Range Rustling Remains Rampant
Ignoring GAO Reports, BLM Foregoes Promised Steps to Check Grazing Trespass
Washington, DC — After 27 years of pledges to reform, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has yet to take even the most basic steps to stem illegal grazing, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Consequently, vast stretches of public rangeland continue to degrade because BLM does little to detect or deter unauthorized grazing.
Grazing trespass occurs when a rancher grazes more livestock than allowed by his/her permit or releases livestock on public lands without a permit, as the notorious Bundy family has flagrantly done in southern Nevada for the past two decades. In 1990, the Government Accountability Office issued a damning report concluding that BLM lacked any effective controls on illegal grazing. At that time, BLM agreed to implement all five of the GAO recommendations but by last year had only implemented one.
In 2016, GAO revisited this same topic but found little had changed. Again, BLM accepted all of the GAO recommendations. A year after this latest report, PEER asked BLM what it had done this time to implement the GAO recommendations and how much illegal grazing it had detected during the past year. BLM did not respond and so PEER filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in federal district court today in order to compel answers. The latest GAO report highlighted three major challenges:
- BLM does not record what appear to be the vast majority of grazing trespasses but does report 859 illegal grazing incidents from 2010 through 2014, yielding $426,000 in fines;
- Compliance inspections are not a high priority. Some allotments are seldom visited, diminishing inspections’ deterrent effects. On average, each BLM range staff member is responsible for approximately 85,000 acres, an area more than twice the size of Washington, DC, and
- BLM has not updated its procedures since 1987 and they no longer reflect BLM’s actual practices.
“Grazing trespass is not just on BLM’s back burner, it is not even in the kitchen,” stated PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, pointing to growing livestock-related landscape abuse. “In grazing allotments that BLM has assessed, more than 30 million acres – an area the size of New York State – fail the agency’s own Standards for Rangeland Health due to overgrazing.”
In response to a post-election PEER survey of BLM range staff in nine Western states, less than half felt that “BLM effectively deals with grazing trespass” while more than half agreed that “range management decisions are more driven by politics than resource protection.” As one range conservationist wrote “current regulation and policy don’t allow managers to make timely, meaningful adjustments to livestock grazing to properly manage the land resource.”
The proposed Trump budget cuts would aggravate these conditions by taking more people out of the field, emphasizing more and faster energy permits while relegating rangeland health to the lowest priority.
“There is no more fundamental facet of resource stewardship than guarding against that resource being stolen,” Stade added. “It is an understatement to say that BLM needs to do a better job of protecting America’s rangelands but current signs do not bode well.”