The Trump administration has spent the past month announcing sweeping changes that could benefit ranchers on public lands, including a proposal to overhaul grazing regulations for the first time in 25 years.
The proposed revisions would, in part, make it easier for ranchers to graze cattle in the name of reducing fuel loads and combating wildfires on federal lands. It could also reduce red tape and increase efficiencies, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
”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,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management Casey B. Hammond in a statement.
But some environmental protection groups, including the non-profit Western Watersheds Project, contend that the potential new changes will lead to less oversight and more unauthorized grazing on public lands. They also disagree with the agency’s assertion that increased grazing could reduce the risk of wildfires.
“It’s clear that BLM seeks to expedite these types of permits under the guise that it will benefit public lands,” the nonprofit said on its website. “In fact, grazing leads to the increase of invasive annual grasses and larger, more frequent wildfires."
The agency has yet to publish its revised regulations. First, it’s hosting a series of scoping meetings across the Mountain West to further inform the public about its intent. Then, it will draft an environmental impact statement.
John Freemuth, Cecil Andrus Endowed Chair of Environment and Public Lands at Boise State University, said it’s still too early to gauge the full impact of these proposed revisions and to fully understand their relationship with the Trump administration’s recent plans to overhaul a landmark environmental law that affects grazing.
“There are still too many moving parts right now,” he said. “Until we can see how they all relate we’re just speculating.”
Public scoping meetings about the proposed new grazing regulations will begin in early February. They include the following:
- Miles City, Montana: February 6, at the Sleep Inn and Suites, 1006 S. Haynes Ave., from 4:30-7:30 p.m.;
- Las Cruces, New Mexico: February 11 at the Las Palmas Grill, 201 East University Ave., from 4:30-7:30 p.m.;
- Elko, Nevada: February 18 at the Elko Convention Center, 700 Moren Way, from 4:30-7:30 p.m.; and
- Casper, Wyoming: February 20, at the Casper Events Center, 1 Events Dr., from 4:30-7:30 p.m.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Follow Nate Hegyi on Twitter @natehegyi.