More Grazing Conflicts Likely If Federal Agencies Don't Improve Accountability

Aug 2, 2016

In a new report, the Government Accountability Office criticizes public lands agencies for poor management of grazing permits. The watchdog says conflicts and armed standoffs over grazing rights, like the one in 2014 in Nevada, would be less likely if public land agencies improved their permit tracking methods.

Anne-Marie Fennell worked on the study and says the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management haven’t been documenting cases of unauthorized grazing, but instead have been informally addressing them – with a phone call, for instance. For that reason, no one knows to what extent people are illegally releasing livestock into areas that are off limits, where animals could be damaging sensitive ecosystems.

“Agency officials told us that it’s easier for them to pick up the telephone and deal with a particular incident, because they find that a lot of times the incident they find can be easily handled through informal communication,” says Fennell.

“Since they don’t record those type of incidents, we found then we really don’t know the extent to which these are occurring.”

She says when one grazer catches another breaking the rules, agencies are slow to follow up and that also creates conflicts between grazers.

“Sometimes they were frustrated when it appeared the agencies weren’t taking action based upon these sightings and reports they provided to the agencies.”

Fennell says agencies need to document even informal interventions. The report also recommends the U.S. Forest Service issue stiffer penalties.