*Special Alert! Oppose the “Grazing Improvement Act”

Yellowstone Bison
November 18, 2013

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be considering a bill this week that will have a devastating impact on western public lands, native wildlife and especially wild buffalo.

The “Grazing Improvement Act,” S. 258, is a nightmare for wild buffalo. As many of you already know, one of the primary reasons wild buffalo aren’t allowed to migrate beyond Yellowstone’s borders is that much of the National Forest land is leased to private ranchers to graze cattle. The ranchers simply don’t want competition for the grass on our federal public lands. Wild buffalo have a natural right to migrate and graze, but the welfare ranchers stand in the way. Now, with the so-called “Grazing Improvement Act” they want to keep the public from even being involved in the decisions about how our public lands are managed and to exempt those decisions from environmental review as currently required under the National Environmental Policy Act. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the bill would also extend grazing permits from 10 years to 20 years!

TAKE ACTION: CALL SENATOR WYDEN TODAY!  The Committee will hold a business meeting to consider this legislation first thing Thursday morning.  Please take the time right now to contact the Committee Chair, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, and tell him not to support this destructive bill. Public lands ranchers already have a sweetheart deal. They certainly don’t need more special treatment.

Within Oregon:  Call Senator Wyden at (202) 224-5244 in Washington, DC, or (503) 326-7525 in Portland Oregon.  Phone calls are going to have more of an impact, but Oregon residents may also choose to use this email form.
Outside of Oregon:  Call Senator Wyden at (202) 224-5244 in Washington, DC, or (503) 326-7525 in Portland Oregon.   And if your Senator is on the Committee, please also let him/her know that the public has a right to be involved in how our public lands are managed.

More Helpful Points to Raise:  The “Grazing Improvement Act” is a huge giveaway to the livestock industry coming at a time when many of our western public lands are in dire condition. With the impacts of climate change becoming more apparent every year, the situation is only going to worsen at the expense of native wildlife, clean water, and healthy ecosystems. The last thing we need is to further entrench one of the most destructive activities taking place on our public lands.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee needs to hear from you!  Please dial the number and have your voice heard for wild lands and wildlife!


Buffalo Field Campaign
P.O. Box 957
West Yellowstone, MT 59758



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  1. Oliver Starr Avatar

    The last thing wildlife and public lands need is another hand out to ranching and energy interests. We should be doing everything we can to restore/rewild these damaged lands, not opening more of them up to wanton destruction that benefits no one but ranchers and private interests!

  2. Salle Avatar

    Thanks for the heads up, Ken. I posted it to another blog and it is picking up interest as the night goes on.


  3. debbie catalina Avatar
    debbie catalina

    I’ve been given to understand that even the BLM and USFS themselves are opposed this legislation in its current form (their official testimony is available at the site of the bill’s author), because it will make NEPA oversight harder to effect.
    Makes you wonder how it sailed through the House…

    1. Zig Pope Avatar
      Zig Pope

      Republican House beholding to the oil/gas/coal/ranchers and other non-ferrous mining interests. Got to remove those endangered species so they can completely obliterate their lands and put the money into their own pockets and the pockets of the corporate masters.

    1. WM Avatar


      Do have any kind of a running tally of the number of suits WWP has filed against BLM/FS for not enforcing FLMPA grazing & EIS provisions, that would include a win/loss and total over the last few years, as well as a current pending suit total?

      Do you have a point by point analysis of why the proposed legislation is bad?

      This might be helpful for those wishing to comment.

      1. WM Avatar

        Sorry, EIS = NEPA.

      2. Ken Cole Avatar

        No, I don’t.

        I do know, however, the agencies would rather be sued than comply with the law. This gives them a political out and allows them to blame groups like Western Watersheds Project for cuts to grazing that are clearly required under NEPA and FLPMA/NFMA.

        I think it is clear to anyone who objectively looks at landscape conditions that things are in dire condition.

        It is also clear that, if the Grazing Entrenchment Act passes, that it throws the sage grouse listing up in the air. Clearly, if the public isn’t allowed to participate in administrative appeals and grazing permits are extended to 20 years, there is a serious lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms in place to protect sage grouse. This is one of the criteria that the USFWS identified when they found them warranted for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

        Read Dr. Clait Braun’s testimony to the House committee: Testimony of Dr. Clait Braun.

      3. Ken Cole Avatar

        I’d also say, that Western Watersheds Project lawsuits over individual permit renewals are fairly limited in scope except for the Great Basin Sage Grouse lawsuit that sued over several hundred permit renewals across several states. At this point, in the GBSG case, only 5 of those permit renewals have been litigated in federal court as a test case. We won and briefs have been submitted for 4 more allotments where similar problems occurred.

        Also, when you look at how many BLM permits have been stayed due to litigation by all sources, there are only 47 allotments currently. When I did some analysis of BLM permits and how they are being renewed I found that the majority of AUM’s permitted were renewed without doing any NEPA at all. Some of the permits have never undergone NEPA but it is virtually impossible to tell how many.

        I ran a BLM Rangeland Administration System permit schedule report for all of the states and combined them into one spreadsheet. When I filtered the results I got these numbers.

        Permit Status – AUMs
        Appropriations Act – 6,198,578
        Blank – 6,125,484
        Decision Stayed – 48,576 (47 allotments total, 2 in WY, 1 in NM, 1 in MT, 42 in ID, 1 in CA)
        Hold – 62,120

        Total 12,434,758

        The Permit/Lease Status:

        Appropriation Act: The authorization was issued under the provisions an act of congress authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to issue grazing permits or leases that have not been fully processed.

        Blank = Active: The authorization is fully processed

        Decision-Stayed: A judicial decision has been issued that specifies that operations are to be conducted under the provisions of the previous permit.

        Hold: The authorization is on hold. No applications or bills can be processed.

        1. WM Avatar

          Thanks Ken.

          I found something else, which livestock shill Karen Budd-Falon (WY) wrote. Don’t think she knows it hurts their interests when viewed objectively, since it shows how much federal agencies are not following the law.


          What is not apparent is how many of these matters involve grazing permits/allotments, or FLMPA/NFMA generally. That is why I was hoping for some kind of tally of wins and losses – a simple statistic.

          1. JB Avatar

            I found this sentence particularly offensive:

            “Ranchers and other citizens are being forced to expend millions of dollars of their own money to intervene or participate in these lawsuits to protect their way of life when they have no chance of the same attorney fee recovery if they prevail. In fact, they are paying for both sides of the case—for their defense of their ranch and for the attorney fees environmental groups receive to sue the federal government to get them off their land.

            Um…whose land? I think you mean the land that US taxpayers own that said ranchers are leasing for less than 1/10th the market rate?

            1. Brian Ertz Avatar

              It is amusing to see KBF complain about legal fees her (and others’) clients incur on account of their own unwise advice that intervention in suits may make a difference.

              1) If ranchers challenge an agency decision regarding grazing management and prevail in court, they are entitled to the same EAJA fee recovery as any public interest group. Frequently they don’t recover fees because so frequently their claims/arguments aren’t supported by law.

              2) When individuals intervene in a suit involving a public interest environmental challenge to an agency decision, they do so at their own futile risk – and cost. They are not required to do so, nor is it likely to really tip the balance on the merits as the decisions often turn on the propriety of agency’s discretion as opposed to alleged likely harm to individual permittees. KBF and other attorneys that represent individuals do their clients a disservice, perhaps in order to accumulate their own billable hours ?, when they advise individuals to intervene – the fact is that individuals’ interests are just as ably (if not better and more cheaply) served by their trade associations, and ultimately any of the substantive dispositive legal arguments made in an effort to defend an agency action against a public interest environmental claim are already made by agency itself.

      4. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
        Nancie Mccormish

        WM, I found this tonight on POPVOX.com, someone’s cogent itemized list of reasons to oppose S 258:

        mandyashe in Wisconsin’s 3rd District
        I oppose S. 258:
        #1 . Without full oversight and public participation, the non-livestock uses of these federal lands are de-prioritized and the current conditions and management will persist indefinitely.
        #2. This incentivizes underfunding the range program
        #3. Fails to address the need for change in response to changing public values, environmental conditions, and legal obligations in a timely fashion.
        #4. extends grazing permits and leases to last 20 years instead of the current 10-year terms.
        #5. Grazing permits and leases would outlast the Resource Management Plans that guide them, making overarching changes harder to implement.
        #6. Limits opportunities for public and agency oversight, since most allotments only get evaluated and monitored in advance of permit or lease renewals, and limits opportunities to identify and address adverse impacts
        #7. This would affect thousands of permits that have already been reissued for ten years under Congressional riders that have endured decades of environmental degradation given agency inattention.
        In some cases, a 20 year renewal would mean up to 40 years without environmental oversight.
        Thank you!

        Link: https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/113/s258/report#nation

  4. Ken Cole Avatar

    For a good rundown of the bad things in the previous, and very similar versions of the GIA read this: Grazing Entrenchment Act (H.R. 4234 & S. 1129) | The Wildlife News.

