BLM Numbers Game

The Bureau of Land Management has trouble confronting what its own records show. A prime example of an agency in denial is an agency webpage entitled “BLM Response to PEER Press Release of May 14, 2012.”  This was the BLM’s attempt to respond to our May 14, 2012 press release entitled “Livestock’s Heavy Hooves Impair One-Third of BLM Rangelands”(Corrected version).

In our original release, we found that:

  • “Almost 40% of BLM allotments surveyed since 1998 have failed to meet the agency’s own required land health standards with impairment of more than 33 million acres, an area exceeding the State of Alabama in size, attributed to livestock grazing; and
  • Overall, 30% of BLM’s allotment area surveyed to date suffers from significant livestock-induced damage…”

2011 RIME report cover

These findings were based on the BLM’s own data, reported in its 2011 Rangeland Inventory, Monitoring, and Evaluation (RIME) report. Prior to 2013, RIME reports included both the numbers of livestock grazing allotments meeting and failing rangeland health standards and the acreages within those allotments, as well as whether the failures to achieve standards were due to livestock grazing or due to other causes.

The BLM says in its response that “Twelve percent, not nearly 40 percent (as PEER asserted) of grazing allotments were found not to be meeting land health standards because of livestock grazing management at the time of the assessment.” While the agency is correct in disputing that 40% of allotments failed standards for rangeland health, it does not acknowledge it was actually 40% of acres within surveyed allotments that failed standards.

In addition, the agency incorrectly quoted PEER as stating that 40% of allotments failed strictly due to livestock. Our press release stated that 40% of allotments failed to achieve standards of rangeland health due to all causes, and that 30% of the area of surveyed BLM allotments—or roughly 33 million acres—was impaired due to livestock grazing.

The heart of the agency’s criticism, and the basis of its statement that “Twelve percent…of grazing allotments were found not to be meeting land health standards because of livestock grazing management” is the fact that, as the agency states, “numbers in the RIME report reflect the number of allotments not meeting land health standards, with the total number of acres in those allotments, not the actual number of acres not meeting land health standards in those allotments.” This criticism ignores the facts that:

  1. The agency itself used the same accounting system (reporting total allotment acres for allotments where sampling revealed failures to achieve standards) in its RIME reports prior to 2013;
  2. The USGS, in its Summary of science, activities, programs, and policies that influence the rangewide conservation of Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus): U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013–1098 also used the same system of reporting the acreages of entire allotments where sampling within those allotments revealed range health standard failures;
  3. It would be impossible for the agency to actually monitor every acre of rangeland across its approximately 150 million acres of grazed lands. Management decisions must be based on sampling data extrapolated to allotments as a whole. Yet the BLM appears to be suggesting that sampling as a monitoring method – and by extension, the entire rangeland health monitoring system as whole – is invalid; and
  4. Reporting on the number of allotments meeting and failing standards with no mention of their acreage skews results toward allotments meeting standards, due to the large number of small allotments (mostly in Montana) that are meeting standards.

In short, BLM persists in playing word games to obscure what its own records reveal – conditions on federal rangelands are deteriorating due to BLM failure to stem systemic overgrazing.