For Immediate Release: Feb 01, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
After Bundy Mistrial, Repeated Agency Vows to Stem Illegal Grazing Go Astray
Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has dropped long-promised reforms to stem illegal grazing, according to documents obtained in a lawsuit and posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Compounding the embarrassment stemming from the recent Bundy mistrial, BLM’s decision also undercuts claims by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that expanded commercial livestock access will not damage monuments and other sensitive lands.
Two scathing Government Accountability Office reports – one in 1990 and another in 2016 – found BLM does little to detect or deter unauthorized grazing across vast stretches of rangeland. The latter report also found BLM had reneged on pledges of reform it had previously made. In 2016, BLM again promised to implement all of the GAO recommendations. In 2017, PEER asked BLM to disclose whether it followed through on its latest pledge and how much illegal grazing it detected during the past year. After BLM failed to respond, PEER filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to compel production.
Documents produced by the suit indicate BLM initially scheduled steps to implement better recording of grazing trespass incidents, adopt formal procedures for handling trespasses, and conduct compliance inspections. By this summer, BLM’s schedule slipped from a date certain to “ongoing” and later to “on hold.” By fall, its official regulatory agenda for 2018 removed any further action altogether.
Grazing trespass occurs when a rancher grazes more livestock than allowed by his/her permit or releases livestock on public lands without a permit.
“Grazing trespass is a form of theft against the public that BLM chooses to ignore,” stated PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, noting that BLM also does not assess the damage done by illegal grazing to range vegetation, soil, and waters. “BLM is like a cop with a permanent case of blue flu.”
In addition, BLM still does not track the hundreds of grazing trespasses GAO estimates occur each year. Even at this date in response to the PEER suit, BLM has yet to produce information itemizing illegal grazing occurring just during the past year. While none of the many unaccounted instances of illegal grazing are as notorious as Bundy family’s flagrant violations in southern Nevada over the past two decades, the scope and duration of these commercial grazing violations remain unknown.
Secretary Zinke has made it a priority to promote commercial grazing, even in areas with special conservation needs. He contends that such “traditional land uses” are not subject to abuse.
“When he suggests that federal grazing programs are well regulated, Secretary Zinke is talking through his hat,” Stade added, pointing out that BLM has not updated its 1987 handbook describing procedures that no longer reflect its actual practices. “BLM’s own assessments show that more than 30 million acres – an area the size of New York State – fail its own Standards for Rangeland Health due to overgrazing.”