  5. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
    Nancie Mccormish

    Kiss half of WY’s wild horses goodbye, too. Think they’ll change their state logo to a bucking bull?

    POSTED ON NOVEMBER 21, 2013 AT 12:21 PM


    “In a declaration filed by former BLM Rock Springs and Rawlins area manager Lloyd Eisenhauer, in the RSGA vs. Department of the Interior case, stated:

    “The BLM has no biological or ecological basis for zeroing out a herd of wild horses in an HMA that existed at the time the wild horse statute was passed in 1971 . . . [B]ecause the wild horses have a statutory right to be there, whereas livestock only have a privilege that can be revoked at any time by BLM, there also is no authority or precedent, to my knowledge, for the agency to zero out these two longstanding wild horse herds simply to appease private livestock grazers.”

    More information on the RSGA vs. DOI case can be found here.”

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      What an ugly country it is going to be. 🙁

    2. WM Avatar


      If I understand this BLM “problem,” the land where these horses are is checkerboarded – meaning that not all is owned by the federal government. It is privately owned. If these horses are running free they spend some time eating grass on private lands. Now if that were private livestock on federal lands that would be trespassing unless there were a valid BLM grazing lease. What is it when federally owned wild horses graze on private land? Isn’t that trespassing as well, and doesn’t the BLM have a legal obligation to control its’ livestock which are increasing in number according to the environmental assessment completed this summer?

      After Kleppe v. NM (1976) the US Supreme Court said the federal government doesn’t have to let states manage federally protected (federally owned if you will) horses and burros under the Act that protects them. Congress won’t appropriate the money for federal management, which is why, as I understand it, a consent decree resulted in the mandated BLM roundup. The federal government is a horrible manager of nearly anything it touches – even worse than some states.

      If BLM doesn’t do the round-up they will be in violation of two consent decrees and the Wild Horse and Burro Act itself. Left alone these horse populations would double in about 6-7 years, meaning well over 2X as many trespassing federal horses since the last roundup. Of course, now the BLM has to find somebody to adopt them or feed them until they die a natural death – how dumb and costly is that?

      1. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
        Nancie Mccormish

        WM, I’m no lawyer but my understanding is the “fence out” laws common in our western states were intentionally designed to put the burden of fencing on the private landowners, not the public or the federal government. Wyoming (including the checkerboard) is a fence-out state but somehow this has been controverted.

        If there are NO fences, then the private livestock is technically estray when on public lands, but any wildlife (including horses) is technically entitled to roam the unfenced private lands. There are some avenues for damages (one ranch I worked on was compensated by being provided black market elk tags to pay for the tons of hay the elk ate all winter), but compensation is far different than eradication and sterilization of horses legally entitled to be where they are found within the HMA.

        Per the BLM process, a “scoping” meeting was supposedly held in Sept. but just tonight I stumbled onto information indicating the roundup was fully approved last April, so any public input was simply for show.

        Congress does supply funding for the BLM, in ever-increasing amounts, to fund their unsustainable system. Their own independent NAS study pointed this out in no uncertain terms, indicating herds reproduce faster to compensate for removals, and their policy of removing and warehousing horses (only about 3% are ever adopted)is an inherently unsustainable approach. It would be far cheaper to leave them wild, if you’re only talking dollars and sense. They have not responded in any significant way to the research they were waiting for two years to read.

        Of course animals will reproduce (including livestock) but the repeating pattern has been to reduce the allotted forage for horses, then reduce and fence their legally defined areas… a certain recipe for “overpopulation” no? Finding any accurate herd inventories is a shell game, too. The NAS report pointed this out as well.

        My understanding is the RSGA managed to alter long standing law to remove horses from public lands upon which they would prefer to have their livestock graze.

        If there are no fences delineating each square of the checkerboard, how will anyone know or be able to keep cattle off the public lands there? Why should the public pay to keep our wild horses in pens, then pay to keep someone’s privately owned cattle grazing on public lands? It makes more sense to subsidize ranching by putting the cattle in pens and leaving the wild things wild.

        1. WM Avatar


          I don’t know what kind of spin the horse people are putting on this, but the important part is that the removal was under the order of a federal judge, pursuant to a federal law that the plaintiff group felt was not being followed (that is nothing different in terms of process than any suit for example involving delisting/listing of wolves). Sometimes years go by before a challenge is made.

