Grazers wait for BLM ruling on Green Mountain

Jan 14, 2014 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Many improvement plans -- and more than half a million acres -- are affected by the delay, which has stretched for months.

A delay in a decision over grazing rules covering a large part of Fremont County is preventing the Bureau of Land Management from making rangeland improvements in the area. The setback has also set the BLM back from implementing a new management regime.

"It's one of those items everyone is waiting for," BLM Lander field office manager Rick Vander Voet said.

The decision concerns appeals from environmentalists and livestock growers regarding management rules for the former Green Mountain Common Allotment the BLM established in 2011. Both groups sought changes to the proposed rules.

"We can plan, but we certainly can't implement the range improvements that were part of the Green Mountain plan," Vander Voet said. "That makes the management proposed ... impossible to do."

The BLM has been operating under the same conditions for the past three years, said BLM rangeland management specialist Curtis Bryan in an interview.

"The challenges going into this grazing season aren't any greater than last year or the year before that," he said.

The GMCA's area covers 522,000 acres in southern Fremont County and parts of Sweetwater County. Sixteen livestock producers hold 19 grazing permits for those rangelands.

Many of the rangeland improvements, such as fences and watering structures, the 2011 rules called for have been put on hold while the case is resolved. Hearings were held in the case in February and March, and the parties submitted final written arguments over the summer.

Department of the Interior Administrative Law judge Andrew Pearlstein has not returned a ruling, however.

If a decision does not come soon, the BLM will not be able to implement the new management plan this year, Vander Voet said.

The grazing season is still months off, but planning for it and preseason meetings are approaching, he said.

Exactly when in the season the judge's decision comes is not very important, Bryan said.

"You can't just go out and build (all the range improvement projects) in one year. There was an anticipation they would have to be phased in a three year time frame" he said. "We'll just have to react to his decision as it come."

The 2011 management plan broke the Green Mountain Common Allotment into four pieces, established deferred grazing systems, reduced the number of animals ranchers could stock, implemented standards for forage use and called for range improvement projects.

Other pieces of the management plan, however depended on building the fences, wells and other structures that have been put on hold.

"Fences and water development projects that are authorized in that decision are designed to influence the rotation and control livestock at different points of time," Bryan said.

Without those improvements, permittees have to control livestock movement through other means, such as herding, he said, which puts an additional burden on the livestock growers.

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