A New Plan for 5 Million Acres

Devin Dahlgren   Website

5 Reasons to Care, 3 Topics to Understand, 1 Way to Get Involved.

How would you manage 5 million acres? This spring, you have a once-in-a-generation chance to answer that very question.

The Bureau of Land Management will be seeking input from the public on the Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan Amendment (SEORMP), a process that will impact how our desert lands are used for generations to come.

The process will create the blueprint for how nearly 5 million acres in southeastern Oregon — including beloved places in the Owyhee Canyonlands like Leslie Gulch, Three Forks and Birch Creek — are managed,  This is your opportunity to help protect sage-grouse habitat, determine where off-road vehicles can and cannot travel, and protect wild desert places to camp, hike and bird.

Five Reasons to Care

 Three Topics to Understand

Three main issues – Lands with Characteristics, Off-Road Vehicle and Travel Management, and Livestock Grazing – will be addressed in the SEORMP process. Read on, and you’ll have the background needed to provide substantive input on the SEORMP.

Sagebrush in Succor Creek, Owyhee Canyonlands.
Succor Creek, Owyhee Canyonlands. Photo: Devin Dahlgren

 

1. Lands with Wilderness Characteristics

The SEORMP will establish how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will manage wilderness values in a set of areas known as Lands with Wilderness Characteristics.

What are LWCs?

Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC) are areas that have been inventoried and found to have the characteristics essential to wilderness as described in the 1964 Wilderness Act. However, LWC areas are not designated protected areas like wilderness or wilderness study areas. Instead, the management of these areas will be determined by this Resource Management Plan.

What characteristics define wilderness?

According to the Wilderness Act, wilderness-quality lands must possess:

  1. Sufficient size – generally 5,000 acres or larger (but this can be smaller if the area is adjacent to an existing WSA or wilderness area).
  2. Naturalness – affected primarily by the forces of nature.
  3. Solitude and/or primitive recreation – outstanding opportunities for either solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation exist.
What protection do wilderness values in LWC units have?

Unlike wilderness or wilderness study areas, the BLM is not required by the Wilderness Act to preserve wilderness values in LWC units. However, the BLM can choose to manage LWC units to retain their wilderness values through a Resource Management Plan.

ONDA’s take:

ONDA supports the adoption of management practices that preserve and protect wilderness values in LWC units. Selecting a resource management plan alternative that protects wilderness values in LWC units also provides protection for important wildlife habitats, limits fragmentation of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, and increases opportunities for quiet recreation such as hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking and wildlife watching.

Owyhee Canyonlands.
Owyhee Canyonlands. Photo: Devin Dahlgren

 

2. Off-Road Vehicle and Travel Management

The SEORMP will establish where, when and how off-highway vehicles OHVs are allowed to operate on BLM lands.

What does the current management of OHV use on BLM lands look like?

The BLM is required to classify all lands within a planning district into one of three OHV designations: open, closed, or limited.

The official definition1 for each designation

  1. Open: An open area is where all types of vehicle use are permitted at all times in the area, subject to operating regulation and vehicle standards.
  2. Limited: A limited area is where there are restrictions at certain times, in certain areas and/or to certain vehicular use. Generally, these restrictions fall into one of the following categories: number of vehicles, types of vehicles, time or season of use, permitted or licensed use only, use only on existing roads and trails, use only on designated roads and trails.
  3. Closed: A closed area is where off-road vehicle use is prohibited.
Where can OHVs currently operate?

Currently less than 0.5% of the lands in the planning area are closed to OHV travel.2 The majority of the lands either fall into the “limited” or “open” categories described above. Changes were implemented in 2015 to protect sage-grouse habitat per the Approved Resource Management Plan Amendment, also known as the sage-grouse plan. The sage-grouse plan limits OHV travel to existing routes in areas identified as critical sage-grouse habitat and resulted in 2 million additional acres being classified as limited instead of open. However, large areas outside of sage-grouse habitat are still open to cross-country OHV travel, and, under the current administration, the fate of the changes made as part of the sage-grouse plans remains unclear.

What are some of the concerns regarding OHV use on public lands?

When not properly managed, OHVs can fragment wildlife habitat, impact soils and plant species, increase erosion and spread invasive species. The Council on Environmental Quality stated in a 1979 report that ORVs (Off-Road Vehicles) have “damaged every kind of ecosystem found in the United States.” 3 The number of OHV users on public lands has dramatically increased in recent years. At the same time, advancements in technology have allowed motorized recreationists to reach increasingly remote areas. Both factors are leading OHV use to have a greater impact on the ground.

ONDA’s take:

ONDA supports restricting OHV use to designated routes, eliminating cross-country travel and protecting intact wildlife habitat. By restricting OHVs to designated routes, the BLM can limit impacts to healthy ecosystems while still allowing for a rich experience for motorized recreationists. As noted in BLM’s guidance to field offices in 2007, “continued designation of large areas that remain open to unregulated “cross-country travel” is not a practical management strategy.” ONDA supports this guidance and its implementation in the Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan.

3. Livestock Grazing

The SEORMP will establish where livestock grazing occurs and what tools are available to manage grazing.

What lands are authorized for grazing?

Under the BLM’s multiple-use mandate, grazing is one of many land uses the agency manages for. Currently, 98% of the SEORMP planning area is available for grazing.

How is livestock grazing structured on the landscape?

Lands authorized for grazing are broken up into discrete regions called allotments, which are typically further divided into pastures. Each allotment has its own management plan that allocates the number of permitted Animal Unit Months, determines seasons of use and establishes a grazing management system. Resource Management Plans authorize whether allotments are open to grazing and determine the tools available to land managers in managing grazing on the landscape.

What is an AUM?

An AUM stands for “Animal Unit Month” and is the amount of forage that one cow-calf pair, one horse, or five sheep eat in one month. AUMs are the unit of measure used to determine the number of livestock that are allowed to graze within an allotment. The AUM is also known as the stocking rate.

What grazing management options will the BLM consider during the planning process?

The BLM will consider management alternatives that analyze whether, where, how and in what manner grazing will take place on the landscape.

Among other tactics, the BLM will examine management alternatives that analyze: voluntary grazing permit relinquishment processes; the identification of areas no longer available for grazing use; and closure of allotments or pastures where land health standards (used to achieve desired ecological conditions) are not being met due to livestock grazing.

ONDA’s take:

The BLM does not currently have the ability to permanently retire grazing permits in the planning area, limiting the agency’s ability to protect sensitive ecological resources and maintain the important balance of the agencies multiple-use mandate. ONDA supports the establishment of a mechanism for voluntary grazing permit relinquishment and a process that identifies areas no longer available for grazing.

One Way to Get Involved

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Sources
  1. As described by the federal governments Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR 8340.0-5)
  2. Per GIS analysis completed by ONDA
  3. The Wilderness Society, 2016. Achieving Compliance with the Executive Order “Minimization Criteria” for Off-Road Vehicle Use on Federal Public Lands: Background, Case Studies, and Recommendations.