          This is from the Environmental Assessment document (at page 4) with a link below:

          ++The proposed management actions are also needed to be in conformance with a court-entered consent decree. In April 2013, the U.S. District Court for Wyoming entered a consent decree between BLM and the Rock Springs Grazing Association in case 11-CV-263-NDF (2013 Consent Decree). The 2013 Consent Decree resolved litigation involving BLM’s responsibilities to remove wild horses from private lands under Section 4 of the WFRHBA, 16 USC 1334. Under the consent decree BLM committed to gather and remove wild horses from checkerboard lands within Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town HMAs in 2013. The proposed action to remove wild horse from checkerboard lands is necessary to meet the terms of the 2013 Consent Decree.++


          And, contrary to some of the other distorted press from the horse people, contraception is a method to be used going forward (which appears to be within the recommendations of the National Academy of Science report we discussed earlier).

          1. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
            Nancie Mccormish

            WM, thanks!
            I know birth control is one method being used in many herds already, my concerns here are more about the fencing in or out situation. If horses are grazing private lands then as I understand it it is incumbent on the landowners to fence them out in normal circumstances. Something is very different here which is what got me curious, especially when one considers the mid-range aggregate wild horse population (from all the numbers I’ve seen) is around 30,000 throughout the entire west. The IUCN places minimum genetic herd viability at 1500. I don’t think there are any single BLM herds of that size that exist anywhere anymore.
            I’m trying to learn from all points of view but it does seem clear our horses lose ground and their lives at every turn. Surely this model can be improved for them, the public, and those few ranchers who run stock on public lands.
            Even this roundup will only lead to yet another down the road… I am focusing my energies on trying to develop sustainable solutions rather than perpetuate the polarities we all understand too well.

            For instance, contraception is at core a form of unnatural selection. It has been documented our management regimes are already putting many isolated herds into genetic bottleneck; sterilization is de facto genetic extinction by human whim, not nature’s. I’d rather see the predators in their ecosystems and let nature continue to speciate. Our muddling around ultimately deprives a species of its own evolutionary path, and as you point out, our record on this score is not stellar.
            I need to learn more but there is one wild horse herd in CA which has only 200 head after 25 years of non-intervention, no massive injection of funding or helicopters required, but surely there must be natural predators left there. Much to learn, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

            1. Ida Lupine Avatar
              Ida Lupine

              For instance, contraception is at core a form of unnatural selection. It has been documented our management regimes are already putting many isolated herds into genetic bottleneck; sterilization is de facto genetic extinction by human whim, not nature’s. I’d rather see the predators in their ecosystems and let nature continue to speciate. Our muddling around ultimately deprives a species of its own evolutionary path, and as you point out, our record on this score is not stellar.

              Yes! Couldn’t have said it better.

              1. Ida Lupine Avatar
                Ida Lupine

                Our muddling around ultimately deprives a species of its own evolutionary path, and as you point out, our record on this score is not stellar.

                I should add: it certainly seems this way regarding wolves also. For example, if we hadn’t nearly wiped them out in the entire country, what might have happened – would there even be as many, or any, coywolves? I think it is a good question to ask.

              2. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
                Nancie Mccormish

                Thank you Ida, I appreciate your kind words and shared perspective.

    1. WM Avatar

      This is most unfortunate. Apparently no roll call vote from the Energy and NR Committee of the Senate. Wonder which D’s supported it enough to get it out of Committee?

      1. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
        Nancie Mccormish

        WM, my own Senator was not present, which meant he voiced no opposition, for which I have written him in protest. A Senator Cantwell (saw on the livestream video) was very concerned about how passing this bill would effectively alter NEPA and held her ground after some veiled bullying by the Chairman, however she did not wish to obstruct sending it out of committee.

        I found this tonight, can you help me understand the second paragraph? It seems to say that after the act passed, leases that have expired, been transferred or waived MUST be renewed or reissued?

        Summary: S.258 — 113th Congress (2013-2014)

        There is one summary for this bill. Bill summaries are authored by CRS.
        Shown Here:
        Introduced in Senate (02/07/2013)

        Grazing Improvement Act – Amends the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (the Act) to double from 10 to 20 years the period of a term for grazing permits and leases for domestic livestock grazing on public lands or lands within national forests in 16 contiguous western states. Permits the issuance of permits and leases for a period shorter than 20 years (under current law, shorter than 10 years), including where the Secretary concerned determines that the initial environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) regarding a grazing allotment, permit, or lease has not been completed.

        Directs that grazing permits or leases issued by the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) that expire, are transferred, or are waived after this Act’s enactment be renewed or reissued, as appropriate, under the Act, the Granger-Thye Act, the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act, or the California Desert Protection Act of 1994.

        Excludes the renewal, reissuance, or transfer of a grazing permit or lease by the Secretary concerned from the NEPA requirement to prepare an environmental analysis if: (1) such decision continues to renew, reissue, or transfer current grazing management of the allotment; (2) monitoring indicates that such management meets objectives contained in the land use and resource management plan of the allotment; or (3) the decision is consistent with the policy of the Department of the Interior or USDA regarding extraordinary circumstances.

