Government Announces New ‘Flexible’ Grazing Permits for Oregon Ranchers

Trump administration officials are calling it ‘outcome-based grazing,’ and are offering the option to 11 ranches and livestock companies as a demonstration. Critics are saying it weakens accountability standards for ranchers grazing on public lands.

Posted: Mar. 23, 2018 5:17 PM
Updated: Mar. 23, 2018 5:19 PM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two Oregon ranches will be among 11 in the country to be offered a new kind of process for livestock grazing on public lands, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced on Friday.

Known as outcome-based grazing authorizations (OBGAs), the new process offers an “unprecedented level of flexibility in the management of livestock,” according to the BLM.

Roaring Springs Ranch near Burns, Oregon and Fitzgerald Ranch near Lakeview, Oregon will be two of the 11 ‘demonstration projects.’ The other test cases are spread throughout the western United States—including Wyoming, Nevada, Montana, Idaho and Colorado.

According to a BLM statement, the OBGA initiative is designed to prove that permitted livestock grazing on public lands can successfully operate with fewer restrictions, while still reaching habitat and vegetation goals.

"The demonstration projects will play an important part in establishing outcome-based grazing authorizations as a standard practice," said Brian Steed, Deputy Director of Programs and Policy. "We will consider the success of the demonstration projects as we develop guidance for future authorizations."

The OBGA initiative emphasizes conservation performance, ecological outcomes, and cooperative management of public lands, according to the BLM. This is intended to produce ranching that is both economically and environmentally sustainable.

“Farmers and ranchers know the wildlife and the land they work better than anyone; it only makes sense that we would enlist them in conservation efforts,” said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

The BLM wording implies that ranchers will be trusted to manage their impact on public lands with less oversight and regulation—and will only be penalized should their efforts prove lackluster. The BLM does not describe how the oversight process will operate under the new OBGA initiative, however.

Harvard’s Environmental Law program was somewhat critical of the OBGA initiative, citing a 2016 report by the Department of the Interior that estimated “30% of assessed federal rangelands are not meeting the promulgated land health standards,” largely from livestock grazing.

Current permit structures are designed to protect native species and ensure land health, according to a Harvard statement. The new OBGA initiative would "weaken the stringency of grazing restrictions and accountability standards for permit and lease holders."

Livestock grazing occurs on 155 million acres of public lands, according to the BLM. The BLM grants almost 18,000 permits and leases to ranchers—usually covering a 10-year period.

Grazing on public lands was a central theme of recent friction between activists like Cliven Bundy and government agencies, as Bundy reportedly refused to pay for his permit to graze on public land.

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