For Immediate Release: February 16, 2021
Conservation Groups Hopeful Process Will Trigger a First Look at the Climate and Biodiversity Impacts of Public Lands Grazing
Washington D.C.—On Friday, February 12, the Biden Administration’s Forest Service extended the comment deadline for the revision of its livestock grazing directives, inviting public comment and signaling the likelihood of major changes from the Trump-era draft document. The directives under consideration for revision primarily address grazing permit administration, but could have far-reaching effects for on-the-ground management of livestock grazing programs. While the Forest Service is providing an opportunity for public comment, it has thus far conducted no environmental analysis to examine the impacts of the proposed changes nor provided any alternatives for the public to consider. This narrow approach, initiated by the previous administration and favored by industry, completely ignores the ecological impacts of grazing and fails to address the connections between public lands grazing and the climate crisis. In fact, the proposed revisions reflect the public land management paradigm of the past four years demonstrating a blatant disregard for the climate crisis, native ecosystems and wildlife, science, and public input.
“I’m thrilled the Forest Service is signaling its willingness to slow down and reexamine this process,” says Madeleine Carey of WildEarth Guardians. “Public lands grazing is one of the most ubiquitous uses of public lands in the American West. Reforming how public lands grazing is managed must be part of the domestic climate action agenda.”
The public lands grazing program, which occurs on nearly 100 million acres of Forest Service-managed lands in the Western US, is a leading cause of ecological degradation contributing to the loss of native plant and animal biodiversity, decreased resilience to aridification, impaired watershed function, and poor water quality, all of which are compounded by increasingly severe and extended periods of drought and higher temperatures. These impacts along with the amplifying effects of the climate crisis demonstrate a clear need for a comprehensive review of the grazing program in line with the Biden Administration’s commitment to climate consciousness, restoration, and public input.
“The Biden administration must take this opportunity to rein in grazing and allow wildlands to recover,” said Chris Bugbee, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Grazing has devastated critical habitat and destroyed ecosystems across the West. We’re in the midst of climate and extinction crises and its long past time to take an unvarnished look at this damage and focus on repairing our public lands.”
“It will be impossible for the Forest Service to achieve President Biden’s goal of increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change and conserving biodiversity without comprehensively addressing the agency’s public lands grazing program,” said Josh Osher, Public Policy Director for Western Watersheds Project. “This administration has committed to a whole of government approach to addressing these dual crises and the Forest Service is no exception.”
For over 100 years, the Forest Service has allowed the livestock industry dictate grazing policy with minimal oversight and accountability for its damaging ecological practices. “As intensifying drought changes the economics of public lands livestock grazing amid a globalized beef market, it is time for the Forest Service to lead us into an era of science-backed, climate-conscious, wildlife-friendly management of national forest grazing,” stated Osher.
“The Forest Service has never developed a comprehensive policy and program for grazing. Now the climate and biodiversity crises offer the greatest opportunity and imperative to do so,” said Mary O’Brien, a botanist and Director of Project Eleven Hundred. “The agency could assemble a diverse group with science, climate change, economics, and on-the-ground ranching and on-the-ground conservation experience to develop options for the agency to create a 21st century grazing program followed by a rigorous environmental analysis and broad public participation.”