SAFFORD — As it prepares to overhaul grazing regulations on 155 million acres of public land across the West, the Bureau of Land Management is inviting public comment at a series of meetings.
One meeting is not too far from Cochise County — in Las Cruces, N.M., at the Ramada Palms Hotel, 201 E. University Ave. It will take place Tuesday, Feb. 11, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Other meetings are being held this month in Montana, Nevada and Wyoming.
The BLM announced it is preparing an environmental impact statement on its proposed new grazing rules, and will address grazing permit procedures, land use planning and use of grazing to address and reduce wildlife risks.
“We continue to seek ways to improve and streamline the grazing permit process to achieve greater efficiencies and service to permittees,” said U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond in a BLM press release. “This rulemaking effort is designed to strengthen and improve our administration of grazing permits across the West, and we welcome public and stakeholder ideas and perspectives.”
“I’m acutely aware of how much time the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process takes, because any time we need an improvement on public land in a new place, whether it be drilling a well or building a new storage tank, we have to go through that process,” said local rancher Ben Menges, past president of the Greenlee County Cattle Growers. “Additionally, we have to go through it when our public land permits are up for renewal.
“From the standpoint of someone who values productivity and efficiency, the BLM is addressing the correct problem, and I think most public-land grazers would say the same. The focus should be on making the NEPA process more workable, with the end goal of completing it as quickly as possible. The main concern, for virtually all producers, is how long the process takes. I would hope that will be addressed at the Feb. 11 meeting.”
According to the BLM, grazing regulations were last revised in 1995. The agency said current regulations required revisions to “update, modernize and streamline the grazing administration regulations, and provide greater flexibility for land and resource management.”
The BLM administers 18,000 livestock grazing permits and leases on lands it manages. The agency said its proposed changes would strengthen controls to prevent unauthorized grazing on public lands, enhance environmental protections across non-grazing land use programs and improve opportunities for public input.
“The BLM, in my opinion, is caught between two groups,” said Tanque Ranch, LLC owner Mark Brawley. “On one side you have the ranchers who are trying to properly manage and improve our public lands for not just grazing, but for wildlife and public enjoyment. On the other side are a number of groups who don’t understand the value and benefits that come from caretakers being on ground, focused daily on the health and management of the land. The groups in opposition work diligently to stop grazing and improvement projects on our public lands.
“We need legislation that gives the BLM the latitude to make common sense decisions without the fear of legal challenges at every turn. I hope that with the help of our current administration we will see some improvement in this area.”
Public comments on the proposed revisions will be accepted through March 6, 2020. Meeting information and instructions on providing comments can be found on the BLM website, https://go.usa.gov/xyMqb.