Worland BLM looks to improve management by working on a watershed scale
Worland – “In Worland, we have changed up how we look at standards and guidelines,” says John Elliott, Worland BLM Field Office range resource supervisor. “We are dealing with watersheds now, instead of picking a ‘key area.’”
Elliott explains that the newer form of assessing rangelands mimics changes in society and results in improved data collection.
With societal changes, Elliott notes that the public is becoming increasingly interested in the way public lands are managed.
“Ranchers said we didn’t know what we were looking at, and they were probably right,” he says. “We were hoping that one key area would represent the larger area.”
At the same time, data is more easily available to the public, and the general public began to look more closely at public lands.
“People started questioning how we were doing rangeland health assessments and asking if we were doing enough to know what is on rangelands,” Elliott adds. “That changed business and led us to a watershed approach.”
Looking at public lands from a landscape approach allows managers to take into account the impact of events on neighboring allotments or upstream of a piece of land.
“Now we have a chance to look at the big picture,” Elliott commented.
The watershed approach additionally allows for increased cooperation and integration of data across a wide spectrum.
“The approach lends itself to the hydrology folks, who like to look at watershed,” Elliott explains. “It also helps those looking at sage grouse and wildlife.”
He continues, “We can now better describe what our grazing is doing on the ground.”
At the same time, he seeks to obtain as much information as possible from allotments to achieve the goal of quality grazing on public lands.
Elliott says the watershed-focus will look at 70 allotments of the more than 400 grazing allotments in the Worland BLM area.
The 70 allotments were chosen utilizing a variety of criteria.
“This is sage grouse core area, and we have policy and guidance that says we should focus on core areas,” he says. “We also picked the largest core areas and are going to work our way through them.”
Additionally, Elliott comments that through partnerships with landowners, BLM is able to further improve management.
“We are getting a lot done,” he explains. “Last year, we contracted folks who helped us with over 100 monitoring efforts that we could use to speed up our process.”
For example, the Orchard family has provided monitoring that meets BLM standards and also helps the agency to accomplish its goals.
In looking at assessments, Elliott says that they begin by breaking allotments into smaller pieces and range sites to represent the area as a whole, rather than just one piece.
“It is a good, fair assessment,” he comments. “It takes more work, but that is what we are doing for better assessments.”
Ecological site descriptions have been helpful in determining what should be expected as far as range conditions for different sites.
“It provides consistency on how we look at every allotment,” Elliott notes. “It is our intention to have monitoring to represent range sites. We look extensively at the monitoring sites.”
Assessments result in maps detailing the range sites and whether or not they meet standards.
“It is okay to say that something doesn’t meet standards,” Elliott adds. “If it doesn’t meet the standards, we will manage for that. These are true, honest assessments of what is on the range.”
“We are representing the good, the bad and the ugly,” he comments. “We are honest, document everything and are upfront with it because we don’t have time for litigation, and we all want to do a good job on our rangelands.”
Elliott talked about changes in assessments during the 2014 Guardians of the Range meeting at the beginning of February.
Worland BLM Field Office Range Resource Supervisor John Elliott comments that the benefit of a watershed-level assessment strategy is that a roadmap is present allowing range conservationists to address problems before they occur.
“We know when we are going to be doing assessments on an allotment in a few years,” Elliott says. “If there are problems, we can get on them before we start doing assessments.”
For example, water availability problems can be solved prior to assessments.Water must be available on allotments before grazing can occur.
“If I can’t show water availability, I can’t show AUMs available,” Elliott notes. “We can re-do wells or clean up reservoirs to show available water.”
Elliott further adds that some money is available to help producers do rangeland improvements, but the improvements must be approved.
“Producers must make sure they have cooperative agreements to do projects,” he says. “With the agreements, we have some money that we can help offset costs.”
According to Elliott, BLM can provide up to $300 per bill, with eight bills allowed per permittee.
“It isn’t a lot of money, but it can help,” he says.