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11 February 2011 - What do you think about the BLM

Again this week I am asking for your input to help me understand a story I’ve been covering for years. Before I share the story, here is my e-mail address for your response - orion @agbizweek.com.

Now the subject; whenever I am involved in a conversation with ranchers and the BLM is mentioned, I hear a lot of negative talk, there are not many kind words for the Bureau of Land Management. So, I’m wondering why and that’s why I want to hear from you if you are involved with the BLM in grazing leases or permits. For those of you not involved with BLM, let me share some background.

The BLM is in charge of 245-million acres of public lands and manages livestock grazing on 157-million of those acres. The BLM administers 18,000 permits and leases held by ranchers who graze their livestock, mostly cattle and sheep, at least part of the year on public land, and pay fees to the federal government. The permits and leases generally cover 10 years and are renewable if the terms of the agreement are met by the ranchers.

But here’s the rub, ranchers tell me the terms are getting tougher to the point of being impossible to meet and they are losing the public land acres they need to continue their ranching operations. The reason, they tell me, is that non-agricultural groups are having a much larger voice in writing new rules with some calling for a total ban on public land grazing. One rancher told me if a complete ban was put in place, ranching as we know it in the West would disappear.

Groups like the Sierra Club, claim public lands grazing severely damages a fragile environment and upsets the balance of nature. Ranchers claim they improve the environment and wildlife habitat on the acres they lease by digging wells, killing weeds and invasive plants and seeding to improve forage quality for their livestock as well as wildlife.

Several studies conducted by land-grant universities make strong arghuments that cattle and sheep do co-exist very well with wildlife and the environment when properly managed by ranchers. I agree with those study results and have seen the improvements made by ranchers. As a matter of fact, the BLM was created in the 1930’s at the request of Western ranchers who were concerned that some producers were over-grazing and said rules needed to be put in place for everyone.

So, let me know about your experience with the BLM and your feelings about non-agricultural groups having more input than the ranchers who hold the leases. Tell me your story at orion@agbizweek.com and I’ll share them on