Following Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke's repeated calls for more management of public lands, this spring the Bureau of Land Management is giving certain ranchers more say and options in grazing their cattle on public lands.
The BLM calls the program "outcome-based grazing" and says it will give grazing permit holders "unprecedented flexibility" in how they manage their cows and the public lands they graze on.
Say there’s a spring with lots of rain and the grass is long and lush into June. A rancher might want to let his cows graze on those lands longer than in a dry year. Right now, the rancher probably can’t do that. But in test projects in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado that’s changing.
"We get so tied up in rigid format and regulation, that we just couldn’t respond like we needed to," said Ken Crane, a field manager with the BLM in Burley, Idaho. "It would frustrate everybody."
Crane says flexibility is especially important after wildfires, when cows may need to be moved around.
But some environmental groups are skeptical.
"More flexibility is code for relaxing or eliminating environmental safeguards and standards that are mandatory," said Erik Molvar with Western Watersheds Project.
The BLM is working with 11 ranchers across the West to pilot the program.