40 Million Acres Fail Minimum Federal Standards for Rangeland Health
Washington, DC — President Biden’s goal of conserving 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030 faces a major obstacle of the government’s own making – badly overgrazed federal range land. A minimum of 40 million acres, an area the size of Washington State, fail the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) own minimum standards for quality of water, vegetation, and soils, as well as the ability to support wildlife, according to a new analysis of the latest agency data by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group is asking Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to commit to a major improvement to rangeland health and address livestock overgrazing on federal lands.
The PEER analysis looks at more than 21,000 BLM grazing allotments in ten Western states totaling more than 156 million acres and found:
- Almost 55 million acres or about half of those assessed to date (an area larger than Utah) fail to meet BLM rangeland health standards, and in at least 40 million acres or 36% of all acres assessed, livestock grazing was a significant cause of failure. This is an underestimate, because not all allotments identified as failing reported a cause. Livestock grazing is the most frequently cited significant cause of failure to meet land health standards across the West.
- There are regional differences in the reported level of livestock impacts, suggesting that entire regions are grazed at levels that are unsustainable for existing moisture, vegetation, and soil conditions. In particular, five states have livestock failures of 40% of assessed area or more, with two (Nevada and Idaho) exceeding 50% failure.
“Landscapes that consistently fail the agency’s own health standards cannot be counted as conserved,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, who today sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland outlining the implications of these findings for the new “30 x 30” conservation goals. “The Biden administration must commit to a major improvement to rangeland health if it hopes to have any chance to meet its 30% land conservation goal by 2030.”
The livestock failure figures cited by PEER are likely major underestimates of damage since a substantial proportion of allotments yet to be assessed are in regions where livestock failure rates are remarkably high, such as in Nevada. In addition, in allotments that BLM counts as meeting all rangeland health standards, high-resolution imagery shows that in some areas, this is clearly not the case, with significant overgrazing damage readily evident even to the untrained eye.
“With much of the West entering drought conditions that experts say may last decades, significant recovery over the next decades or more in some regions is unlikely unless BLM dramatically improves the quality of its range management,” stated PEER Special Projects Manager Kirsten Stade. “The agency’s own data show that range reform should be a top priority for BLM’s new leadership.”