Public Rangelands:

Some Riparian Areas Restored but Widespread Improvement Will Be Slow

RCED-88-105: Published: Jun 30, 1988. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO discussed federal efforts to restore degraded riparian areas on public rangelands and the extent of areas still needing improvement.

GAO reviewed 22 public rangelands in 10 western states, and found that: (1) the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service successfully restored a number of degraded riparian areas through improved livestock management, which allowed vegetation to grow; (2) BLM and the Forest Service either temporarily restricted grazing in degraded areas or built fences to keep livestock away from the areas until vegetation improved; (3) although many ranchers opposed the restoration efforts, others realized the benefits to their operations; and (4) restoration of the riparian areas required specific knowledge and skills of wildlife and fisheries biologists, hydrologists, range conservationists, and soil scientists. GAO also found that, although there are still large areas that need restoration, future efforts could be hampered by: (1) shortages of skilled staff due to the agencies' budgetary restraints; (2) opposition from ranchers; and (3) a lack of cohesive management support from BLM and the Forest Service.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agencies' field units are in process of reassessing staff needs to implement established plans. The FY 1991 budget submission will contain appropriate staffing levels. The FY 1991 budget increased the level of staff resources devoted to riparian improvements.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, U.S. Forest Service, to review the staffing support provided to riparian improvement efforts in the context of all program activities, and determine whether appropriate staffing levels are being provided.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The fiscal year (FY) 1991 budget increased the level of staff resources devoted to riparian improvements.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, U.S. Forest Service, to review the staffing support provided to riparian improvement efforts in the context of all program activities, and determine whether appropriate staffing levels are being provided.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service will include the recommended report as part of an annual budget process. BLM will put together and report through the annual work plan process. The FY 1991 budget contained this recommended data.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should, as part of their annual budget submissions, report on the extent of riparian improvement that can be expected with the level of staffing they recommend.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service will include the recommended report as part of an annual budget process. BLM will put together and report through the annual work plan process. However, this action was not incorporated into actual budget submissions.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should, as part of their annual budget submissions, report on the extent of riparian improvement that can be expected with the level of staffing they recommend.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service incorporated the recommended action into its planning process.

    Recommendation: With respect to the commitment to achieve broader riparian improvement, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, U.S. Forest Service, to reemphasize and reiterate the agencies' commitment. As part of this effort, the Director and the Chief should: (1) establish finite, measurable goals in terms of miles of riparian areas to be targeted for restoration; (2) annually measure and document the specific progress being made to achieve those goals; and (3) document and justify instances where restoration steps needed to achieve established goals are seriously thwarted or rejected.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM has required state directors to annually measure and document riparian goal achievements as part of its planning process.

    Recommendation: With respect to the commitment to achieve broader riparian improvement, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, U.S. Forest Service, to reemphasize and reiterate the agencies' commitment. As part of this effort, the Director and the Chief should: (1) establish finite, measurable goals in terms of miles of riparian areas to be targeted for restoration; (2) annually measure and document the specific progress being made to achieve those goals; and (3) document and justify instances where restoration steps needed to achieve established goals are seriously thwarted or rejected.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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