The Forest Service recently updated its procedures for conducting environmental analyses on range projects, which will result in improved rangeland health and wildlife benefits on the more than 8,700 livestock grazing allotments in national forests and grasslands.
“Rangelands include a significant portion of the nation's watersheds and critical habitat, which depend on the conservation and stewardship of these lands,” said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. “Rangeland management specialists will now focus environmental analyses on the condition of the land--the result that is desired on the ground. The updated guidelines will also help to alleviate the agency’s backlog for completing analysis work on allotments.”
The improved guidelines will expedite the decision-making process and better respond to new information and developments. Previous Forest Service direction implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) lacked specificity and clarification in describing the process to conduct environmental analyses on grazing allotments.
Most grazing allotments on the national forests and grasslands predate NEPA. Under Section 504 of the 1995 Rescissions Act passed by Congress, the Forest Service must complete an environmental analysis on all of its allotments. Approximately 4,200 allotments remain on the schedule that require NEPA analysis to determine if grazing should be continued, and if continued, how the grazing will be managed to make sure the rangelands are healthy and functioning properly.
The Forest Service, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, administers approximately 191 million acres of National Forest Systems lands. Grazing has been one of the most fundamental and historic of the multiple uses mandated by law for the federal lands, including national forests. Permittees graze nearly 6.5 million animal unit months (AUM) on 95 million acres of national forests and grasslands. An AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.