A well established principle of law is that any federal agency must do an environmental impact statement for any major federal action significantly affecting the environment. This includes reauthorization of continuing activities.What does “major” mean mean? There is controversy over that and many lawsuits in the past to provide guidance, but “major” likely means a controversial activity which affects the health of wildlife and livestock even if they have done this for a while on an annual basis.

A categorical exemption, or CE, is a necessarily device to avoid the time and cost of environmental analysis of certain classes of activities that are obviously minor, such as rebuilding a non-controversial fence, or a small timber sale. Unfortunately, the Bridger-Teton NF is yearly trying to reauthorize these immensely controversial feedgrounds which are the breeding grounds of brucellosis, chronic wasting disease, and other diseases with just a CE.

I imagine a lawsuit will be on its way unless they decide to do environmental analysis, which also requires far more opportunity for public comment than a CE does.

Story today in the Casper Star Tribune by Whitney Royster.

– – – –

Folks

I have moved Robert Hoskins comments up into this article because of the added detail he provides. I see his comments have generated a lot of additional comments as did my original post. RM

Hoskins wrote:

“Thanks for bringing attention to this. Given that Wyoming’s elk feedgrounds are a disease time bomb waiting to explode in the Greater Yellowstone, with consequences to the ecosystem that are now incalculable, the determination of the livestock industry dominated federal and state agencies to ignore the truth about feedgrounds can only be dscribed as wilful negligence of the highest order.

As a practical matter, this specific action by the Bridger-Teton National Forest is an attempt to do an end run around the current lawsuit against the BT demanding that it follow NEPA in authorizing the Wyoming Game & Fish Department to operate feedgrounds on Forest Service land. The notion that special use permits for feeding elk can be swept under a categorical exclusion is absurd. Regarding NEPA, feedgrounds have two major impacts on the human environment–they are a first class disease hazard and the unnatural concentration of elk on feedgrounds causes profound severe damage to habitat in the vicinity of those feedgrounds. Under law, the Forest Service is required to assess the hazards and impacts of granting permits to the State of Wyoming to operate feedgrounds. What it is proposing to do with this CE is simply ignore those impacts.

One of the four feedgrounds that would be covered by this proposed CE is Muddy Feedground, on which the nefarious and scientifically invalid elk test & slaughter program is being carried out. The Wyoming G&F Department is proposing to expand the test and slaughter program to two of the other feedgrounds that would be covered by this CE. However, they need approved permits to continue operating these feedgrounds. The BT wants to hand out those permits without acknowleding the severe impacts of these feedgrounds, and are using the CE provision to do so.

We should understand that the purpose of elk feedgrounds is to keep elk away from grass deemed by the livestock industry and local ranchers to be “reserved” for cattle. In other words, the livestock indusdtry is forcing the Wyoming G&F Department to operate elk feedgrounds, which have been known to be disease hazards for decades, solely for the benefit of ranchers, contrary to the public interest and at the certain risk of a disease epidemic (chronic wasting disease). This is the core fact of the feedground controversy, as it is the core fact of the bison controversy in Montana. In both cases, with Wyoming elk and Montana bison, public wildlife is being sacrificed for the private benefit of the livestock industry–that is, control of grass–with the full support of state wildlife agencies and federal land management agencies such as the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service. I can think of nothing in conservation politics that is more despicable and cowardly.

How much more deliberate negligence can the public stand as these government these agencies’ capitulate to the livestock industry, sacrificing our wildlife in the process?”

Robert Hoskins

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

11 Responses to US Forest Service trying to get away with elk feedground reauthorization using minor documentation

  1. Ralph

    Thanks for bringing attention to this. Given that Wyoming’s elk feedgrounds are a disease time bomb waiting to explode in the Greater Yellowstone, with consequences to the ecosystem that are now incalculable, the determination of the livestock industry dominated federal and state agencies to ignore the truth about feedgrounds can only be dscribed as wilful negligence of the highest order.

    As a practical matter, this specific action by the Bridger-Teton National Forest is an attempt to do an end run around the current lawsuit against the BT demanding that it follow NEPA in authorizing the Wyoming Game & Fish Department to operate feedgrounds on Forest Service land. The notion that special use permits for feeding elk can be swept under a categorical exclusion is absurd. Regarding NEPA, feedgrounds have two major impacts on the human environment–they are a first class disease hazard and the unnatural concentration of elk on feedgrounds causes profound severe damage to habitat in the vicinity of those feedgrounds. Under law, the Forest Service is required to assess the hazards and impacts of granting permits to the State of Wyoming to operate feedgrounds. What it is proposing to do with this CE is simply ignore those impacts.

    One of the four feedgrounds that would be covered by this proposed CE is Muddy Feedground, on which the nefarious and scientifically invalid elk test & slaughter program is being carried out. The Wyoming G&F Department is proposing to expand the test and slaughter program to two of the other feedgrounds that would be covered by this CE. However, they need approved permits to continue operating these feedgrounds. The BT wants to hand out those permits without acknowleding the severe impacts of these feedgrounds, and are using the CE provision to do so.

    We should understand that the purpose of elk feedgrounds is to keep elk away from grass deemed by the livestock industry and local ranchers to be “reserved” for cattle. In other words, the livestock indusdtry is forcing the Wyoming G&F Department to operate elk feedgrounds, which have been known to be disease hazards for decades, solely for the benefit of ranchers, contrary to the public interest and at the certain risk of a disease epidemic (chronic wasting disease). This is the core fact of the feedground controversy, as it is the core fact of the bison controversy in Montana. In both cases, with Wyoming elk and Montana bison, public wildlife is being sacrificed for the private benefit of the livestock industry–that is, control of grass–with the full support of state wildlife agencies and federal land management agencies such as the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service. I can think of nothing in conservation politics that is more despicable and cowardly.

    How much more deliberate negligence can the public stand as these government these agencies’ capitulate to the livestock industry, sacrificing our wildlife in the process?

    Robert

  2. avatar Alan Gregory says:

    In my mind, political operatives placed in mid-level positions — jobs formerly held by career bureaucrats — are at least partially behind this end-run. The Bush administration has never stopped with simply appointing resource-extraction-minded simpletons to senior-level post in Interior or any number of other agencies. There has been little media exposure of this behavior.

  3. avatar Wolfy says:

    Robert,
    I’ll have to say right up front that I agree with you on some points, but not all. The Forest Service does need to analyze and display the effects of the proposed action. In this case, it is the action of allowing a feedlot operation on federal land by the WY G&F through a special use permit. Special use permits are given through the Cat-Ex (CE) process, as you described above. This process is a new to the Forest Service as a whole. Most CE’s that include now include a public commnet period and the right for the public to appeal the decision. This came about through the Earth Island Institute VS Forest Service court case.
    You correctly quoted the NEPA above, but the test of significance is the real determination of whether a EIS is required or not. Almost any action by the government can be considered “major”, but doesn’t necessarily have to have a significant impact.
    I encourage you to provide your comments to the FS on this proposed action. The best comments focus on the real issues and intent of the proposed action. In this case, the proposed action is a special use permit to allow a feedlot to continue to operate. A member of the public may want to state to the FS that this action may bring environmental harm by allowing the concentration of free-ranging elk into unnaturally high densities and increasing the risk of disease transmission. I think it would be good to note that there is conflicting research and the FS may not be using the “best science available”. A public commentor may have to do some homework to find what is the best science out there.
    The proposed action is not the establishment of feedlots to take the place of natural forage to be reserved for cattle. Or to support the cattle industry or win favor of the WY G&F.
    The FS must analyze any significant issues brought forth by any member of the public, including persons not living in the area and FS employees themselves. Having a significant issue doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a significant effect.
    Non-significant issues come from conjecture or are outside of the scope of the decision to be made. The best comments stick to the realm of the action proposed and the extent of the decision to be made.
    As with many things in life, calm, rational thought and persistace will win in the end. Good luck, Robert.

  4. Alan

    That’s true enough, but here in Wyoming and the West that’s always been the case. What is not receiving adequate attention in the press is the role of the livestock industry in creating the feedground mess, working by its control of the state legislature and the state G&F Department to control wildlife policy in the state. At the same time, we have the problem of the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service working behind the scenes to expand its bureaucratic authority over wildlife management in all of the States. APHIS has been seeking control over wildlife for a long time, long before the Bush administration came into power. We see this in play both with Montana bison as well as Wyoming elk, not to mention in trying to expand predator control by Wildlife Services, which is part of APHIS, in wilderness areas.

    The press has been negligent in bringing this industry and bureaucratic struggle for control of wildlife for the benefit of agriculture to the public’s attention. This struggle has been going on for decades throughout Democratic and Republic administrations. The problem is agriculture itself, not just the bureaucrats who work in its favor.

    Robert

  5. avatar Wolfy says:

    Alan,
    Political operatives? This would imply that these decisions are being made by “plants” within a government agency. And somehow these “plants” are running the show. The truth may be a little simpler than that.
    No govenment agency will ever admit that they have a quota for hiring disadvantagous classes of workers. But it sure looks that way.
    Before I go on, I feel the gods of political correctness looking down on me. I’m not saying that persons of other races or economic classes are any worse or better than the average government worker.
    The pressure to hire these classes of people causes the bureaucrats to twitch something fierce. They do hire people who would not be able to compete on a level playing field. They hire for “diversity” in the workplace; and yes, more qualified people may be disadvantaged by this process. They also hire persons that are “like minded” or “company men”.
    What you end up with is a workforce that is partially incompetent . The pressure to promote the “diversity” or the “company man” employees is even greater. In the end, the incompetent get promoted above their skills and experience and start to run the show. Eventually they become the President.

  6. avatar Wolfy says:

    Robert,
    Good points. Unfortuatelly for wildlife, and in particular, predators the pressure to have more Federal control is evident in the changes to agency handbooks and direction. Even independent environmental studies have been altered to reflect a more favorable position of the government. Hopefully, with the change in power in DC, some of this non-sense will end, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

  7. In response to “Wolfy,” I wonder if Wolfy works for the Forest Service or the Wyoming Game & Fish Department. I would point out that there is no valid conflicting research on the impact of feedgrounds on wildlife or land; the consensus among wildlife ecologists, biologists, and veterinarians is that feedgrounds unequivocally are a disease hazard and have caused considerable habitat damage, particularly to riparian vegetation. This research dates back to the days when Olaus Murie was the biologist for the Refuge, when he was pointing out how necrotic stomatitis rose and fell with the density of elk on the Refuge and also pointing out the damage to willow communities on the Refuge and in the Gros Ventre. He also noted that putting feedgrounds in the Gros Ventre would be a tragedy. Of course, now we have 3 feedgrounds in the Gros Venture.

    Quite frankly, even Wyoming G&F documents acknowledge the ecological damage caused by feedgrounds. There is no question whatsoever over the science. The issue, as acknowledged by ranchers on the Governor’s Brucellosis Committee, is grass. If feedgrounds are closed, grass that is now reserved for cattle will have to be reallocated to elk. Loss of AUMs affects the value of ranches. Consequently, ranchers are more than willing to see brucellosis continue on the feedgrounds as well as sacrific elk to chronic wasting disease. We will see whether their opinion changes when CWD arrives on the feegrounds. Of course, by then it will be too late to shout mea culpa.

    I must say I’m a little weary about lectures about what issues are relevant or significant and which aren’t in the NEPA process. The Forest Service and other federal agencies have a long history of ignoring the real issues with its rather nefarious, self-serving criteria about what is relevant to a decision and what is not, whether with a CE, an EA, or an EIS. This argument about relevance figures into the feedground lawsuit which is now under advisement in Federal District Court in Cheyenne. The FS claims all it’s doing is permitting the feedground facilities that G&F has constructed on the feedgrounds, not the feeding itself, and that it has no authority to regulate wildlife management activities carried out by the State. This of course is a claim that goes against U. S. Supreme Court decisions dating back to Missouri v. Holland (1920) and Hunt v. Arizona (1928). The latter opinion noted that the power of the U. S. government to protect its property is not in doubt notwithstanding state game laws. The authority of the FS (or the BLM) to regulate or prohibit elk feedgrounds on its lands most certainly is relevant to the issue at hand, regardless of what the FS thinks or claims.

    The issue of an EIS for all the feedgrounds on federal land most certainly what is under consideration with the lawsuit, and this CE clearly is an attempt to do an end run around the lawsuit and get these feedgrounds permitted, particularly when one of the feedgrounds covered by this proposed CE is Muddy Feedground, the location of the current test and slaughter program. As I understand it, one of the remedies sought in the lawsuit is to stop test and slaughter altogether pending environmental review. To try and slip Muddy Feedground under the wire when it already is being challenged in court strikes me as a poor legal strategy, but it certainly indicates that the FS is abdicating its lawful authority.

    In a sense, all this is moot. Chronic wasting disease is moving toward the feedgrounds, and by the time all these legal and bureaucratic issues are sorted out, the disease will have already reached the feedgrounds–thanks to the wilful negligence of the various agencies.

  8. avatar Laird Bean says:

    I find it interesting that Mr. Hoskins states that “the purpose of the elk feedgrounds is to keep elk away from grass deemed by the livestock industry and local ranchers to be “reserved” for cattle. In other words, the livestock indusdtry is forcing the Wyoming G&F Department to operate elk feedgrounds.”

    Having lived on a cattle ranch, I think this is more opinion than fact. First, they do not start feeding elk until winter snows have driven the elk to the feed grounds. Cattle are off their grazing allotments by this time. Sure, there may be more available grass the next spring when cattle are turned out on the range but this is last years grass that is not very nutritional and palatable as the new growth. The cattle will eat green grass before dry grass any day. At least where we have cattle, they largely ignore last years grass in favor of new growth so I cannot believe the statement that last years grass is “reserved” for the cattle, particularly in the spring of next year. Secondly, in much of the high country last years grass is piled up by several feet of snow. Much of that grass either breaks off due to the pressure of the snow. If it does not break off then a significant portion of it is bent over and is reabsorbed into the soil the next spring. However, there are some areas on bare slopes and rigids where the wind blows that keeps the snow off so there is available grass from last year but this is usually the high spot of bare ridges where most cattle do not have access to until well into the spring after the new growth of grass is well established.

    In summary, this appears like a lame excuse for those to pass judgment onto the livestock industry AGAIN when this industry, including myself, despises these feeding grounds because of their potential to spread brucellosis and other diseases to the livestock industry.

  9. Laird,

    Robert is speaking for Wyoming, where the situation is different than Idaho. My impression is the ranchers there don’t want to provide any winter range and so they support the feedlots.

  10. avatar Laird Bean says:

    I understand that but it appears that Mr Hoskins is attacking the livestock industry, in general, and you know my attitutde about that. In my opinion and observation, leaving this years grass for next years cattle grazing will not make much difference for the livestock owner as cattle will eat new growth before the dried growth of last year. I would not think that the livestock owners of western wyoming do not understand that but then again……

  11. avatar Wolfy says:

    Robert,
    Your stance on the issue of feedlots is well published. Many folks know about your position as the President of the Dubois Wildlife Association. I will not argue the point of consensus on scientific evidence, but your “dig” on the possibility that I work the FS or WY F&G is unwarrented. The simple fact that someone works for a particular agency or is involved with a certain hunter’s group does not invalidate their concerns. I could say that, since you are a group that is a hunting lobby that everyone in your group has the same, invalid view point; And write you off as an extremist; I know this is probably not the case and the opposite may be true. Just because someone does not agree with you does not mean that their points are not valid.
    Whether you like it or not, there is a legal (not perfect) process invloved with special use permits. You can sit on the fence and call fouls on the process or you can get involved.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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