Sally Wisely, the state director of the Bureau of Land Management spoke at the recent rangeland/livestock conference held in St. George. Wisely said, "It has been great to work with Kathleen Clarke. BLM has always supported multiple use. Grazing has been a pillar of multiple use. We believe in the concept and it is a legitimate use."
She spoke of the trespass cattle which are still on the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument and said they need to be removed before green-up. She said they are working with county and local people and she soon hopes to have the issue put behind them. She believes they can have successful grazing within the monument.
Multiple use laws govern the monument plan. Three steps are involved in the process. To assess rangeland health; determine if BLM is meeting those needs; keep grazing consistent with the laws. Ten year grazing permits are issued within the monument. The Grazing Environmental Impacts Study is a politically charged document. Wisely encourages people to engage in the process early, "Don't wait for the draft document, partner now at the beginning not at the end, that is essential for a good document." She spoke of the Grand Canyon Trust and their desire to purchase three allotments within the monument.
She encouraged people to attend scoping meetings. "There are 1600 grazing permits in the state of Utah which must be renewed every ten years. We do not have the resources to conduct site specific evaluations as they come up for renewal. The analysis by resource specialists fulfills BLMs legal responsibility. Of these allotments 450 renewal decisions have been made, we are one-fourth complete with our renewals. Of these, 191 have been appealed. There is a pattern, these aren't site specific appeals, every decision has been appealed. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has teamed up with the Western Watersheds project to remove cattle with lawsuits in federal court. Apparently they intend to cover all bases. I find this hard line tactic abhorrent. Prior appeals have been site specific with varying circumstances, some by ranchers themselves. Across the board appeals are wrong and they lack credibility. It's not hard to interpret the message that they are simply trying to stop public land grazing.
"What are we to do? How do we handle it? The BLM plans to make good decisions and follow all the processes. It is time consuming and frustrating but absolutely essential to document everything. The BLM will be ready to defend all processes should the legal process require it. The first seven lawsuits have been denied and hopefully all will read the same way.
"What should you do? Gain knowledge and learn the permitting process. Become an expert on guidelines. Attend workshops. Meet with the range conservation manager from your area. Go to the field and see what needs to be done on the ground. You, the cattlemen are the experts on your allotment. Listen to the BLM people. We have a mutual goal preserving the health and productivity of the land. We can define trouble spots and be proactive and come up with creative solutions to improve so you can defend your operation. You are not alone. The BLM is part of the equation. We are together. The west is changing, the old ways are dated. The rapid change can either work for us or against us. We can't be passive. We need to learn and get involved in the planning process. BLM values its relationship with the permittees. We've had our ups and downs but the Utah BLM has been a good friend to cattle and sheepmen.
"We value the contribution of the permittees and the collaboration we've had with them in protecting the watershed. We will continue to work in good faith. We are commited to this and the field managers are commited to this and we hope you are commited as well," said Wisely.
The meeting was then opened up to questions from the audience. Wisely, as well as, Kathleen Clarke the national director of the BLM fielded questions. One rancher expressed concern for the wild horses and elk on his allotment. Wisely said efforts to remove animals from the wild horse herds when they are past management levels are tied up in court. She encouraged him to go the Division of Wildlife Resources with his concerns and also to attend RAC meetings which discuss wildlife management.
One rancher expressed concern that the Grand Canyon Trust was only looking to purchase allotments to eliminate grazing. Clarke said she knew there were concerns over the legalities of the buyout but she didn't know the answer.
The next rancher expressed his feelings that ranchers are feeling threatened and wondered if incentives were available that would encourage partnering. Clarke pointed out that there are many challenges and that they (BLM) would welcome opportunities for collaboration. "We need connectivity and it takes everyone, specific ideas would be great," she said.
Rowland Hall, permittee from Kane County, expressed his opinion that grazing fees should all be used for projects on the land. Clarke expressed her wish to keep money on the ground and to get it to the field.
The question was raised about the status of the west desert wilderness, but no determinations on this wilderness have been made at this time.
One rancher brought up a letter from the Department of the Interior which purportedly stated that it would work with ranchers for the voluntary retirement of grazing allotments within the monument. Wisely said the BLM is aggresively, verbally and visually in support of grazing and they have a commitment to permittees.
Clarke said they intend to preserve and protect grazing. She said the BLM and the ranchers are dependent on each other and there is a lot at stake. "We share a common vision to partner together to preserve the aesthetic, spiritual and productive value of public land," she said.
The Farm Bureau spokesman brought the session to a close by saying the agriculture, sheep and beef marketing community are but a small percentage of the population and need to speak with a unified voice to tell their story.