Proposed 25 percent utilization rate questioned
by Steve Howe
A meeting to review the livestock grazing portion of the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision was held Tuesday, July 14, at the Harney County Community Center in Burns. A previous meeting held June 16 had focused on forest access in relation to the plan.
The process of revising the Forest Plans began in 2004, in compliance with the National Forest Management Act of 1976, which requires every national forest or grassland that’s managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS) to develop and maintain an effective land management plan (also known as a forest plan) to guide future management of natural resources for a period of approximately 10 to 15 years. Plans for the Blue Mountains National Forests haven’t been revised since 1990.
According to the USFS website, “The Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests (collectively referred to as the Blue Mountains National Forests) have combined efforts and established the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision team to revise their land and resource management plans. The current plans are being revised to address substantial resource and social changes on the three national forests and to include new scientific information.”
On March 14, 2014, the Proposed Revised Land Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RLMP/DEIS) was released for a 90-day public comment period, which was extended an additional 60 days, ending on Aug. 15, 2014.
More than 1,000 letters were received during the comment period, with primary concerns being: access, the pace and scale of restoration, and grazing and other associated uses on the forest.
In an attempt to address these concerns, the USFS decided to take a step back and reengage the public by encouraging meetings in affected communities throughout Oregon and Washington.
The High Desert Partnership sponsored the July 14 meeting in Burns, with Seneca rancher Jack Southworth facilitating.
Attendees included Malheur National Forest grazing permittees, agency officials, elected officials and members of the general public.
The meeting began with a brief report by USFS Range Program Manager Maura Laverty.
Laverty started by clarifying the difference between standards and guidelines. She said a standard is a constraint.
“In this plan, we don’t have standards, we have guidelines,” Laverty explained.*
She said the guidelines are intents. For instance, in the plan, the grazing utilization guideline in bull trout habitat is at 25 percent. Laverty said the Forest Service has to demonstrate that it is meeting the intent of protecting the fish habitat in spawning areas.
“The guideline is an intent, and that’s what we have to show – that we’re making an improvement for the fish,” she said.
Laverty said that while the 25 percent grazing utilization rate is lower than the previous plan, grazing levels are already at that point.
“What our monitoring is showing is that, in most cases, we’re not even meeting the allowable use – we’re not taking as much forage as we can,” she added.
Nearly everyone in attendance had a comment or question. The following are a few highlights.
Kyle Jackson asked Laverty how utilization levels were determined.
She said the revision team was focused on “accelerated restoration,” and decided that less utilization would amount to faster restoration.
“So it’s not necessarily science-based, it’s just that we think if we use less, then we’re going to be in a better situation?” Jackson asked.
“That is exactly what happened,” said Laverty.
Jackson asked if there would be a way to confine the 25 percent utilization rate to specific time frames when the fish needed protection, rather than apply it for the whole season. Laverty said it’s about the habitat, and protecting the riparian vegetation.
“And that’s not based on physiology at all, it’s just ‘we want to use less,’ is that correct?” asked Jackson.
Laverty said she had come into the process after a team had written up the plan.
“So I’m going to say, from my interpretation, that I can’t find the science behind it,” she said.
Colby Marshall made several suggestions for what should be included in the plan:
• Develop a cost share program for ranchers to hire additional riders to control cattle herds;
• With the restoration of riparian areas, create riparian pasturage;
• Develop more off-stream water resources;
• Allow opportunities to relocate Multiple Indicator Monitoring (MIM) sites that aren’t working;
• Allow goat grazing. Marshall said they don’t like riparian areas;
• Move away from measuring in Animal Unit Months (AUMs) to “total use” measurement;
• Form a “grazing team” that meets at the end of the grazing season and does an overall evaluation of how things are going.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said that the economic and social impacts of the Forest Plan needed to be addressed, and said there is a “cumulative impact” of regulation on people’s lives.
He also said that the Forest Service needs to keep its employees around longer in order to build relationships with the community.
Malheur National Forest Supervisor Steve Beverlin commented:
“I’m concerned that the utilization standard of 25 percent for bull trout [habitat] is lower than what’s currently in the agreed-to biological opinion of the regulatory agencies. I don’t think that’s a good trend. In fact, it will not be that way. At least for Malheur [National Forest]. You’re not going to go against what the legal regulatory agencies’ already-low standards are…we’re already accelerating our pace of restoration.”
“So that will be a recommendation that Steve, as the forest supervisor, will take to the signing official, and I would like to see the other two forest supervisors get on board with that. The team just came up with the 25 percent for accelerated restoration, and this is exactly the feedback we’re looking for.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Laverty said she had received a lot of good ideas, and said she thought most of them would be implementable and that it seemed like they could be incorporated.
Laverty and Sabrina Stadler, revision team leader, noted that although the official comment period has past, comments are still welcome
If you would like more information about the revision process, or would like to be on the mailing list, please contact the revision team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-523-1264 or 541-523-1231, or visit the website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/BlueMtnsPlanRevision.
*Clarification – July 30, 2015
In an article published July 22, “Livestock grazing portion of forest plan revision discussed,” United States Forest Service Range Program Manager Maura Laverty was quoted on the subject of the grazing portion of the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision as such:
“In this plan, we don’t have standards, we have guidelines.”
In order to clarify this statement, Laverty provided the following:
“We don’t have standards for the allowable forage utilization in riparian areas in bull trout habitat; we have guidelines.”
The group discussion that was reported on centered around the allowable forage use levels, and when Laverty stated that the plan didn’t have standards, she was referring to the riparian area allowable utilization levels specifically.