Utah’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit in February 2016 against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Department of the Interior and the United States Forest Service (USFS) in the Department of Agriculture. Utah claims that in 2015 a federal plan was issued which amounts to grabbing control of millions of acres of ranchland and directly prohibiting mining on 233,300 acres of land in Utah. In the West, 10 million total acres of land would be off limits to mining because the sage grouse habitat. Utah’s sage grouse plan, according to all studies, has been enormously successful. Utah claims the federal government plan amounts an improper “overthrow” of the state’s plan.
A Presidential Executive Order drives the 2,000 pages of new regulations issued by the BLM and the USFS. Utah’s Attorney General said, “This unprecedented action [by BLM and USFS] has jeopardized conservation of the species and reasonable public use of land in Utah.” This plan is based on a 2014 study entitled, “Conservation Buffer Distance Estimates For Greater Sage-Grouse-a Review (USGS Lek Buffer Study).” A lek is an open natural dance floor in sage brush where sage grouse engage in dancing at dawn to compete for hens.
The greater sage grouse is the largest North American grouse specie. There are approximately 165 million acres of grouse habitat across 11 western states. Generally states and their wildlife agencies have had the primary authority over the regulation and management of species such as sage grouse. Not content with the state’s success in managing the sage grouse, BLM and USFS want to use it as an excuse to take more control over mining and grazing rights on federal land.
The regulations of BLM and USFS are worth examining. (They are preposterous!) The federal agencies identify “grazing” as a threat to sage grouse in Utah and as a result impose “…numerous prohibitions and restrictions on grazing, permitting and leasing.” They include maintaining grass heights at 7 inches or higher until June 15 of each year while the sage grouse are breeding and nesting on ranch land. When cattle grazing occurs within 4 miles of a breeding and nesting sage grouse, from June 16-Oct. 30, perennial grass heights are to be maintained at 4 inches or higher. A requirement, which could only be written in Washington, declares “drought and degraded habitat cannot be used as a basis to adjust grass height table requirements.” Another requirement, “fences and roads identified as negative impacts…must be minimized.” BLM and USFS also declare that “construction of new permanent livestock facilities including windmills, water tanks, and corrals will not be permitted within 1.2 miles from the perimeter of occupied leks.” [breeding areas]
Ranchers will love the fact that they have to get rid of their ponds for watering cattle. The new rule declares “livestock ponds built in perennial channels that are negatively impacting riparian habitats must be removed and no new ponds will be permitted in these areas.” It is easy to see why ranchers and miners in the West believe that once again they are being forced off the land and out of business due to regulations coming from Washington.
The Wall Street Journal on March 11, 2014, in an article entitled, “Sage Grouse Rebellion” wrote that half of the land west of the Mississippi belongs to the federal government, which includes 48% of California, 62% of Idaho, and 81% of Nevada. The WSJ wrote, “In partnership with green activists, the Department of Interior may attempt one of the largest federal land grabs of all times.” The article claims the sage grouse population occurs on private property and that such property “…could become subject to some of the most invasive private land-use rules…in the history of protected-species law.”
A new administration will have its hands full in protecting property rights in the West and needs to issue a new Executive Order protecting property rights.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.