Thursday, March 07, 2013

Appeals heard on 2011 grazing allotment ruling

A hearing that could decide the future of livestock grazing on the former Green Mountain Common allotment is continuing. Since late February, Department of the Interior administrative law judge Andrew Pearlstein has been hearing appeals to a 2011 decision by the Bureau of Land Management's Lander Field office regarding the grazing area. Permittees and the Western Watersheds Project are appealing the decision, and the State of Wyoming is an intervener in both appeals. In 2011, Lander field office manager Rick Vander Voet broke the Green Mountain Common Allotment into four pieces, established deferred grazing systems, reduced the number of animals ranchers could stock, implemented standards for forage use and initiated range improvement projects. The former Green Mountain Common allotment's area covers 522,000 acres in southern Fremont County and parts of Sweetwater County. Sixteen permittees hold 19 grazing licenses for those rangelands. Pearlstein began the hearing at the Pronghorn Lodge in Lander by asking for opening statements from all parties. The first speaker was John Retrum, an attorney with the Department of the Interior Office of the Solicitor who is representing the BLM in the hearing. He said the case will turn on two questions: whether the level of permitted use in the 2011 decisions exceeds the carrying capacity of the rangeland and whether the permitees' issues with the decision warrant a modification. Western Watershed Project's lawyer Judy Brawer spoke next. She asserted that ranching activities in the former GMCA degraded its uplands and downlands. "Any continued livestock grazing, at least in the short term, will continue this degradation, and the new monitoring strategy will do nothing to prevent their loss," Brawer said. "Ultimately the GMCA is overstocked." Wyoming senior assistant attorney general James Kaste took aim at WWP's appeal in his opening. He said the BLM understands the rangeland conditions and called the 2011 decision a "balanced and well informed decision to walk rather than run" to rectify those conditions. He said Wyoming will bring knowledgeable rangeland managers to testify that there is more than enough forage for the number of livestock currently permitted and the allotment is conservatively stocked...more

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