Letters to Vilsack Express Industry Concern Over Grazing Allotments
WASHINGTON — Separate letters sent to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack expressed concern over plans to remove domestic sheep grazing allotments from federal public lands due to wild sheep.
A bi-partisan letter from U.S. Senators and Representatives was sent to Vilsack and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) asking for clarification of plans to avoid damage to sheep ranches that could be forced out of business due to the loss of allotments.
That letter, signed by 37 members of Congress and Senate, states, “We strongly oppose the action to close all livestock grazing and not authorize forage reserves. This decision would be very short-sighted if alternative forage is needed due to drought or wildfire, the letter continued.” It concluded with three primary recommendations for USDA:
1.) Collaboration efforts should be undertaken to identify and develop site-specific solutions to make available and offer alternative allotments to the domestic sheep operator to be displaced that are similar in forage amounts and types, capacity, water, ease of access, season of use and proximity to those allotments from which the operator is being displaced. The vacated allotments should be re-allocated to forage users that do not conflict with bighorn sheep.
2.) Place the alternative allotment –area the operator is being moved to – one the rescissions schedule, under the authority Congress granted the agency, in order to fulfill any requirements and compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
3.) If domestic sheep operators are re-located, the agency should not remove grazing permittees from their currently-used sheep grazing allotments until the identified alternative allotments have the proper NEPA analysis completed, as well as the completion of any other procedural and environmental clearances required by federal statutes or regulations, including the resolution of any administrative appeals and judicial reviews of agency decisions.
The second letter, sent to Vilsack from the governors of Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, also focused on the U.S. Forest Service’s plan to implement a bighorn sheep and domestic sheep management framework within Region 4. The governor’s requested involvement of the states in the development of the framework.
“It is imperative that the states be part of the process, and that a representative from each state’s wildlife agency and department of agriculture must be involved in developing the management plan,” the governors’ letter stated. The governors also called for completion of an alternative allotment analysis prior to any risk assessment, writing specifically that “It is reasonable to assume that if the risk assessment is performed first, anti-grazing groups will immediately pressure [the Forest Service] to close the allotments upon which the assessments were conducted.”
The latter recommendation is motivated by the fact that a NEPA analysis will be necessary to re-open the allotments – a process that takes months or years to complete.
“If producers are displaced as a result of the bighorn sheep risk assessment, they cannot wait for years for alternative allotments to be analyzed. The burden on those displaced producers in that situation would be simply unreasonable,” governors Butch Otter (ID), Matt Mead (WY) and Gary Herbert (UT)wrote.
Forest Service should collaborate
Meanwhile, a House committee took steps in July to suggest that the U.S. Forest Service work with USDA to develop science-based defenses in the separation of wild bighorn and domestic sheep.
Specifically, the Forest Service was directed to work diligently with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) “in the development of scientifically defensible analyses, specifically on the probability of sufficient contact for pathogen transmission and, if there is transmission, the probability of disease and the spread of the disease to the herd in the wild.”
According to Jim Richards, ASI’s representative in Washington, D.C., the committee was not convinced that this important step was thoroughly addressed in the Payette National Forest’s Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision announced in 2010. The committee also directed the Forest Service to cooperate with ARS in a review of the risk analysis and assessment portions in that decision, with the objective of “assuring a more defensible and sound basis for future decisions in other parts of the West where there are bighorn and domestic sheep conflicts.”