Reforming Livestock Grazing on the Public Domain: Ecosystem Management-Based Standards and Guidelines Blaze a New Path for Range Management

By Pendery, Bruce M. | Environmental Law, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Reforming Livestock Grazing on the Public Domain: Ecosystem Management-Based Standards and Guidelines Blaze a New Path for Range Management


Pendery, Bruce M., Environmental Law


I. Introduction

Livestock grazing on federal lands that are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is intensely controversial in the western United States.(1) At its worst, the debate pits the slogan "Cattle Galoree by '93"(2) of environmentalists against the slogan "Cattle Galore by '94"(3) of ranchers. As the slogans indicate, many environmentalists want livestock grazing reduced or eliminated on BLM lands,(4) while ranchers want their current grazing privileges guarded, and in some cases elevated to the status of a property right.(5)

This controversy spawned a major regulatory reform effort at BLM led by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. The reform effort spanned most of President Clinton's first term, and culminated when BLM adopted amended livestock grazing regulations on August 21, 1995.(6) The new regulations partly responded to environmentalists' criticisms by establishing ecosystem management-based standards and guidelines for livestock grazing on BLM lands, as well as through many other provisions.(7) In response, congressional Republicans launched unsuccessful efforts to legislatively override BLM's amended regulations.(80 Moreover, the livestock industry challenged BLM's regulations in Public Lands Council v. United States Department of the Interior.(9) Recently, the Public Lands Council court affirmed most of the provisions in the new regulations, including the "Fundamentals of Rangeland Health and Standards and Guidelines for Grazing Administration," which are the primary subject of this Article.(10)

This Article addresses BLM's amended grazing regulations, and in particular the innovative ecosystem management-based standards and guidelines within the regulations. Additionally, but to a much lesser degree, the livestock industry's efforts to nullify the new regulations are considered. The overarching conclusion from this analysis is that BLM had a rational scientific basis for adopting the standards and guidelines and that BLM has the legal authority to embrace ecosystem management as the basis for its range management.

II. Overview

Domestic livestock have grazed rangelands in some parts of the southwestern United States since the 1500s,(11) and much of the rest of the western United States since the 1800s.(12) Livestock grazing on the unreserved public domain was unregulated, however, until 1934 when the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA)(13) was enacted. Pursuant to authority delegated by the TGA, as well as the later-enacted Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA)(14) and Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 (PRIA),(15) the Secretary of the Interior developed regulations to govern livestock grazing on BLM lands.(16)

Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt recently amended the regulations governing livestock grazing on BLM lands in the eleven western States(17) following Contentious public debate.(18) The amended regulations became effective on August 21, 1995.(19) Concomitant with the rulemaking process, BLM prepared a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS)(20) and a final environmental impact statement (FEIS),(21) collectively referred to as Rangeland Reform '94, which assessed the environmental impacts of the amended regulations.(22) A significant feature of the new regulations and Rangeland Reform '94 are provisions establishing "Fundamentals of Rangeland Health and Standards and Guidelines for Grazing Administration," which are codified in a new subpart of BLM's grazing regulations.(23)

The standards and guidelines establish requirements intended to ensure specified ecosystem features will not be degraded by livestock grazing.(24) These new provisions reflect BLM's evolving commitment to ecosystem management.(25) Ecosystem management is an approach to natural resources management focusing on protecting biological diversity, amenities, aesthetics, and recreation while allowing for sustainable development. …

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