Washington, DC, March 21, 2019 — One of the federal government’s biggest programs acreage-wise now occupies the tiniest slice of cyberspace, according to a review by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website has demoted commercial livestock grazing from a program to a sub-program, sharing equal billing with “reindeer grazing in Alaska.”
BLM manages commercial livestock grazing across 150 million acres in 13 Western states – a total land area nearly the size of Texas. Last year, the agency even handed out “Vision Cards” for employees to wear displaying an oil derrick on one side and cattle on the other.
Yet, on the BLM home page, as a result of changes that likely took place sometime between March and October of 2017, grazing is no longer found in the menu for “Programs.” The user must click on the Natural Resources program to see a sub-link for “Rangelands and Grazing.” On this page are two tabs for “grazing” and “success stories.” The former contains two links, one for “Find information about livestock grazing permits, fees, and improvements” and one for “learn about reindeer grazing in Alaska.”
PEER argues that this cyber-camouflage reflects a broad abdication of responsible range management because data about conservation outcomes and resource abuses are no longer available. For example:
- The last time BLM published Rangeland Inventory Monitoring Evaluation (RIME) data was for 2015; that showed more than one-third of lands assessed failed to meet BLM’s own Standards for Rangeland Health reflecting minimum quality of water, vegetation and soils – a total of 40 million acres, or about the area of Washington State. The overwhelming portion (more than 70%) of range health failure was due to livestock overgrazing in allotments covering more than 30 million acres, the size of New York State. BLM has not published RIME data since 2015;
- Last month, BLM lowered grazing fees to the lowest level allowed by law, under the rationale that “public rangelands remain healthy, productive working landscapes” – a claim for which it offers zero evidence, nor has it answered a Freedom of Information Act request for the justification; and
- Despite two critical Government Accountability Office reports, BLM does little to detect or deter unauthorized grazing, ala Nevada’s infamous Cliven Bundy. A 2018 PEER lawsuit confirmed that the agency still does not even monitor grazing trespass from year to year.
“BLM’s range management philosophy appears to be that ‘no news is good news,’” stated PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade. “It seems that America’s rangelands are increasingly areas of malign neglect.”
In contrast to the paucity of information BLM offers, PEER has fielded a Grazing Reform web-center featuring an online Grazing Data Interactive Map displaying data from BLM’s Land Health Status record system overlaid with high-resolution satellite imagery, allowing users to eyeball current land conditions.
“PEER presents these data and analyses to fill the void left by BLM’s severe allergy to meaningful and consistent rangeland health assessments,” added Stade. “This aversion to science is not what one would expect from an agency with ‘Land Management’ in its name.”