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Public Lands: Utah GOP bill would let states manage federal grazing

PUBLIC LANDS:
Utah GOP bill would let states manage federal grazing
Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, April 17, 2015
A new bill introduced this week by Utah Republicans would let Western states manage some grazing allotments on federal lands, relieving the Bureau of Land Management of its environmental oversight.

The bill, by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart, would require the Interior Department, at the request of a governor, to enter into a 20-year “cooperative agreement” that would allow states to manage up to two grazing allotments on federal lands.

The agreement would allow states to perform National Environmental Policy Act reviews for grazing decisions as well as decide whether an abbreviated review known as a categorical exclusion is appropriate for vegetation projects, pinyon and juniper tree removals or the setting of grazing levels.

Challenges to state grazing decisions would be heard by states rather than the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which is the federal agency’s administrative court.

Hatch and Stewart said ranchers in the West are seeing their grazing access diminished as a result of “environmental extremists.” Their bill would likely reduce green groups’ ability to challenge grazing decisions in court.

“The rapid decline in grazing levels in Utah is a travesty, both for the ranchers that rely on grazing for the support of their families and businesses, and for the health of the land,” Hatch said in a statement. “Our state grazing pilot program will allow Utah and other states to develop initiatives to manage the federal lands within their borders, tailored to their individual needs and circumstances, and will allow states the opportunity to demonstrate their ability as responsible stewards.”

The lawmakers said Utah’s Department of Agriculture supports the bill.

But conservationists have strongly opposed allowing states to manage or own federal lands, and the Hatch-Stewart bill is no exception.

“The federal lands belong to all American people,” said Randi Spivak, director of the public lands program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is just the latest gambit by Utah to attempt to convert federal lands to private interests.”

Spivak said many federal lands in the West, including in Utah, offer low grazing value for livestock.

“When you talk about acres per cow rather than cows per acre, you know you’re grazing in the wrong area,” she said.

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