May 23, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterEnvironmentalists, ranchers, the State of Wyoming and the Bureau of Land Management are wrapping up a hearing about grazing rules for the former Green Mountain Common Allotment.
In two recent orders distributed to the parties, Department of the Interior administrative law judge Andrew Pearlstein resolved a piece of the dispute, allowing 10 range improvement projects to go forward. He said he will decide the rest of the issues within a few months.
Both the Western Watersheds Project and ranchers on the allotments appealed a 2011 BLM decision regulating grazing in the former Green Mountain Common Allotment, according to documents from the hearing. The State of Wyoming entered the legal process as an intervener.
The 2011 policy broke the area into four allotments, established deferred grazing systems, reduced the number of animals ranchers could stock, implemented standards for forage use and initiated range improvement projects.
The former Green Mountain Common Allotment's area covers 522,000 acres in southern Fremont County and parts of Sweetwater County. Sixteen permittees hold 19 grazing licenses for those rangelands.
Cattle have grazed the Green Mountain Common Allotment area for more than 100 years, but the BLM did not regulate it until 1999, according to Pearlstein's orders. Only 1 percent of the area has access to water, and those parts grow the best forage. Cattle congregated in those parts, leading to over utilization of riparian zones, he stated.
In her opening statement, Western Watersheds Project's lawyer Judy Brawer asked the judge to lower the stocking limit of the grazing areas and said the BLM should improve its monitoring of the rangeland.
At the hearing, John Retrum, the lawyer for the BLM, argued the BLM's 2011 decision has not been successful because it has not been fully implemented. Allowing it all to take effect would lead to better range conditions, he said.
The BLM's decision was balanced and informed, said Wyoming senior assistant attorney general James Kaste in his opening.
Pearlstein will not issue a decision on the majority of the issues for some time. All parties have until May 21 to submit post-hearing briefs on most of the questions, and until June 12 to reply in writing to the each other's arguments.
The BLM's 2011 decision included projects to fence riparian areas and build watering structures for cattle to decrease grazing near water.
A judge put a "stay" on those projects at the beginning of the appeals process, preventing their construction. Pearlstein has lifted the stay on some of the range improvements.
On March 22, Pearlstein issued an order to allow a handful of range improvement projects that were at issue in the appeals.
Under the order, three wells are allowed to be equipped for operation and two livestock reservoirs may be reconstructed in the Arapahoe Creek allotment.
In an April 30 order, Pearlstein said he would allow construction of five spring protection fences in the Antelope Hills allotment because Western Watersheds Project agreed to lift the stay on those projects as well.
Pearlstein also said he would not lift the stay on the remaining range improvement projects. He said a decision on them would come with his final decision.
Permittees and the BLM can start construction on the 10 allowed projects immediately.
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