After years of wrangling to make improvements to an allotment in northern Arizona, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) temporarily withdrew the permit after an environmental group appealed the final grazing decision.
The BLM withdrew the original decision in August for improvements to the Wolfhole Lake allotment after the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) stated the agency failed to adequately consider the impacts—in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
“While the original decision has been withdrawn, the grazing permittee still has a valid permit which was renewed under provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act,” Rachel T. Carnahan, public affairs specialist of the BLM Arizona Strip District, told WLJ.
According to an environmental assessment (EA), the original decision called for a renewal of the 10-year permit with no change in the number of animals able to graze. Improvements to the Wolfhole Lake allotment included going from two pastures for grazing to five with the thinning and removal of approximately one-third of the allotment vegetation. With the change in the number of pastures, fences would be constructed “through the construction of less than three miles of fence, coupled with utilizing existing natural features.”
Additionally, water structures would be added to facilitate the change in the number of pastures. This included building four 500-1,000-gallon water troughs and the support of two miles of pipeline and three 10,000-12,000-gallon storage tanks.
WWP said in their press release the BLM failed to analyze “the project’s impacts on regional hydrology and allowed the agency to mow down sagebrush, pinyon pines, and junipers with mulching, chipping machines and chemical herbicides.” The WWP also cited the allotment is close to traditional homelands of the Pueblo people and Southern Paiute and habitat for threatened species.
“BLM’s attorneys finally realized the project was legally indefensible and pulled the decision without wasting any more time,” said Cyndi Tuell, Arizona and New Mexico director for WWP. “It’s too bad that the agency didn’t listen to us in 2012, 2013, and 2018 when we commented on their ill-conceived plans.”
In the BLM’s notice of final decision report in December 2019, the agency addressed the concerns of WWP. The report stated, “The BLM thanks WWP for their interest in the land health evaluation process for the subject allotments. The BLM responded to WWP comments concerning the recent EA and responded to land health evaluation comments dating back to 2012 and 2013. The BLM incorporated WWP comments and concerns into the EA.”
Public involvement for the Wolfhole Lake allotment permit renewal process began with a scoping meeting on Nov. 10, 2005. Additional meetings and field visits occurred over the years, including meetings with the permittee in December 2016 and January 2017 to review the proposal for vegetation treatments and range improvements. Additional field visits to the allotment occurred with the permittee and the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Natural Resources Conservation Service in May 2017.
The BLM does intend to issue new decisions on the various actions analyzed in the EA in the near future.
“The BLM has withdrawn the decision as it was previously written in order to separate those actions into distinct decision documents,” Carnahan said. “We anticipate preparing separate decision documents for the actions to be authorized, including a renewal of the grazing permit.” — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor