Legislators have beef with BLM, Forest Service

The legislative interim committee on public lands approved a series of recommendations Thursday calling for changes in how grazing permits are handled and demanding BLM and the Forest Service comply with the Wild Horse and Burro Act.

The grazing issue involves what Northern Nevada ranchers say is arbitrary and unjustified closures of livestock grazing in the Argenta District.

According to the background document, there’s testimony BLM “is applying prohibitive restrictions on grazing because it is easier to implement than an active management plan.”

Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, himself a rancher, said BLM and the Forest Service must be forced to make management decisions on best science and give some flexibility to grazing permittees.

“If all you need is a drought monitor who says we are in a drought to remove all the animals off public lands in Nevada, that is not range management,” Goicoechea said.

The panel also voted to urge Congress to provide adequate resources to the Department of the Interior to fully implement the Wild Horse and Burro Act, “including the necessary funding to determine appropriate management levels.”

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, said the Forest Service has ignored that law for more than 40 years since it was passed. The law requires both USFS and BLM to determine “appropriate management levels” — population sizes — for wild horses.

Goicoechea agreed saying the wording in the letter “needs to be fairly strong in this letter — the law is the law.”

Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, said the Forest Service, “has never even asked for the money to do this.”

Ranchers complain bitterly the wild horse population is out of control and destroying the range for other users — including cattlemen.

As a companion recommendation, the lands committee also voted to ask Nevada consider joining the Nevada Association of Counties lawsuit demanding BLM manage wild horse and burro herds as required by the federal law.

At Chairman Paul Aizley’s urging, the committee voted to seek legislation creating a statewide committee consisting of all water authorities and the state Water Resources Division to study the current and future water supply statewide. He said the goal is to gather the data needed to create a long-term statewide water plan.

The committee called for legislation to put at least $300,000 into a grant supporting cloud seeding activities in Nevada. Cloud seeding to increase rainfall in western, eastern and southern Nevada was funded for years until the recession cut it off in 2007 and 2009. Scientists say seeding over the Sierra, for example, could significantly increase precipitation.

The committee approved drafting legislation to create nonprofit Rangeland Fire Protection Associations in each of Nevada’s counties and allow the Nevada Division of Forestry to enter agreements with those groups to handle initial fire response.

Finally, the panel called for legislative support for the state plan developed by the Sagebrush Ecosystem Council and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to manage the sage grouse and urging the federal government not to list the grouse under the endangered species act.


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