Rangeland Management:

More Emphasis Needed on Declining and Overstocked Grazing Allotments

RCED-88-80: Published: Jun 10, 1988. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) and the Forest Service's range management programs to determine: (1) their progress in improving range conditions; (2) whether they based grazing levels on recent and accurate rangeland assessments; (3) whether they used range improvement funds on the most beneficial projects; (4) the adequacy of their range condition inventory and monitoring systems; and (5) the success of the Experimental Stewardship Program (ESP).

GAO found that: (1) BLM and the Service lacked reliable, current information on conditions and trends for much rangeland; (2) the most recent reports showed that over 50 percent of the rangelands were in either poor or fair condition and about 8 percent were in declining condition; (3) about 19 percent of the grazing allotments were overstocked and subject to further deterioration, but the agencies did not adjust authorized livestock grazing levels in 75 percent of these cases; (4) many range managers cited insufficient data as a reason for not scheduling grazing reductions; (5) livestock carrying capacity assessments were often old and outdated; (6) neither agency focused management attention or resources on declining or overstocked allotments; and (7) 66 percent of BLM and 27 percent of Service grazing allotments did not have management plans, and many of the existing plans were over 10 years old.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO report RCED-91-148 found that, while priorities had been set, many were not being monitored for overgrazing.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, to focus management priority on completing new livestock carrying capacity assessments for grazing allotments that their range managers believe are overstocked and that therefore have the greatest potential for range deterioration. The assessments, when completed, should be used to adjust permit levels accordingly. As a start, responsible range managers should be asked to identify all allotments that they believe are currently overstocked or in declining condition.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO is currently reviewing the BLM monitoring program. Early indications are that many, but not all I allotments are being monitored. However, few carrying capacity decisions are being made.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, to focus management priority on completing new livestock carrying capacity assessments for grazing allotments that their range managers believe are overstocked and that therefore have the greatest potential for range deterioration. The assessments, when completed, should be used to adjust permit levels accordingly. As a start, responsible range managers should be asked to identify all allotments that they believe are currently overstocked or in declining condition.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service fiscal year 1992 budget justification states that the highest priority will be to address allotments with declining range condition. The Forest Service requested an additional $1.6 million to accomplish this.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, to better focus range improvement funding on allotments with declining range conditions and on overstocked allotments where range improvements can negate or limit the need to reduce the number of permitted livestock. A first step in this process would be to establish uniform, formal criteria that give priority to funding range improvements on allotments that are either declining or overstocked.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior issued instructions for setting range improvement funding priorities to district and resource area offices. Interior will also direct funding toward these allotments in the annual budget directives and has established controls to ensure funding is focused on I category allotments. Interior did not identify how many of I category allotments were overstocked and/or in decline.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, to better focus range improvement funding on allotments with declining range conditions and on overstocked allotments where range improvements can negate or limit the need to reduce the number of permitted livestock. A first step in this process would be to establish uniform, formal criteria that give priority to funding range improvements on allotments that are either declining or overstocked.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO report RCED-91-148 found that the Forest Service is not monitoring many allotments which have been identified as being overstocked or declining.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, to: (1) identify those grazing allotments that their range managers believe are declining and overstocked; and (2) concentrate management priority on monitoring and developing current allotment management plans for these allotments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO is conducting a review of the BLM monitoring program. Early indications are that many, but not all, I allotments are being monitored.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, to: (1) identify those grazing allotments that their range managers believe are declining and overstocked; and (2) concentrate management priority on monitoring and developing current allotment management plans for these allotments.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Agriculture has initiated no ESP projects since the GAO report and has no plans to do so in the future. Action has not been fully responsive because no official instructions have been issued. The Department will review the ESP program when staffing permits.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, to not initiate any new ESP projects until it can be demonstrated that range conditions and permittee stewardship have improved under the present ESP projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior issued instructions to district and resource area offices stating that no new ESP projects would be started until it can be demonstrated that range conditions have improved under the ESP program. An accomplishment report will be prepared when other recommendations are completed.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, to not initiate any new ESP projects until it can be demonstrated that range conditions and permittee stewardship have improved under the present ESP projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA directed field staff to analyze ESP program accomplishments in cooperation with BLM. In an August 1989 meeting with field staff, the Forest Service reminded the field staff to continue to gather and assess range monitoring data on ESP allotments. An accomplishment report will be prepared when other recommendations are completed.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief of the Forest Service and the Director, BLM, to ensure that range monitoring information is gathered and assessed for ESP allotments in the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior issued instructions to district and resource area offices stating that range monitoring and allotment evaluations are continuing on all ESP areas. An accomplishment report will be prepared when other recommendations are complete.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief of the Forest Service and the Director, BLM, to ensure that range monitoring information is gathered and assessed for ESP allotments in the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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