Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Forest Service, ranchers come to an agreement

In meetings Monday set up by U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and local ranchers represented by the McKenzie County Grazing Association and the Medora Grazing Association came to two agreements about using the Little Missouri Grasslands for cattle grazing in Medora and Watford City. The land can be used for cattle grazing but there have been disputes between the grazing associations and the Forest Service over federally mandated grazing policies and how they work for North Dakota ranchers, according to a press release sent by Hoeven’s office. The first was to use third party informal mediation in land use disputes over the Little Missouri Grasslands in the grazing associations’ jurisdictions. “It’s important that we solve these issues in a way that benefits everyone,” Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a media briefing after the meetings at the Dickinson Chamber of Commerce. “There’s an opportunity to use the commissioner’s (North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring’s) skilled mediators not so much after decisions have been made but actually way before that.” McKenzie County Grazing Association President Keith Winter said he was encouraged that Hoeven brought up the use of ag mediation services for disputes with the Forest Service because it could lead to quicker resolutions. The second issue discussed in Monday’s meetings was using outside research from institutions such as North Dakota State University to influence Forest Service policy. “I also was encouraged by the fact that a plan may be in place but it doesn’t mean that if we have good research, good science, coming forward of management of the rangeland and pasture that we can implement some of that,” Goehring said. “That it does affect the health and welfare of the grasslands, and that it does affect the ecology.” Using the best available science and being able to constantly develop science in policy-making decisions is important to the grasslands, Tidwell said. But also that new research is able to influence policy changes as scientific revelations are made...more

Third party mediation and local research that could influence policy. Too bad that approach is not taken on all Forest Service allotments.

I've long felt the original approach to grazing on the grasslands (where the Forest Service signed agreements with local grazing associations who then managed the allotments) was a superior method to that employed by the Forest Service and the BLM on their regular allotments.

Given the huge budget deficits we face for the foreseeable future, this is a model which should be revisited.

The article, Forest Chief asks for communication, not court has a less rosey take on the meeting. For instance, on the issue of third party mediation the article says:

Not only is it outside of existing procedure, Tidwell said, but he didn’t see how mediated agreements could work, since the agency can’t make decisions that omit the public. “It just doesn’t fit very well,” he said. He suggested frontloading the process with communication so problems are ironed out before the environmental review begins and to save everyone the expense of time of going to court.

Surely that could be solved by having a draft mediated decision that is released for public comment. If the comments raised legitimate issues you would enter into mediation again. In other words if the Forest Service truly wanted this process to work they could make it happen.

Finally, my hats off to Tidwell in this instance. When is the last time you saw a Chief of the Forest Service sit down and openly visit with a group of local ranchers?


Joe Delk said...

Chief Tidwell suggested that frontloading the process with communication so problems are ironed out before the environmental review begins and to save everyone the expense of time of going to court.

Just exactly what we've been trying to get the FS to do.....involve local community to assess conflict with local land use plans or contradictions to local custom and culture.

He can talk the talk....but will he walk the talk.....I doubt it!!!

Anonymous said...

All federal grazing permits are viewed by the FS as a privilege. That is exactly what your drivers license is...a privilege granted to you by the state. In the case of grazing permits a privilege granted to you by the federal government. You can never drive the process of a privilege to your satisfaction.

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