        Makes NEPA inapplicable to domestic livestock crossing and trailing authorizations and transfers of grazing preference.

        (I can’t get it to copy. It’s from Congress.gov S.258 – Grazing Improvement Act, then I hit “show overview.”

        1. WM Avatar


          Ken is the expert to answer your questions on this bill. And, Nancie, you are in which state?

          1. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
            Nancie Mccormish


            1. WM Avatar

              Which part of CO – West Slope, Front Range or the part that wants to become another state?

              Senator Mark Udall seems a surprising no-show for the mark-up and S. 528 vote out of Committee. I don’t see him supporting it in present form. He has likely been at a few cocktail parties or fund raisers, where asked about his stand on public cattle grazing and wolves have lead to uncomfortable conversation for him, especially in Boulder.


              As for the wild horse thing, here is a pretty well done, and current Indian Country piece on the Indian wild horse component, with some weighed views of a couple major player tribes and the USDA meat inspection matter. Between the Navajo and the Yakamas, alone there are nearly 90,000 wild horses they alone want to reduce to a more manageable number, and they don’t want the continued range degradation, with no realistic option to reduce their number including slaughter, or the alternatively more politically palatable, but costly, birth control option, according to Harry Smiskin of the Yakamas.


              1. Ida Lupine Avatar
                Ida Lupine

                The plight of our Native Americans is due to European settlement. It’s sad to think that our country gives aid to foreign countries, yet still to this very day does little to help our native people.

                When we get to the point that we are begrudging animals the right to water, something is truly amiss. We have over 300 million people in this country, and all the cattle and crops it takes to feed us, and we waste all kinds of water either with lawns in desert climates, or Las Vegas fountains, fracking, etc.

              2. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
                Nancie Mccormish

                WM, western slope, on the edge of the county wanting to secede, not that it matters here especially.

                I am disappointed in Mr. Udall’s no-show and have told him as much (via emails) but also searched his website and found no information on this bill at all, or his position or even thoughts on it. So I directly asked him where he stands. I am still awaiting a reply…

                I did get a reply last week from his office on another issue in which he (?) said he was “monitoring” the issue but also didn’t elaborate on any position.

                I think it’s important to discern between America’s protected wild horses and burros and those under the control of the sovereign Native American tribes… same species but very different rules. I do understand about the horrors of overpopulation there but the numbers on our public lands are a fraction of what is even found on the Navajo reservation and again, the issues are discrete.

                That said, if horse slaughter becomes a reality again, ALL horses face some risk of ending up there, including wild horses and stolen horses. It also perpetuates domestic overbreeding to feed it, since it’s unlikely any business model is based on a one-time setup of a processing plant, then after a short time, a complete shutdown. I heard on a radio show recently an interview with a Chicago area abbatoir who had processed 16,000 cattle in one week, so slaughtering the entire Navajo herd would take about 5 weeks total, roughly, at just one plant. Clearly the plan is aimed at the much larger domestic horse market, which estimates suggest has sent over 100,000 horses per year to slaughter in various plants (not recently in the U.S.).

                In all events, there are significant environmental hazards involved and the track record is not good on this score either. Areas which formerly hosted horse slaughter plants found them very poor neighbors and were glad to see them shut down. Google Dallas Crown for info on Kaufman, TX and the troubles that community had with a slaughter plant.

  6. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
    Nancie Mccormish


    This site shows only a couple of hundred people have registered an opinion on this bill and perhaps contacted their elected officials.

    It also shows NO organizations either endorsing or opposing its passage.

  7. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
    Nancie Mccormish

    WM (and others) here’s the April 3, 2013 legal document concerning the RSGA and Consent decree.


    I haven’t read all of it but a quick review brought no mention of Wyoming being a “fence out” state. Page 3 defines wild horses as wildlife, and the decision to protect them as a land management decision to protect a species.

    This document specifies over half the checkerboard is federal land, and another source adds:

    The RSGA controls about 2 million acres of rangeland in southern Wyoming, in an area 40 miles wide by 70 miles long that runs along the historic transcontinental railway corridor. RSGA members graze approximately 50,000 to 70,000 sheep and about 5,000 cattle on deeded private lands and leased public lands. By contrast, just 1,100- 1,600 wild horses are thought to roam the area.

    SOURCE: http://wildhorsepreservation.org/media/federal-court-grants-wild-horse-groups’-request-intervene-grazing-association-lawsuit-aiming-0