BLM Data Measuring Rangeland Health Not Available
Suit to Uncover Success of Efforts to Reverse Severe Livestock Eco-Damage
Washington, DC —Information documenting the current ecological health of 155 million acres of leased livestock grazing allotments across 13 western states is being wrongly withheld by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These Landscape Health Standards (LHS) data are also the key measure BLM would use in implementing its controversial Public Lands Conservation Rule proposal.
The 2020 LHS data that PEER collected through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) shows massive failure to achieve even minimum levels for quality of water, soil, and vegetation, as well as functioning wildlife habitat due to overgrazing:
- More than 50 percent of BLM acres assessed (54 million acres, an area bigger than Kansas) fail LHS standards with livestock grazing listed as a significant cause;
- More than forty percent of lands targeted for Greater Sage-grouse conservation are also in failing eco-health due to overgrazing; and
- BLM had yet to assess more than a quarter of its leased grazing allotments, a backlog of nearly 41 million acres, an area larger than Michigan.
“The information we are seeking is the basic report card for how BLM is performing in its largest program,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, noting BLM has proposed expanding the LHS system it uses to assess livestock grazing to all its lands to evaluate the extent of resource conservation. “The reliability and transparency of the new paradigm BLM advocates depends upon up-to-date landscape health data being readily available.”
At the same time, BLM has quietly abandoned its plans to develop a new “Grazing Rule” that had been expected this summer. In a statement this month, the agency disclosed that:
“In the near term, the Bureau will shift its focus from advancing a rulemaking to considering updates to policy and guidance with the goal to help deliver much needed administrative improvements and inform any future rulemaking efforts.”
BLM’s retreat means that for the foreseeable future any changes in livestock management will take place internally, with no public involvement.
“To BLM, the absence of assessments allows it to pretend that much of Western rangeland is not in awful shape,” added Rosenthal, pointing to an earlier BLM attempt to remove the eco-effects livestock as a factor in landscape health assessments. “In dropping any consideration of grazing reforms, BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning is signaling that the livestock industry is a political third rail that she dare not touch.”