|Caswell was Highlight at Resource Council Meeting
(March 1, 2008) When Jim Caswell of Idaho was asked to serve as director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), he knew his tenure would be short, only 18 months before a new Administration appointed a new director.
Despite that short term, Caswell told the ASI Resource Management Council that he took the job in August 2007 to further his belief in the multiple use of public lands.
“I believe in healthy communities, both people and ecological,” said Caswell. “Open space is really critical as we continue to grow and develop here in the West. It’s critical to keep land working and it’s critical to keep you on the land. You can’t have healthy landscapes without private land functioning; your operations are vital to public land use.”
To act on this multiple use philosophy, Caswell first gathered BLM directors in the West to jump start the efforts, making a commitment to add no new agendas but to “stick to the knitting” with projects already under way.
One area of focus is the Healthy Lands Initiative; launched early last year to meet emerging challenges in managing natural resources with flexible, landscape-level approaches for continued multiple use. The initiative is currently focused on energy states, assessing the interactions of landscapes that include BLM and surrounding lands.
Caswell was asked why the sheep industry should care about the initiative. He cited a healthy landscape example in New Mexico where 260,000 acres of creosote were converted last year to grass.
“In 2008, we will treat 500,000 acres, and we have 4 million to go,” said Caswell. “Permittees are beating down our door now that they can see the difference,” although he acknowledged that such successes cannot be replicated everywhere.
He said the bureau is continuing its assessment and update of resource management plans, noting that, “RMPs are vital. They tell us where we can do what.”
BLM is also committed to resurrecting the intent of the 2003 grazing rules, which a federal judge struck down in 2007. Short of putting a new rule on the street, which seemed improbable, he said, the agency has embarked on efforts that include updating outdated policy manuals.
The agency is also racing to complete the renewals of 18,000 BLM grazing permits. As of December 2007, it was 87-percent complete with 2,304 left to go.
“We track this issue almost daily,” said Caswell. “We’re working hard to get those done. We may not make it, but we’ll apply for an extension if necessary.”
While he was unable to comment on the bighorn sheep issue simmering in Idaho, owing to his direct involvement, Caswell did respond to a question about the impacts an endangered species listing of sage grouse could have on the livestock industry.
“This is a big issue in the department. We’re asking all of our field offices with sage grouse habitat to gather everything we’ve done relative to sage grouse since 2004,” said Caswell.
If the sage grouse is listed, he said, BLM would likely implement conservation strategies for managing the birds.
“The secretary and assistant secretary are focused on this issue and there will be a concerted effort to deal with this in a positive way.”
Janette Kaiser, director of rangeland management for the U.S. Forest Service, did address the bighorn sheep issue, praising the “Wyoming model,” which designates separate range for domestic and bighorn sheep in Wyoming.
“The model has resolved a ton of conflict for us,” said Kaiser, “and we’re encouraging other states to adopt it.”
She added that a 2001 Forest Service white paper on the science of the bighorn sheep has been sent to the agency’s research arm to assess “what’s right and what’s wrong with it.”
Jeff Eisenberg, executive director of the Public Lands Council (PLC), said wildlife-livestock interaction, highlighted by the bighorn sheep issue in the Hell’s Canyon of Idaho, is currently the biggest single threat to public land grazing.
“One member of the public filed an affidavit and shut down the industry,” said Eisenberg. “It’s a big deal, and, unfortunately for your industry, you’re leading with your chin.”
In addition to working on bighorn sheep, the PLC is focusing on grazing permit renewals and tackling the judge’s decision of BLM grazing regulations. Although the department is unlikely to appeal the decision, the industry will.
“We put too much into it to give it up,” Eisenberg said.
PLC is also working on Environmental Protection Agency registration of predator controls, boosting the budgets for both the Forest Service and BLM and dealing with animal rights issues, which Eisenberg said take up too much of the council’s time.
“It’s ridiculous, but the power of animal rights in Congress is depressingly strong,” he said.
Bill Clay, deputy director of Wildlife Services, told the Resource Management Council that the expansion of wolf populations will be a huge challenge in the next several years, especially because of funding reductions for his agency of $250,000 to $300,000 for Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.
He said a particularly sticky problem for his field specialists is confirming wolf kills of livestock for producer compensation from Defenders of Wildlife. This sometimes creates tension between producers and the specialists.
“I don’t like to put our specialists in that position,” said Clay, “so I’d like your input on how we can deal with confirmation of what killed the livestock.”