Uneasy Riders: A Citizen, a Cow, and NEPA

Date01 July 2009
39 ELR 10632 EnviRonmEntaL Law REpoRtER 7-2009
Uneasy Riders: A Citizen,
a Cow, and NEPA
by Mary O’Brien
Mary O’Brien, Ph.D., is Southern Utah Forests Project Manager at the Grand Canyon Trust.
This Article looks at one recurring activity that falls
within the purview of the National Environmental
Policy Act (NEPA)1: livestock grazing on arid and
semi-arid U.S. Forest Service lands west of the Rockies.2
e relationship of this activity to environmental assess-
ments (EAs), categorical exclusions (CEs), environmental
impact statements (EISs), and ulti mately §101 of NEPA are
briey described.
is Article proposes that the general inability of the For-
est Service to meet its obligations under NEPA for livestock
grazing is not due to a problem with NEPA, but rather that
NEPA has succeeded at revealing fundamental problems
with current management of livestock grazing on Forest Ser-
vice lands. A proposal for a programmatic EIS is oered.
I. EAs of Livestock Grazing: No Signif‌icant
EAs inhabit a blurred world within NEPA because their pro-
cesses and sideboards are unclear.
Technically, they are to be an exploration of whether sig-
nicant environmental impacts attend a proposal. If, upon
analysis, the agency determines signicant impacts may
attend the proposed activity, an EIS is to be prepared before
approval of the activity. If the E A projects no signi cant
impacts upon implementation of the action, a nding of no
signicant impact (FONSI) is prepared.
In between, the process is vague: Will there be a draft EA?
at isn’t required, but sometimes a draft EA is prepared.
e agency must involve the public “to the ex tent practi-
cable” in preparing EA s,3 but what is practicable in t he eyes
of an understaed agency?
1. 42 U.S.C. §§4321-4370f, ELR S. NEPA §§2-209.
2. e reference to “west of the Rockies” is due to an understanding that grass-
land and shrubland assemblages east of the Rockies evolved in the presence
of large herds of bison, and are thus more resistant to many livestock grazing
impacts than grasslands and shrublands west of the Rockies, which experi-
enced the activities of relatively few bison. See Richard N. Mack & John N.
ompson, Evolution in Steppe With Few Large, Hooved Mammals, 119 A.
N 757-73 (1982).
3. CEQ NEPA Regulations, 40 C.F.R. §1501.4(b).
e agency must “provide sucient evidence and anal-
ysis for determining whether to prepare an environmental
impact statement or a nding of no signicant impact,”4 but
does that evidence need to be available for review and correc-
tion or comment by the public before a FONSI and decision
are issued?
An EA should include a brief discussion of “alternative
courses of action for any proposal which involves unresolved
conicts concerning alternative uses of available resources,”5
but must an agency discuss a reasonable a lternative submit-
ted by a nongovernmental organization?
All the above, but also one additional question, looms
large in the case of livestock grazing in the arid and semi-
arid public lands west of the Rockies: Can the current Forest
Service management of livestock gra zing ever be considered
nonsignicant in light of its multiple impacts?
Any person who has walked numerous public lands live-
stock allotments in the arid and semi-arid West can attest to
the common, profound, and myriad impacts of cattle and
sheep gra zing; and particularly of cattle impacts on creeks
and riparian areas. To name a few impacts: Cattle prefer to
spend time in the riparian areas surrounding creeks, springs,
and ponds, with the result that deep-rooted willows and cot-
tonwood are often diminished or eliminated; exotic, shal-
low-rooted Kentucky bluegrass spreads; the weakened banks
of shallow-rooted vegetation are broken under the weight
of the cattle; sediment dumps into the streams; the creeks
and streams widen due to the busted banks and incise as
oods rush o slopes lacking t he tall, deep-rooted perennial
grasses t he livestock have selectively grazed. e creeks and
streams become entrained within ever-deepening cha nnels;
water becomes warmer as shade from cottonwood, willows,
other woody vegetation and overhanging grasses and sedges
is reduced by grazing and browsing; algae proliferate due to
the defecation of hundreds of cattle; and sh eggs are smoth-
ered in sediment or trampled.
Wet meadows are often trampled, hummocked, and com-
pacted by sheep or cattle, reducing the percolation of water
underground to recharge aquifers, and transforming the
4. Id. §1508.9(a)(1).
5. Id. §1508.9(b).

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT