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Scolded by local leaders, BLM softening tone in grazing scoping language

Jun 29, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

The Bureau of Land Management is toning down its scoping notices, which have been criticized by local leaders for suggesting grazing was degrading public rangelands.

The federal agency, which administers huge tracts of land in Fremont County and Wyoming, is considering renewing grazing permits locally.

While seeking feedback on renewal of grazing on the Silver Creek Common Allotment, the BLM has said that at least 21,000 acres of that land is not meeting basic soil standards and "there are signs of pedestaling and terracettes, soil surface loss and degradation, wind-scoured blowouts and depositional areas."

That allotment is located about 50 miles south of Lander and contains more than 30,000 acres of public land.

The BLM's findings were criticized by Wyoming Senate President Eli Bebout, State Reps. David Miller, Jim Allen, Lloyd Larsen, and Tim Salazar, plus Fremont County Commission chairman Travis Becker.

Becker said that because the BLM had asked the public to provide information and examples of grazing impacts, the process seemed to be "pre-prejudicial of maybe an outcome that someone was hoping to make."

"What we heard from the permittees is they're more than happy to get better range quality," he said. "It benefits them more than anyone else."

In a meeting June 20 with the Fremont County Commission, BLM field manager Rick Vander Voet said the regional office in Lander was trying out a new style with that scoping notice, being somewhat intentionally provocative in order to ensure robust feedback.

Vander Voet said that when scoping notices have little information about the BLM's analysis, the office "doesn't get very substantive or very good comments" from the public.

"While we acknowledge we blew the tone and the flavor of the scoping notice, we did get back really good comments," Vander Voet said. "We obviously missed the boat on that attempt, (but) believe it or not, our intentions were pretty innocent.

"We were probably a little bit of surprised by the amount of feedback we got on the tone of the letter."

Former county commission chairman Doug Thompson said that when the BLM takes samples, it needs to not merely collect data from random locations, but ensure that those locations are representative of the overall land conditions.

"We're not asking for a clean bill of health if there's a problem out there. What we're asking for is a fair assessment," he said. "And I think that's what the goal of the BLM is, too."

Thompson said the scoping notice for the Silver Creek allotment did not adequately take into account other potential causes of rangeland degradation, including wild horses and the hundreds of Mormon handcart trekkers that pass through riparian areas.

"That is a significant causal factor," he said.

Vander Voet said the focus on grazing impacts merely resulted because the scoping notice concerned grazing permits.

"If we were authorizing a permit for handcart trekkers rather than grazing, there would probably be a lot more information about that activity than the grazing that occurs within the proximity of the trail," he said.

In a May 26 scoping notice for grazing permit renewal on the Fraser Draw allotment, the BLM removed any implication that grazing was the culprit for rangelands that don't meet Wyoming health standards. That approach is also likely when the office produces a scoping notice for the Government Draw allotment in coming months.

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2017-10-22

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