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The Bush administration's environmental record: Cattle Industry

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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November 16, 2002

       William Myers, the Interior Department's solicitor general—and a former lobbyist for ranchers—announces to members of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association (NCA) that the Bush administration intends to limit environmental reviews and make it easier for ranchers to graze livestock on public lands. He also says that the Department of Interior is seeking ways to prevent federal laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act from restricting grazing on public lands (see December 5, 2003). [Associated Press, 11/16/2002; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] “We should not be using the Endangered Species Act ... as a land management tool. It is not there as a tool for zoning on federal lands,” Myers says. His comments are well received by the NCA. John Falen, a former president of the organization, tells the Associated Press, “Bill's our friend. It's been a long time since we had a friend in the solicitor's office.” [Associated Press, 11/16/2002]
People and organizations involved: Nevada Cattlemen's Association (NCA), John Falen, William G. Myers III, Bush administration
          

December 5, 2003

       Interior Secretary Gale Norton announces in a speech to a convention of livestock owners in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing new rules that would reverse rangeland management reforms implemented in 1995 aimed at deterring practices that cause overgrazing of public lands. According to Norton, the new proposal—which supporters say will act as a bulwark against suburban sprawl— “recognizes that ranching is crucial not only to the economies of Western rural communities, but also to the history, social fabric and cultural identity of these communities.” [Bureau of Land Management, 12/5/2004; Denver Post, 12/10/2004; Associated Press, 12/4/2004] The proposal recommends giving the BLM two years, instead of one, to recommend changes after identifying occurrences of damaging grazing practices and another five years to implement those recommendations. But the agency would retain emergency authority to immediately suspend grazing privileges “if imminent likelihood of significant resource damage exists.” The proposal would also require the BLM to base all decisions on multiple years of monitoring data, even if the grazing damage is obvious and even though this would put a considerable strain on the agency, which oversees more than 18,000 grazing permits covering over 160 million acres nationwide. Other provisions in the proposal would make it more difficult to revoke the grazing permits of ranchers who violate the law; reduce public involvement in reviewing and commenting on decisions about grazing on public lands; and give ranchers partial ownership of any fences, water tanks, new water rights or other improvements to public rangelands. [Denver Post, 12/10/2004; Associated Press, 12/4/2004; Associated Press 1/3/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, n.d.] The livestock industry applauds the new proposal but environmentalists warn that the recommendations would threaten wildlife, degrade water quality and quantity and damage archeological, historic and Native American sites. [Natural Resources Defense Council, n.d.; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The Natural Resources Defense Council, commenting on the recommended changes, says that it believes the proposal will result in increased overgrazing and other unsustainable grazing practices. [Associated Press, 12/4/2004] The BLM will later draft an environmental impact study predicting short-term damage to grazing lands and wildlife (see January 2, 2004).
People and organizations involved: Gale A. Norton, Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration
          

January 2, 2004

       The Bureau of Land Management issues a draft environmental impact study on its plan for managing livestock grazing on 160 million acres of public lands (see December 5, 2003). The study reports that wildlife and grazing lands could suffer short-term damage as a result of the plan's provision that would extend the time allowed for the BLM to recommend and implement changes when the agency identifies an occurrence of harmful grazing practices. The impact assessment also predicts that the new rules would do little to repair damaged streamside vegetation or protect endangered plants and animals. [Denver Post, 12/10/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Bureau of Land Management
          

February 15, 2004

       The US Forest Service reverses its ban on poisoning prairie dogs on five national grasslands in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. The measure is a response to complaints from the livestock industry that prairie dog populations are spreading from federal lands onto private property, ruining grazing land, causing erosion and damaging roads. Critics of the decision to lift the ban note that in 2000, the US Fish and Wildlife Service had concluded that prairie dogs should be listed as a threatened species. [Associated Press, 2/14/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, US Forest Service (USFS)
          

February 20, 2004

       The US Forest Service announces that it has modified its procedures for conducting environmental analyses on grazing allotments in national forests and grasslands. The agency is required to conduct these assessments for each of its 8,700 livestock grazing allotments under Section 504 of the 1995 Rescissions Act to provide a basis for determining whether or not changes need to be made to each of the allotment's grazing policies. The agency says that the procedures, outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), needed to be changed because NEPA “lacked specificity and clarification in describing the process.” The Forest Service also claims that the changes were necessary in order to expedite the assessment process as the agency currently has a backlog of 4,200 allotments. The new plan involves increasing the duration of the permits and limiting the number of alternatives considered. Critics argue that the changes circumvent NEPA requirements by reducing public input and weakening environmental review. [US Forest Service, 2/20/2004; Greenwire, 2/10/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: US Forest Service (USFS), Bush administration
          


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