STATEMENT OF ED SHEPARD, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, RENEWABLE RESOURCES AND PLANNINGBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE RESOURCES COMMITTEE, SUBCOMMITTEE ON FORESTS AND FOREST HEALTH
JULY 13, 2006
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to discuss livestock grazing on public lands and the work the Department of the Interior is doing to provide good stewardship of our public rangelands.
Importance of Livestock Grazing
Uses of public rangelands, including livestock grazing, have been and continue to be critical to the economic vitality and cultural identity of the West and to Western rural communities. We recognize ranchers as being good stewards of the land, and we believe the public’s understanding of public land grazing and its benefits are better known. The values and benefits of public land livestock grazing include helping the nation provide a domestic source of food and jobs; improving rangeland health by reducing unwanted vegetation; and working with local communities to preserve open space by keeping ranchers on the landscape and slowing the onset of fragmented landscapes.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is committed to working with people who work on the public lands as we strive for economically productive and environmentally healthy rangelands.
Rangeland Management Background / Facts & Figures
These permits and leases allow the sustainable annual harvest of up to 12.7 million animal unit months (AUMs), or the amount of forage necessary to sustain a cow and her calf for a month. As the Committee is well aware, much of the West has been in the grip of a drought during the last six years affecting the availability of forage and water in many areas, resulting in reduced grazing use. In Fiscal Year 2005, actual use was reduced to approximately 6.8 million AUMs due to drought and fires. Similar reductions were experienced in 2002 through 2004.
Land Health Standards
BLM’s New Grazing Regulations
The development of the Grazing Rule has been a lengthy but productive process that has involved extensive public review and comment. This is an important step forward to improve BLM grazing administration, and draws upon the lessons learned since the previous revisions occurred more than 10 years ago.
The primary objectives of the Grazing Rule are to protect rangeland resources; improve the agency’s working relationships with public land ranchers; to assess and protect rangeland resources; and to address legal issues while enhancing administrative efficiency. The Grazing Rule:
Opportunities to Improve Rangeland Health and Administrative Process
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
At the request of the Subcommittee, this testimony also is providing information developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) concerning the impact on grazing of the listing and recovery activities of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. Currently found along a portion of the east side of the Sierra Nevada from just north of Lee Vining, Mono County, south to Olancha, Inyo County, California, spanning approximately 150 miles, this population of bighorn sheep occurs primarily on USDA Forest Service and National Park Service lands. Another distinct population segment of bighorn sheep is listed in the peninsular ranges of California.
The total population of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep increased from 250 in 1978 to about 310 in 1986 during the first phase of a reintroduction program. Implemented by the State of California, the reintroduction program consisted of augmentation of bighorn sheep that already existed within the Sierra Nevada; no sheep were introduced into the region from outside the historic range.
On August 27, 1984, the California Department of Fish and Game submitted a letter to the Supervisor of the Inyo National Forest, requesting that the Lee Vining grazing allotment be vacated to allow some safe reintroduction of bighorn sheep into this area. In the letter, the State indicated that it would not request any additional reduction or cancellation of allotments based on the presence of those animals. Subsequently, on December 20, 1989, the District Ranger of the Mono Lake Ranger District, Inyo National Forest, wrote to the relevant allotment permittees and concurred with the position in the 1984 letter.
While not a party to those letters, FWS recognizes and supports the general intent expressed in those letters --to recover Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep while minimizing the economic impacts to domestic sheep grazing operations on public lands. However, following this reintroduction, the population steadily declined, and it was emergency listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1999 as a distinct population segment. At the time of listing, this population was estimated at approximately 117-129 adult animals. Since then, favorable conditions and recovery efforts have increased reproduction and survival, resulting in about 350 to 400 total sheep in 2006.
Several factors led to the species’ decline, including predation, market hunting, competition with domestic livestock, and disease. Large numbers of domestic sheep were grazed seasonally in the Sierra Nevada prior to the turn of the century, and domestic sheep use the same ranges. Native bighorn sheep are vulnerable to certain strains of respiratory bacteria such as Pasteurella species, carried normally by domestic sheep, and die-offs from pneumonia contracted from domestic sheep were an important cause of bighorn sheep losses.
Recovery Team – Scientists and Stakeholders
The Stakeholder team was briefed on the progress of the Science team by representatives from the State, FWS, and the Science team leader throughout the planning process. They were asked to review preliminary drafts and provide comments. The Stakeholder team’s members provided information that improved recovery tasks, and their participation ensured that the plan could be implemented.
FWS recognizes the potential economic impacts that the listing of the bighorn sheep has had on the grazing community of the Sierra Nevada, and has worked diligently to meet its obligations under the ESA while minimizing impacts to grazing operations in a fair, open, and reasonable manner. Stakeholders from the grazing community have participated in this recovery planning process as well as Section 7 consultations. Although agreement has not been reached on all issues, FWS believes that this collaborative process has worked reasonably well to identify and resolve many points of contention. While the process has not always been a smooth one, FWS is always looking to learn from these processes and improve its methods, and recognizes that much work is to be done before this matter is resolved.
Draft Final Recovery Plan
Domestic Sheep Grazing and Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Recovery
FWS has worked with the Forest Service and the State to minimize the risk of contact between domestic and wild sheep on the allotments, and most of these allotments remain operational. One practical problem that has complicated attempts to find a way for the two populations to coexist and which the stakeholders are trying to address is the difficulty in corralling wild sheep and keeping them away from domestic sheep. At this time, the five permittees are maintaining their operations or have agreed to minimizing measures or alternative allotments that allow them to continue their operations
FWS and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest have been working diligently to find viable approaches to protecting these bighorn sheep while maintaining grazing operations. Between 2000 and 2005, FWS was able to work with the Forest Service to avoid contact between domestic sheep and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep and to permit grazing. As the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep population in the Northern Recovery Unit increased and moved north of Lundy Canyon, the risk of disease transmission could no longer be fully avoided. To address this risk, FWS helped develop minimizing measures, including a cost-shared intensive monitoring effort by the State, and in June 2005 completed a formal consultation on grazing for the 3 allotments adjacent to a herd unit for one year. Grazing activities were maintained on all three allotments.
FWS is currently in formal section 7 consultation with the Forest Service on the 2006 grazing season for these allotments. New information for the 2006 season includes the presence of six bighorn sheep that are known to be located in close proximity to the allotments. FWS anticipates completing the 2006 consultation on or about July 14, 2006.
Other Issues- Continuing Disease Analysis
FWS has organized a subcommittee of the Recovery team, involving stakeholders, scientists, and land managers, to develop a risk assessment using current data and the risk analysis for a plan for avoiding contact between bighorn and domestic sheep and considering current users of the allotments and how, or if, continual use can be assured.
FWS is strongly committed to reconciling endangered species recovery with traditional working landscapes on private and public lands, and respects, appreciates, and in many cases, relies on the local knowledge of the people who work these lands. FWS has initiated several joint efforts with ranchers to foster partnerships that support good stewardship for the benefit of wildlife, and remains committed to finding recovery approaches that minimize impacts to land users wherever possible because the public’s help in this important endeavor is needed.
The BLM is committed to the conservation and management of this vital component of our Nation’s natural resource base and the great legacy of the American west for current and future generations. We continue to work in collaboration with our partners -- ranchers, other Federal agencies, state and local governments, Tribes, researchers, conservation groups, the general public and others -- to make progress in our understanding and management of rangelands.
We look forward to working with the Committee and Congress on opportunities to improve public land management. Thank you for providing the BLM the opportunity to talk with you about sustainable rangeland management and our administration of public land grazing. I would be happy to answer questions from the Committee.