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Context of 'December 5, 2003: Proposed Rule Alteration May Weaken Measures to Prevent Overgrazing'

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William Myers, the Interior Department’s solicitor general—and a former lobbyist for ranchers—announces to members of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA) that the Bush administration intends to limit environmental reviews and make it easier for ranchers to graze livestock on public lands. He also says that the Department of Interior is seeking ways to prevent federal laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act from restricting grazing on public lands (see December 5, 2003). [Associated Press, 11/16/2002] “We should not be using the Endangered Species Act… as a land management tool. It is not there as a tool for zoning on federal lands,” Myers says. His comments are well received by the NCA. John Falen, a former president of the organization, tells the Associated Press, “Bill’s our friend. It’s been a long time since we had a friend in the solicitor’s office.” [Associated Press, 11/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA), William G. Myers III, John Falen

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Department of Interior informs Congress that it has decided to settle a lawsuit filed years ago by the state of Utah over the Bureau of Land Management’s policy of rejecting drilling and mining projects in areas under review for wilderness protection. The decision withdraws protected status for 3 million acres of land in Utah. Without designation as a Wilderness Area, portions of the Red Rock Canyons in southern Utah could be open to logging, oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, road-building and other development. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against the state on all but one count and consequently the lawsuit’s status had been moribund since 1998. [USA Today, 4/11/2003] But in March, Utah made an amendment to its complaint, thus reopening the case and providing the Bush administration with an opportunity to make a “settlement.” Environmental groups say the settlement is the outcome of a deal made between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt behind closed-doors. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 4/20/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 5/6/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 6/18/2003; Wilderness Society, 4/28/2004] In addition to the settlement, the Bush administration stops congressional reviews of Western lands for wilderness protection, capping wilderness designation at 22.8 million acres nationwide. [USA Today, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Interior, Mike Leavitt, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs a legal opinion by Deputy Solicitor Roderick Walston reversing the interpretation of the agency’s previous solicitor-general, John Leshy, who had ruled in 1996 that the 1872 Mining Law limits each 20-acre mining claim on federal land to a single five-acre waste site. As a result of Norton’s decision, mining companies will be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of toxic waste on public lands, threatening surrounding waterways, wildlife, and the health of local human populations. The Bush administration and the mining industry have argued that the Clinton-era opinion caused a significant reduction in US minerals exploration, mine development and mining jobs since 1997. “It created an atmosphere of uncertainty and when you are making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, uncertainty is not something you want to face,” explains Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson. “We anticipate we will now see more development and exploration for mining.” The decision was praised by the mining industry. “This is good news,L Russ Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. “The old opinion did create a lot of uncertainty for our industry.” [Associated Press, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton, John Leshy, Roderick Walston

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale Norton announces in a speech to a convention of livestock owners in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing new rules that would reverse rangeland management reforms implemented in 1995 aimed at deterring practices that cause overgrazing of public lands. According to Norton, the new proposal—which supporters say will act as a bulwark against suburban sprawl—“recognizes that ranching is crucial not only to the economies of Western rural communities, but also to the history, social fabric and cultural identity of these communities.” [Associated Press, 12/4/2004; Bureau of Land Management, 12/5/2004; Denver Post, 12/10/2004] The proposal recommends giving the BLM two years, instead of one, to recommend changes after identifying occurrences of damaging grazing practices and another five years to implement those recommendations. But the agency would retain emergency authority to immediately suspend grazing privileges “if imminent likelihood of significant resource damage exists.” The proposal would also require the BLM to base all decisions on multiple years of monitoring data, even if the grazing damage is obvious and even though this would put a considerable strain on the agency, which oversees more than 18,000 grazing permits covering over 160 million acres nationwide. Other provisions in the proposal would make it more difficult to revoke the grazing permits of ranchers who violate the law; reduce public involvement in reviewing and commenting on decisions about grazing on public lands; and give ranchers partial ownership of any fences, water tanks, new water rights or other improvements to public rangelands. [Associated Press, 1/3/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004; Associated Press, 12/4/2004; Denver Post, 12/10/2004] The livestock industry applauds the new proposal but environmentalists warn that the recommendations would threaten wildlife, degrade water quality and quantity and damage archaeological, historic and Native American sites. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004] The Natural Resources Defense Council, commenting on the recommended changes, says that it believes the proposal will result in increased overgrazing and other unsustainable grazing practices. [Associated Press, 12/4/2004] The BLM will later draft an environmental impact study predicting short-term damage to grazing lands and wildlife (see January 2, 2004).

Entity Tags: Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Bureau of Land Management issues a draft environmental impact study on its plan for managing livestock grazing on 160 million acres of public lands (see December 5, 2003). The study reports that wildlife and grazing lands could suffer short-term damage as a result of the plan’s provision that would extend the time allowed for the BLM to recommend and implement changes when the agency identifies an occurrence of harmful grazing practices. The impact assessment also predicts that the new rules would do little to repair damaged streamside vegetation or protect endangered plants and animals. [Denver Post, 12/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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