Archive | April, 2014

Federal Grazing Permits and Leases Do Not Convey “Grazing Rights” on Public Lands

Nevada public lands rancher Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay grazing fees—and his resultant multi-decadal dispute with the Bureau of Land Management—became front page news this week when the agency finally acted on court orders to remove Bundy’s trespass cattle from the public domain. It’s a fascinating, exasperating story that has yet to reach a conclusion.

News media and commentators of every stripe documented the heightened tensions this week as armed protesters confronted federal agents attempting to round-up Bundy’s livestock. Reporting has ranged from the meticulous to the uninformed to the inane (one critic stridently—and erroneously—claims the BLM was established in 1976 and is authorized to control land uses on all federal, state and private lands nationwide, among other outlandish contentions).

Notably, many reports have mistakenly referred to Bundy’s grazing use as “grazing rights,” which suggests that public lands ranchers have a right to graze livestock on public lands. They don’t. Grazing permits and leases issued by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service allow the permit or lease holder the privilege, not a right to use publicly owned forage on federal public lands. This distinction was intended by Congress in the Taylor Grazing Act of 19341 (BLM) and the Granger-Thye Act of 1950 (Forest Service),2 articulated in agency regulations,3 restated in federal records,4 affirmed by scholars,5 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2000.6 Federal grazing permits and leases are revocable, amendable, non-assignable ten-year licenses to graze federal public lands that do not convey property rights to grazing permittees/lessees.

The misnomer of “grazing rights” could give the impression that livestock grazing on federal public lands has a superior position over other uses of those lands, which is untrue. Our public lands are managed for multiple uses and public values, including habitat for wildlife, sources of drinking water, and myriad recreational and sustainable economic activities. Federal law requires that grazing, like other profitable enterprise on the public domain, be conducted in a manner that accommodates other legitimate uses of public lands, waters and resources.

The news media should use more accurate terms when referring to public lands grazing, such as “grazing privileges,” “grazing permit” and “grazing lease.”

1 43 U.S.C. sec. 315b.
2 16 U.S.C. sec. 580(l).
3 43 C.F.R. sec. 4130.2(c) (BLM regulation); 36 C.F.R. sec. 222.3(b) (Forest Service regulation).
4 E.g., USDI-BLM, USDA-Forest Service. 1995. Rangeland Reform ’94 Final Environmental Impact Statement. USDI-BLM. Washington, D.C.: 125.
5 E.g., D. Donahue. 1999. THE WESTERN RANGE REVISITED: REMOVING LIVESTOCK FROM PUBLIC LANDS TO CONSERVE NATIVE BIODIVERSITY. Univ. Oklahoma Press. Norman, OK: 38.
6 Public Lands Council v. Babbitt, 529 U.S. 728, 741 (2000). See also U.S. v. Fuller, 409 U.S. 488 (1973) (holding that the federal government is not required by the Fifth Amendment to compensate a property owner in a condemnation action for the extra value of his private property attributed to his federal grazing permit).

Posted in Federal Policy, Public Lands0 Comments

We’ve Got to Protect What’s Left of the Sagebrush Sea

Despite its immense size, the Sagebrush Sea is one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America. Half the landscape has already been lost to agriculture and urban development, and millions of more acres have been damaged by invasive weeds, unnatural fire, and harmful land uses.

The continued loss and degradation of sagebrush grasslands threatens dozens of native flora and fauna, including the charismatic greater sage-grouse. The sage-grouse is a candidate species for listing under theEndangered Species Act, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to consider the bird for protection in 2015.

Restoring degraded sagebrush habitat is difficult, expensive and often unsuccessful. And even where restoration works, new research led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has found that it could take decades before sage-grouse use the area again. The scientists found that burned habitat reseeded after fire in the Great Basin might require more than 20 years to regrow suitable sagebrush habitat for grouse and other species. This is bad news for an ecosystem that is prone to huge and devastating wildfires.

According to PhysOrg, “historically, the Great Basin burned in smaller, patchier conflagrations, at intervals on the order of once per century. Managers are now seeing sagebrush country burn every 20 years in parts of the Great Basin, fueled by drought and vigorous non-natives like cheatgrass.”

Federal agencies manage more than half of remaining sage-grouse habitat in the West. Prompted by the pending listing decision, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have initiated anunprecedented planning process to update management plans with new conservation measures for the species. The new USGS research is important to this effort. As the authors stated, “conservation and protection of ‘what’s left’ is increasingly important [for sage-grouse conservation].”

Defenders of Wildlife has been involved in the planning process from the start, meeting with administration officials, submitting comments on the draft plans and reporting where proposed conservation measures could fail to conserve and restore sage-grouse. Throughout this process, Defenders has ardently held that federal agencies must, first and foremost, protect what’s left of the Sagebrush Sea! Management plans must exclude disturbance and degradation in the best remaining habitat for sage-grouse, and prioritize restoration in areas where restoration methods have the greatest chance for success.

We look forward to working with agencies and partners to finalize effective conservation plans to protect the Sagebrush Sea for sage-grouse and other sensitive species, and people who live, work and love the landscape.

 

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Public Lands0 Comments

The Red Cheeked Salamander

The Incredible Shrinking Salamander: Is Climate Change Behind the Decline?

The effects of climate change on wildlife and habitats are as varied as they are widespread: from loss of sea ice in the Arctic to die-offs of coral reefs in the tropics, from floods and wildfires to increased spread of disease and changing food availability.  Although some of the effects are dramatic and obvious, others may be much more subtle, but still hold important implications for conservation. Case in point: new research suggests that warmer and drier conditions may be shrinking salamanders in the southern Appalachians, one of the world’s hotspots of amphibian diversity.

The Red Cheeked Salamander

The results come from an investigation of salamander specimens collected over a 55-year period from sites ranging from Maryland to Tennessee. From 2011-2012, researchers caught and measured nearly 1200 salamanders and compared the results to a Smithsonian collection of over 8000 preserved specimens caught at the same sites dating back to 1957. Of the 15 species they compared, six showed a “significant reduction in body size,” and only one had an increase in body size.

By overlaying geographic and climate data, the scientists also found that the largest reductions in body size occurred at more southerly sites that had gotten warmer and drier over the 55-year period. These findings were augmented by biophysical modeling that showed that warmer temperatures increased the metabolisms of the “cold-blooded,” or ectothermic, salamanders by 7 to 8%. The animals were apparently not able to consume enough food to make up for their bodies’ increased activity, and thus they grew to a smaller maximum size. Size is correlated with a number of important ecological and behavioral characteristics, like how many eggs they lay in a season and how well they escape being eaten. These smaller body sizes may put the animals at increased risk of diminished reproductive success and reduce their ability to avoid predators.

Posted in Climate Change, Imperiled Wildlife0 Comments


dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

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