The Bureau of Land Management's strategy for managing 428,000 acres in the region, most of them in Baker County, was conceived during the Reagan Administration.
BLM figures it's time for a fresh outlook. This is appropriate, considering events that have transpired in the past quarter century which directly affect how BLM deals with the vast swathes of public ground for which it's responsible.
Protecting sage grouse habitat, and a heightened interest in how livestock grazing and motor vehicles affect flora and fauna, are but a few examples.
BLM recently unveiled a draft version of a new management plan.
The agency is soliciting public comments on the draft, as federal law
requires. A final version, which likely will be in effect for the next
20 years or so, probably will be released late this year.
BLM officials have a wide array of options to choose from in setting this new direction.
We encourage moderation rather than radical change.
In particular, we urge BLM to avoid the alternative in the draft plan -
5a - which would eliminate livestock grazing once the current permits
Such a drastic shift a policy dating back more than half a century
would decimate Baker County's beef cattle industry, the linch-pin of
the local economy with about $47 million in annual sales.
Put in different terms, the BLM today maintains a grazing limit of
47,000 AUMs on the Resource Area. (AUM stands for animal unit month -
one AUM is the amount of forage a cow and her calf eat per month.)
Alternative 5a would reduce that number to 0.
That's the most extreme proposal listed in the draft plan.
Four of the five other alternatives also would reduce the allowed AUMs,
but much more modestly - to as few as 22,500, or as many as 41,500.
Those are not only more reasonable options, they're also in line with the historical trend.
When BLM officially adopted the current plan in 1989 (post-Reagan, but
the document was largely written during his presidency), the AUM limit
was 55,437, a number that has been trimmed to the current 47,000.
Fortunately, Alternative 5a is not listed in the draft plan as the BLM's preferred option.
We wonder, though, why 5a was even included.
Federal law requires agencies to consider a range of alternatives, but
BLM could have complied with that mandate without resorting to
something as draconian as 5a.