Rangeland Management:

BLM's Hot Desert Grazing Program Merits Reconsideration

RCED-92-12: Published: Nov 26, 1991. Publicly Released: Dec 26, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) management of the federal livestock grazing program in the Southwest desert areas, known as hot deserts, focusing on the program's environmental and budgetary costs and benefits.

GAO found that: (1) current livestock grazing activity on BLM allotments in hot desert areas imposes the risk of long-term environmental damage to the hot deserts and does not generate sufficient revenues to provide for adequate management; (2) there was evidence of grazing damage occurring on BLM lands, as well as evidence of livestock grazing's adverse impact on several endangered wildlife species; (3) some damaged lands may take decades to recover if they recover at all; (4) the current level of BLM spending is insufficient to perform all necessary range management tasks; (5) although the 1,000 operators who hold livestock grazing permits generate little net income from ranching public lands, they highly value the ability to maintain a traditional ranching lifestyle; (6) BLM lacks the staff resources and data to know if damage is occurring on many hot desert allotments and is not in a position to change an operator's authorized grazing level should a change be warranted; and (7) the cattle and sheep inventories in hot desert regions account for no more than 1.6 percent and 3 percent, respectively, of the national inventory.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Administration originally announced on August 9, 1993, that it would impose higher fees and tougher environmental restrictions on ranchers who graze their cattle and sheep on public rangeland. However, the final federal range policy completed in February 1995 deleted grazing fee increases, leaving any grazing fee charges to be determined by the Congress.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider providing more funds for BLM to monitor livestock grazing in the hot deserts, recognizing that increased monitoring will lead to better livestock grazing decisions on more allotments. The resulting higher overall monitoring costs could be offset, at least in part, through an increase in grazing fees, which would provide greater revenues to the Treasury from this activity.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: While Congress considered a California Desert bill with language that addressed the substance of this recommendation, the final bill passed in October 1994 did not change grazing policy for desert lands.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider eliminating operators' preferences, thereby giving BLM the opportunity to adjust authorized grazing activity on hot desert allotments on the basis of the amount of forage actually available each season. While staff and budget requirements may not change, the risk to the environment should decrease as BLM seasonally adjusts the level of grazing.

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: While Congress considered a California Desert bill with language that addressed the substance of this recommendation, the final bill passed in October 1994 did not change grazing policy for desert lands.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider discontinuing livestock grazing in hot desert areas. This option would free the resources that BLM now spends to manage livestock grazing in hot deserts for use in other areas of the country where the environmental risks are lower and productivity is higher. Some range resources would still be necessary in the hot deserts to protect against livestock trespass and to perform other duties.

 

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