Public Rangeland Improvement:

A Slow, Costly Process in Need of Alternate Funding

RCED-83-23: Published: Oct 14, 1982. Publicly Released: Oct 14, 1982.

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GAO conducted a review to determine the status of, and progress being made under, the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) programs for managing and protecting public rangelands in 16 western states.

Since 1977, BLM has made some progress in meeting a congressional mandate to improve the unsatisfactory conditions of public rangelands in the western states. BLM has issued over 20,000 grazing permits or leases to individuals and corporations who use federal rangelands. Permittees with allotments range from large ranchers to some with a few animals. Because BLM has used varying methods over the years to assess range conditions, the assessments' results cannot be directly compared to show the overall effects of BLM management actions. Nevertheless, the assessments indicate that most of the rangelands are in unsatisfactory condition and produce less than their potential. The current BLM method of determining and classifying range conditions is not directly related to management objectives. In addition, field offices use different methods to gather rangeland trend and forage consumption data. GAO believes that more consistency in data gathering is needed among districts with the same rangeland types and with similar resource conditions and problems. A 1975 court order has delayed development and implementation of range management plans until site-specific environmental impact statements are completed. The decreasing availability of improvement funds caused by budget cuts and declining grazing fees, coupled with the increasing cost of range improvements will further delay BLM progress in improving range conditions and productivity.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has no plans in the immediate future to take action on this recommendation.

    Matter: Congress should assess alternative funding sources, such as amending the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, to allow BLM to use a higher percentage or amount of grazing fees for making improvements.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has no plans in the immediate future to take action on this recommendation.

    Matter: Congress should assess alternative funding sources, such as appropriating the special funds already authorized by section 5 of the Public Rangelands Improvement Act, for range improvements.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has no plans in the immediate future to take action on this recommendation.

    Matter: Congress should assess alternative funding sources, such as amending the Public Rangelands Improvement Act to provide an interim increase in grazing fees, provided the funds are used to make range improvements where they are collected.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM policies now allow rangeland users to deduct improvements, such as building new fences, from grazing fees. This is only being done on an experimental basis at five or six places.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should test and evaluate the feasibility of expanding the Experimental Stewardship Program which allows permittees to receive up to a 50-percent credit of their annual grazing fees for making range improvements. This program, if feasible for expansion, should be implemented with proper fiscal safeguards and in line with the BLM range improvement priority system.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM is currently testing and evaluating relevant rangeland classifications that were established.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to develop an additional rangeland condition assessment method that will classify conditions in relation to management objectives and require state BLM offices, to the extent possible, to obtain consistent rangeland data to be used for: (1) determining whether management objectives, such as bringing grazing use in line with grazing capacity, are being met; and (2) reporting to Congress and the public on the rangelands' overall condition.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In June 1985, BLM issued new guidance for improving and maintaining the condition and productivity of renewable resources on public lands. GAO will determine the effectiveness of this action in a 1986 follow-up review which started in August 1986.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should provide those incentives which Interior determines to be needed to encourage permittees to make range improvements.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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