By Mike Garrity / CounterPunch
It’s too bad for conservationists and all Americans, but Tracy Stone-Manning, Biden’s new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) director, is continuing the Trump administration’s policy of destructive public land grazing. The BLM administers 246 million acres of public land, mainly in the intermountain west, with the mission is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
Investigation finds the BLM is “failing public land health standards across the west”
To find out if the BLM was achieving its mission of “sustaining the health of public lands, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) sent Freedom of Information Act requests to gather data on 21,000 grazing allotments covering 155 million acres of public lands administered by the BLM.
Although BLM has yet to even assess the health of 41 million acres, about half of all the assessed grazing allotments in the American west – 54 million acres – are severely degraded, finding livestock grazing as “the significant cause” on 72% of those lands. The results are contained on a very interesting interactive map.
BLM’s “solution” – drill wells in the desert for more widespread cattle grazing
Prior to the release of PEER’s damning report, BLM director Tracy Stone-Manning told High Country News that: “Cattle grazing can be used as a tool on the landscape to help restoration practices. Our overall work is to pass on lands better than we found them. That’s what conservation is to me.”
Given her words, it’s very difficult to explain why the agency she oversees is planning to drill 40 new livestock watering wells in or near the recently restored Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah. This is particularly concerning since the PEER report found the most unhealthy grazing allotments are often in cold deserts in the rain shadow of mountain ranges characterized by lack of moisture and extreme temperature swings. That’s a perfect description of the fragile landscape in the Bear’s Ears National Monument.
Stealing water from native vegetation, fish, and wildlife
Drilling new wells for livestock tanks significantly alters the hydrology and is antithetical to improving the health of the land. For one thing, such wells often cause natural springs, upon which native wildlife rely, to go dry as the water table is lowered. When that happens, the tiny streams they feed also disappear and any vegetation — such as cottonwoods and wetlands that line and cool the canyon bottoms – will likewise die.
Disrupting the natural springs steals the water that would otherwise provide for fish, wildlife and other downstream vegetation. In the end, there will be less or no water in the Bears Ears National Monument for frogs, deer, and anything else that requires water to survive — which is just about everything.
The BLM claims – with no scientific evidence – that drilling water wells for cattle improve the health of the land by moving cows away from riparian areas. But a published paper found drilling wells for livestock tanks failed to relieve pressure on riparian areas, which makes sense since the riparian areas are cool, shady, and vegetated, which is why the cattle go there.
Although decades of range science research show the best way to improve the health of riparian areas is by reducing or eliminating cattle, the BLM did not consider this as an alternative. Instead, director Tracy Stone-Manning proposes to have cattle grazing destroy even more of the Bears Ears National Monument.
If this sounds like something the Trump administration would have proposed, it’s because it is – especially considering the southwest is currently experiencing a 20-year mega-drought that has already severely depleted water supplies.
What you can do about Tracy’s travesty
The BLM is taking public comment on the proposal to water wells for cows in the 146,131 acre Slinkhorn grazing allotment and 623,013 acre Red House pasture grazing allotment in or near the Bears Ears National Monument. Please tell the BLM to reduce or eliminate grazing in these two allotments instead of drilling water wells for cattle that accelerate the destruction of these fragile, already-stressed desert ecosystems. And THANKS for your much-needed help!
Slickhorn Allotment Water Wells
Red House Pasture Water Wells
“Select “Participate Now” on the left-hand side to submit comments or mail to: Bureau of Land Management, Attn: Jed Carling, PO Box 7, Monticello, UT 84535