The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has extended the commenting period deadline over its proposed Rangeland Management Directives. The directives govern grazing permits and allotment administration, and have not been revised for 30 years.
The previous 60-day comment period deadline was Feb. 16, but has been expanded an additional 60 days to April 17.
Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), along with Congressman Kelly Armstrong (R-ND-At-large), wrote to the agency in late January, asking for an extension.
“Previous attempts to alter the handbook and manual without sufficient review and input from local stakeholders have resulted in lengthy delays, congressional intervention and harm to the working relationship between the USFS and local stakeholders,” the letter read.
The delegation also noted North Dakota represents nearly one-third of total grasslands managed by the USFS, and any changes to directives “will have significant repercussions on our state.”
Updating the directives
“The Forest Service Rangeland Management proposed directives were drafted in a good faith effort to provide greater management flexibility and enhance the clarity of policies and procedures applicable to the rangeland management program,” the agency said in the Federal Register posting.
USFS said the updates will make outdated manuals and handbooks “more usable, modern and conform to recent legislation.”
Notable changes were made concerning succession planning, conservation-oriented flexibilities, updates to respond to new policies, and modernization.
Regarding succession planning, children and grandchildren can run up to 50 percent of the older generation’s term permitted numbers. After the permit is waived to children or grandchildren, the other generation can run up to 50 percent of that generation’s number as they phase out of the operation.
The directives also expand discussion on entities eligible to hold permits, including limited liability companies, family limited partnerships and others aimed at engaging options for estate planning.
For conservation-oriented flexibilities, USFS is adding a section on conservation easements and agricultural land trusts, which allow ranchers to remain in ag production and tax base in perpetuity. There is also added discussion on allowing non-use for resource protection and increasing the flexibility to build back numbers after destocking herds.
The proposed changes also update the lists of laws, regulations and executive orders, and includes more to the list, especially ones applicable to the national grasslands after they were transferred to the USFS. The agency also updated the policy on excess and unauthorized use similar to the Bureau of Land Management’s policy.
Finally, regarding modernization, the directives would include a new section called Informal Dispute Resolution, which allows opportunities to informally resolve allotment management concerns and disputes. The updates would also include expanding the discussion on Tribal Treaty Grazing Rights and how they are exercised and administered.
Conservation groups applauded the extension. Center for Biological Diversity claimed “grazing has devastated critical habitat and destroyed ecosystems across the West,” and stressed, “The Biden administration must take this opportunity to rein in grazing and allow wildlands to recover.”
To submit a comment over the proposed updates, please visit federalregister.gov and search for Docket ID 2021-02833. Written comments may be mailed to U.S. Forest Service, Director, Forest Management, Range Management and Vegetation Ecology, 201 14th Street SW, Washington, DC 20250-1124. Please be aware that any submitted comments will be made public.
For more information about the Rangeland Management Directives, please visit www.fs.fed.us/rangeland-management. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor