Official: It's illegal to permanently retire grazing permits

By PATRICIA R. MCCOY Capital Press Staff Writer


WINNEMUCCA, Nev. — Permanently retiring a grazing allotment from all grazing use is illegal, says Bill Myers, solicitor general for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The issue arose because some anti-grazing activists propose a buyout program to remove cattle from federal grazing allotments, Myers said here at the annual convention of the Nevada Cattlemens Association.

“The Taylor Grazing Act required the Secretary of the Interior to establish grazing districts,” Myers said. “Once that was done, those lands were designated as chiefly valuable for grazing.

“Grazing can be suspended temporarily in the process of land use management and planning, but it can’t be removed permanently,” Myers added. “There are vacant allotments out there, but no plans to take any active allotments away from anyone.”

Myers recently issued a formal opinion on that issue, which is binding on the U.S. Department of the Interior, he said.

“A group of ranchers might wish to voluntarily designate an allotment to be set aside and left unused, as a grass bank for emergency use in case of a wildfire or something similar.

“The BLM, under the Department of Interior, has no authority to set any allotment aside,” he added. “Before that could be done, we’d have to have such a program written into the regulations, or get congressional authority for it.”

The solicitor touched on many issues in a wide-ranging, informal talk to the cattlemen, including proposed reform of the Rangeland Reform regulations promulgated under former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt during the Clinton Administration.

“One thing we’re looking at, for instance, is interested public vs. affected interest, and the revision of water rights on federal lands,” Myers said.

“We’re also looking at the appeals process, and regulations that would let us set aside an allotment for a grass bank,” he added.

Department of Interior attorneys also are looking at how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used the Endangered Species Act to issue an “incidental takings statement” for allotments where no endangered species were known to be, Myers said.

“The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FWS action, saying an ‘incidental takings statement’ should not be used as a tool for in effect zoning federal lands,” he said.

Myers also told ranchers about a recent speaking engagement before the Western Watersheds Project in Boise during which he told the anti-grazing activist organization that anybody can play the blame game.

“I told them trying to run the livestock industry out of business is good for collecting dues and selling magazines, but the conflict industry isn’t good for making policy,” Myers said.

Myers was asked if those who file a lawsuit protesting a federal agency action could be required to post a bond they would forfeit upon losing a case.

“There is a provision to require a bond within the federal rules of civil procedures, but I don’t believe it applies to an administrative procedure,” Myers said.

“I’ll have to check into it when I return to Washington, D.C.,” he added, and wrote himself a note about the issue.

“Just remember: We can’t require one group to post a bond and not another,” Myers said to the ranchers. “This could become a two-edged sword,” he added with a sidewise grin.


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