LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A study of public records shows the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is failing to achieve its own “land health” standards, which should sound an alarm in Nevada, where 63% of the state is controlled by the agency.
The watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) recently released the study. Among its most surprising findings: The BLM doesn’t even factor in the impact that livestock grazing is having on its lands.
In Nevada, wild horse and burro roundups are conducted because ranges can’t support the animal populations in the wild. BLM also cites drought conditions and the lack of available water to sustain wild horses. Damage from wildfires is sometimes given among the reasons the roundups are necessary.
But livestock grazing on the same land isn’t considered, according to PEER.
Chandra Rosenthal, PEER’s Rocky Mountain Office director, said, “Most often, wild horses are cited in conjunction with livestock.” PEER points a finger directly at livestock grazing as the main reason BLM isn’t meeting its own standards, and the group says the BLM has consistently neglected to account for the damage caused by livestock — cattle in most cases, but also sheep in some areas.
Rosenthal said wild horses have been blamed for BLM failures in 50 specific areas known as “allotments” in the agency’s lingo. The allotments are geographic areas that the BLM tracks and where permits for grazing are issued.
In Nevada, 83% of assessed allotments do not meet standards. A map produced by PEER from their analysis of BLM’s documents shows the extent of the problem: (or see the map at this link)
The map contains a variety of layers that can be activated or disabled under the Map Legend on the right side. Scroll down under Map Layers to find state boundaries, drought layers and many more features. Click on any of the shapes on the map (allotments) to see a pop-up with more detail about the area.
While the bulk of these BLM-controlled lands are in central and northern parts of the state, two allotments in Southern Nevada are particularly interesting because of the lack of information provided. The “Mormon Mesa” and “Muddy River” allotments are near property owned by rancher Cliven Bundy, the rancher who was at the center of a standoff with the BLM in 2014. Bundy refused to pay grazing fees, and the BLM tried to confiscate cattle that were on rangelands. After 100 cattle were taken, an armed standoff along Interstate 15 created a tense situation that eventually ended when the BLM backed off.
In one account of the standoff, Bundy boasted that he hadn’t seen a federal officer since. The Bundy family’s profile has only grown since the standoff, with Bundy’s sons taking a more active role that has extended to Oregon and Idaho.
“Determination not complete” is the only information provided for the “Mormon Mesa” and “Muddy River” allotments.
The first reporting on PEER’s analysis appeared Monday in an article by the High Country News. That article repeated PEER’s conclusion that livestock grazing is the primary culprit behind land degradation. Grazing is blamed for failures on 72% of public land — about 40 million acres, according to the article.
The BLM released the following statement after the article was published:
While we disagree with some of PEER’s conclusions as the analysis was at a large scale and missed some on the ground improvements, we acknowledge there is work to be done in the face of a changing climate and other challenges. The BLM will prioritize assessments for areas where land health standards have never been evaluated or where standards are not being met and is also working to improve how it reports land health data.Bureau of Land Management
Drought, wildfire, off-road vehicles, invasive species and other factors play a role, but incomplete records from the BLM are also a big problem.
“The BLM records reveal however, that livestock grazing is far and away the most frequently cited significant cause of failure to meet rangeland health standards across the grazing lands under the agency’s administration,” according to PEER. “The significance of livestock grazing management … are not factored in as ecological and environmental disturbances associated with livestock grazing.”
A photo provided by PEER illustrates the damage to rangeland. A protective “cage” shows what would be growing on the range without grazing activities.
In addition to the building conflict over wild horses, burros and livestock, Nevada rangelands are also at the center of efforts to preserve habitat for the sage grouse.
The effort to digitize records — eventually allowing for the map presentation — happened within PEER, rather than the BLM itself.