Friday, October 07, 2016

Grazing to continue as before at Craters of the Moon

In a document released this week, the BLM expressed plans to continue livestock grazing on its portion of Craters of the Moon National Monument without any major changes. Most of the 1,100-square-mile monument east of Carey is managed by the National Park Service, and no grazing is allowed on that portion, which includes extensive areas of lava rock. But about 430 square miles of sagebrush and grass ecosystem there are managed by the BLM, which has issued grazing permits to 16 ranchers. On Oct. 3, the BLM released a 400-page draft environmental impact statement and amendment to its 2007 management plan, which remains in effect. The new document was completed in response to a 2011 court ruling ordering the agency to consider no-grazing and less-grazing alternatives. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed in 2008 by Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project. According to the EIS, loss and fragmentation of sagebrush habitat due to wildfire is a primary cause of the decline of sage-grouse populations. “While historic grazing practices were a factor contributing to the decline of sage grouse habitat, grazing management on BLM lands has changed and rangeland health has steadily improved in recent decades,” the EIS noted. All entities involved agree that the incidence and severity of wildfire has been increased by the spread of non-native cheatgrass, which dries out in midsummer and becomes very flammable. Disagreement exists, however, over how to restore that degraded environment to one dominated by native species of plants. Western Watersheds Project and other conservationists contend that the effort will be futile as long as cattle and sheep continue to trample the soil and disturb native plant communities, while the BLM insists that properly managed grazing is needed to induce regrowth of the desired species. The BLM’s preferred alternative (Alternative C) would make similar lands available to livestock grazing as does the existing plan, but would slightly reduce the number of livestock permitted and include new direction for grazing management for the benefit of sage grouse. Alternative C also requires analysis of season or timing of use. “The Preferred Alternative offers opportunities to provide for sustainable livestock grazing while protecting Monument values and sage-grouse habitat,” the BLM stated in the new document. The agency says the preferred alternative would give land managers the ability to use livestock grazing as a tool to attain restoration objectives. The BLM dismissed adopting an alternative that would eliminate grazing on the grounds that it fails to meet a goal in the 2007 management plan “to provide livestock forage on a sustainable basis for the life of the plan.” The EIS also states that eliminating grazing alone would not benefit the sagebrush ecosystem that sage grouse depend on. The agency acknowledged that if grazing were eliminated, native forbs and grasses could increase. “However,” the document states, “removing livestock grazing could hasten habitat degradation if ungrazed fuel loads in communities comprised of dense sagebrush and an understory of annual grasses result in wildfires that burn uniformly and kill sagebrush over a large area. … [G]razing exclusion could also promote exotic annual grass invasion in some situations. [A study] determined that long-term grazing exclusion followed by fire typically resulted in exotic annual grass invasion, while fire following moderate levels of grazing did not promote invasion.”...more

No comments: