The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last week detailing the extent to which the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have failed to follow agency regulations in documenting and penalizing unauthorized or trespass livestock grazing on federal public lands. The report, entitled Unauthorized Grazing: Actions Needed to Improve Tracking and Deterrence Efforts, was requested by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee. The request came in response to several high profile cases of trespass grazing and a recognition of the devastating ecological impacts it can have on wildlife habitat.

The report came to several important conclusions. Trespass grazing is pervasive and causes widespread degradation of public lands, agencies do not document it adequately, and the Forest Service trespass fees are too low to be a deterrent.

The report also highlights the extent to which public lands livestock grazing is heavily subsidized by American taxpayers.  In 2016, BLM and the Forest Service charged ranchers $2.11 per animal unit month for horses and cattle, and $0.42 for sheep and goats. But, average private grazing land lease rates in western states ranged from $9 to $39.

In a separate press release, Grijalva stated, “We know we’re leasing public land at well below market value. What we don’t know nearly enough about is the extent or impact of unauthorized grazing on public lands. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management need to bring grazing fees in line with the modern economy and take illegal use of public lands more seriously going forward.”

In addition to the agencies’ failure to document or penalize trespass grazing, the report states that according to agency personnel, “high-profile cases of intentional unauthorized grazing and related antigovernment protests can affect agency decision making regarding enforcement … (and) that not taking enforcement action on violators is likely to encourage more unauthorized grazing.” The report also states that “lack of support from higher-level managers for strong enforcement action does not incentivize field staff to act on unauthorized grazing and, in some cases, lowers staff morale.”

The report also acknowledges the significant ecological damage that trespass grazing can cause. The report states, “(U)nauthorized grazing may create various effects, such as severely degrading rangelands under certain conditions.” This damage was witnessed firsthand by the GAO investigators. “During our field visits, we observed locations where unauthorized grazing had resulted in severely damaged natural springs, overgrazed meadows, and trampled streambeds.”

“Western Watershed Project (WWP) has been documenting these types of abuse for years. Our reports often fall on deaf ears or are purposefully ignored by agency land managers who refuse to follow the law and punish or even document illegal grazing on public lands,” said Jonathan Ratner, the groups Wyoming Director.

Because the agencies rarely track and report on unauthorized grazing, the GAO concluded that the frequency and extent of unauthorized grazing on agency lands are largely unknown. The report found that rather than report and penalize unauthorized grazing as required by agency regulation, agency personnel are far more likely to handle incidents informally with no subsequent documentation. This leads to both a lack of institutional knowledge and makes identifying and prosecuting serial violators much more difficult.

“Trespass grazing occurs far more often than the agencies are willing to admit. We often find cows grazing inside exclosures, in the wrong pastures, or long after the permitted season of use. In fact, this is more the norm than the exception,” said Josh Osher, WWP’s Montana Director.

Even when trespass grazing is reported and the agencies take action, the GAO found that the penalties assessed are often too low to act as a deterrent.  This is especially true for the Forest Service where the penalty for trespass grazing may be even less the cost of permitted grazing elsewhere.  The report points out that agency field staff stated, “that penalties for unauthorized grazing are rarely or never an effective deterrent … some told us that there are permittees who view the penalties for unauthorized grazing as a cost of doing business because paying the penalties is cheaper than seeking forage elsewhere.”

A previous GAO report on trespass grazing in 1990 reached similar conclusions, including “when offenders were detected, BLM frequently exacted no penalties and, for the more serious violations, seldom assessed the minimum penalties its own regulations required. As a result, unauthorized grazing was not adequately deterred, which could lead to degradation of public rangelands, among other things.”  At that time, GAO made recommendations to the BLM including that all incidents of unauthorized grazing be documented and that compliance inspections be expanded to “provide systematic compliance coverage.”  Unfortunately, these recommendations were largely ignored by the agency.

“A culture of willful ignorance is pervasive within the BLM and Forest Service. The agencies rarely inspect grazing allotments and even when violations are found, corrective actions are rarely taken and violators are rarely punished,” said WWP’s Idaho Director Ken Cole.

In this latest report, the GAO makes similar recommendations to the agencies about identification, documentation, and deterrence of trespass grazing. While the BLM and Forest Service generally agree with the conclusions of the report and claim they will make changes to agency policy, based on past experience, WWP is not confident that changes will occur or that local field managers will change current practices.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit environmental conservation group with 1,500 members founded in 1993 and has field offices in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, California, and Oregon. WWP works to influence and improve public lands management throughout the West with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250 million acres of western public lands, including harm to ecological, biological, cultural, historic, archeological, scenic resources, wilderness values, roadless areas, Wilderness Study Areas and designated Wilderness.

 
avatar
About The Author

Press Releases

Press releases are written by the organizations that publish them.

17 Responses to Agencies Fail to Identify, Track, Penalize, or Deter Unauthorized Livestock Grazing on Public Lands According to a New Report from the Government Accountability Office

  1. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    And just blame any degradation of land on the wild horses! The agencies are right on top of that, when the horses are to be cruelly rounded up and removed, and experimented on!

  2. avatar Nancy says:

    Good to have a little background (propaganda) here when it comes to public lands grazing:

    http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/grazing.html

  3. avatar Kevin O Jamison says:

    Ms. Nancy,
    I looked at the site above and had an overwhelming urge to retch. Shameless, blatant, overt mendacity. Written by livestock lobbyists and handed to Agency personnel to cover-up, obscure and obfuscate the truth with maddening gobble-de-gook. They do it because they can and are enabled by corrupt and immoral politicians. Republicans in Congress and Legislatures work for one goal. There is big money in destruction and exploitation.

    • avatar timz says:

      Just to get you caught up to date, the administration, and thus control of the BLM, USFS, and F&W have been run by Democrats for the past 7+ years. Republicans didn’t appoint Sally
      Jewell, Dan Ashe, or Bob Abbey. And one of the biggest behind the scenes crooks in all this public lands mess is Harry Reid, who is actually on JW’s “10 Most Corrupt Politicains” list.

      • avatar Nancy says:

        Interesting read:

        http://journal-neo.org/2016/07/01/is-there-a-difference-between-democracy-and-western-style-democracy/

        “For more than half a century, since the days of McCarthy, the mainstream media had successfully claimed that ‘Americans are not interested in foreign affairs’ to justify keeping its coverage to a minimum. But social media campaigns are international, and they have gradually widened American awareness of what the rest of the world is thinking and doing”

        On the last few pages of Ayn Rand’s book – Atlas Shrugged. 1957

        WHO IS John Galt? 🙂

      • avatar Linda H says:

        The issues with the BLM go far back–not Democratic or Republican. It’s deep-seated in the Taylor Grazing Act and how the BLM was set up with livestock users.

      • avatar Theo Chu says:

        I was curious so I looked into Judicial Watch a bit. It is openly conservative. Their top 10 list included Obama and Hillary Clinton. In their narrative on Clinton they bring up all the old discredited Benghazi rumors including her “What difference does it make” comment presented of course without context. I do agree with you that this administration has been somewhat disappointing on the environment but still far better than any Republican administration since Nixon.

  4. avatar Kyle says:

    Sadly, not at all a surprise. The BLM and NFS are captured agencies – have been for decades. How do we break up this cozy arrangement?

    And yet this is only one of many when it comes to managing the public lands – our public lands, which continue to be given away and abused by thoughtlessness. We can no longer allow the abusers to pass the costs along to the land and creatures. What’s described in the article is an abomination of free-market capitalism by the very elements who so loudly defend them. They want their “liberty” even when it’s costly for all others.

    Something is seriously amiss. Thanks for posting and maintain vigilance – we need to spread the word.

  5. avatar frank renn says:

    I spent a day with a now retired B.L.M. biologist. He mentioned that trespass violations are common In addition to livestock trespass, cultivated fields next to B.L.M. land can pose A problem. one extra pass with the plow onto B.L.M. land and no one notices.

  6. avatar vicki says:

    Bundy is the poster child for this and how many others are there like him. As far as I know, he still hasn’t paid what is owed to the government. Ooops, I forgot, he doesn’t recognize the government as existing…. So typical of the welfare ranchers.

  7. avatar Janet Schultz says:

    Our public lands demand more respect and more acts of cherished concern. This is no better than Nero fiddling while Rome burnt. Demand the overgrazing STOP now. The next time you go out to the public lands, take note of the abuse, lack of forage, lack of plant debris. Those are signs of desertification and our indication that Earth is abused. There is no reason for it. But GREED and possessiveness. It is almost as if these meat producing families and businesses want to punish America for demanding the do take care of the land. By ruining it. They are not stewards of the land.

  8. avatar Maureen C. Allen says:

    Apex predators–wolves, big cats, bears–have long since proven to maintain and improve the condition of the lands they inhabit. Roaming horses and burros move on in plenty of time for the land to regenerate. Cattle–well, you know their story. Point is, ranchers want the horses out, Big Oil wants horses AND ranchers out so they can demolish the land and its water supplies by fracking. And the Interior Dept wants to turn the lands over to the states to start the ball rolling.

  9. avatar Duane Short says:

    This article makes clear the reason Wyoming’s legislature passed unconscionable legislation to deter grazing watchdogs and even scientists from collecting data (even photos) of livestock grazing violations and habitat degradation/destruction. The legislature knew they had the agencies under their thumb. The next most serious threat of exposing unauthorized grazing is the public, conservation watchdogs and scientists that care about the ecological health of our public lands.

    Happily, this legislation was challenged in coyet. The plaintiffs won considerable concessions that restore at least some ability to monitor public land grazing.

    Note: Public land is commonly inappropropriately referred to as “private land” by grazing permit holders and their political sympathizers.

  10. avatar Duane Short says:

    This article makes clear the reason Wyoming’s legislature passed unconscionable legislation to deter grazing watchdogs and even scientists from collecting data (even photos) of livestock grazing violations and habitat degradation/destruction. The legislature knew they had the agencies under their thumb. The next most serious threat of exposing unauthorized grazing is the public, conservation watchdogs and scientists that care about the ecological health of our public lands.

    Happily, this legislation was challenged in court. The plaintiffs won considerable concessions that restore at least some ability to monitor public land grazing.

    Note: Public land is commonly inappropropriately referred to as “private land” by grazing permit holders and their political sympathizers.

  11. avatar Julie Long Gallegos says:

    If I understand correctly WY’s legislation about prohibiting public oversight has been overturned.

  12. avatar Jeff Wiles says:

    So..how do we fix this deplorable travesty? Will it take an act of Congress? Ha..good luck with that then considering the status quo!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Calendar

July 2016
S M T W T F S
« Jun   Aug »
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

Quote

‎"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

%d bloggers like this: