WASHINGTON – A letter from the Public Lands Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the American Sheep Industry Association and 20 other livestock groups was sent on Jan. 18 to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar expressing concerns regarding the Secretarial Order 3310, issued on Dec. 23, titled, “Protecting Wilderness Characteristics on Lands Managed by the Bureau of Land Management.” The order directs the BLM to designate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as “Wild Lands” and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.

The organizations said collectively they represent an industry that accounts for 18,000 grazing permits on 157 million BLM acres. Dustin Van Liew, PLC executive director and NCBA director of federal lands, said shifting the focus from multiple uses to management for wilderness characteristics presents a threat to activities such as livestock grazing.

“The benefits of well-managed grazing to sustainable rangeland health and to wildlife habitat are well documented,” Van Liew said. “While the intention of the order may be to protect BLM lands, we are concerned it will actually have multiple negative effects on the very land the federal government is proposing the Order would protect.

“When ranchers graze livestock on BLM lands, not only do they manage the natural resources for the public, but they also take on a responsibility to manage noxious weeds, wildfire risks and vandalism on that land,” he added. “That is a responsibility they take very seriously.”

BLM is working to promulgate guidance on the order and is collecting comments from state and regional BLM offices, Van Liew said. He added PLC, NCBA and the organizations that signed the letter are working with members of Congress to verify whether the order is consistent with current law.

“The loss of federal grazing allotments due to placing wilderness characteristics above other multiple uses will have many, far-reaching negative effects,” Van Liew said. “The western economy, landscape and culture rely on a thriving public lands ranching industry. We are concerned the order threatens ranchers’ ability to sustain their operations, and in turn, threatens western communities dependent on our industry. We are hopeful BLM will address our concerns and work with us on this issue to ensure that livestock grazing and other multiple uses on BLM land continue.”