The Bureau of Land Management’s Land Health Standards (LHS) evaluations assess the conditions of BLM lands with respect to a number of “Fundamentals of Rangeland Health,” defined in 43 CFR 4180.1, that include properly functioning watersheds (the condition of soils and vegetation, which impact water filtration and water quality), maintenance of ecological processes (how the hydrologic cycle, nutrient cycle, and energy flow are maintained) to support healthy biotic populations and communities, maintenance of the quality of surface waters, and maintenance of habitats for native plant and animal communities and listed or at-risk species. In its evaluations, the BLM determines whether allotments are meeting standards or are failing to meet standards, and if failing, whether the failure is due largely to impacts of livestock grazing or to factors other than livestock.
However, in spite of their importance for program oversight, rangeland health condition accounting, monitoring of condition improvement, and program transparency, the results of these evaluations have been poorly maintained and kept largely inaccessible to those outside the agency. Records of BLM’s LHS assessments have until now been scattered among BLM field offices, incomplete, inconsistent, error-prone, and poorly maintained. PEER received two versions of the complete database of the assessments, one compiled by the agency in 2007 and one in 2012. PEER reconciled the two databases to derive the final classifications displayed in our 2012 interactive map. You can read more about the map data here and here.
As of 2012, based on the records PEER received from the BLM via the Freedom of Information Act, BLM has conducted Land Health Status (LHS) evaluations on 14,591 of its more than 20,000 allotments (72%). Of these, the agency claims that 10,480 have met standards (55% of total allotment area), and that 16% of allotments (29% of total allotment area), have failed standards due to livestock grazing.
Obscured by these numbers are some creative accounting methods on the part of the BLM. In its reporting, (See BLM Fiscal Year 2018 Rangeland Inventory, Monitoring, and Evaluation Report Table 7, Cumulative Accomplishments) the agency considers allotments that are not meeting standards but “making significant progress” in the same category along with allotments that are meeting standards–so allotments in the former category, even if significant ecological damage remains, are said to warrant no changes in management.
In addition, the agency has no formal method of accounting for past or historic livestock damage, so only those allotments where impacts can be attributed to current grazing are considered to be not meeting standards due to grazing and in need of changes in stocking rates or grazing management.
Even where the agency has changed grazing management as a result of LHS assessments, the records show that its actions have been too little, too late: the majority of allotments for which we have records of more than one assessment show no change in condition from the first assessment to the next. All told, the records show that between 1997 and 2012, there was a net improvement in allotment land health standards status conditions of only 2%.