountain, and hopefully we can get through it.”
Abernathy says a group of the permittees has contacted the BLM for a meeting to clarify some of the decision’s provisions.
“We’re really disappointed that they won’t ever give us an allotment management plan (AMP),” he says. “We’d like to see them move in that direction, where we’d be more involved in the decision-making process and management on the allotment and its projects. They say we’ve been involved, but they keep dropping projects we want and leaving ones we could live without.”
Abernathy says a good thing that has come out of the decision is that the BLM has agreed to work on a monitoring program in cooperation with the permittees and the Office of State Lands.
“We have had the opportunity to go out on the ground and monitor, but we’d like it to be more of a cooperative effort, where we all come away with the same conclusion,” says Abernathy.
“I’m all for sound range management – I don’t mind having an AUM reduction, as long as there’s an avenue to move those AUMs back as conditions improve,” he adds. “We’ve had 10 years of less than 40 percent preference, and the allotment, with the moisture of the last three years, can speak for itself. It’s poised to blossom.”