Friday, March 12, 2010

Just in from Washington

Simpson Talks Western Land Management with BLM Director

Washington-Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson questioned the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) about its FY2011 budget request during a hearing in the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee this week. BLM Director Bob Abbey testified to the subcommittee, of which Simpson is Ranking Republican Member.

During the hearing, Simpson asked Director Abbey what the BLM is doing to address the significant backlog in grazing permits. Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that sage-grouse is “warranted but precluded” from listing under the Endangered Species Act. Simpson expressed his concern that this decision would put an additional burden on the BLM, which is responsible for managing most of the current sage-grouse habitat, without providing additional resources for the agency to address its current backlog.

“While the Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that properly-managed grazing is not a principle threat to sage-grouse, I am concerned that this decision may only add to the problems the BLM is having in getting permits issued,” said Simpson. “I recognize that there are numerous things that have contributed to this backlog over the years, not the least of which is the fact that it is almost a given that the BLM will be sued by someone over every land management decision it makes. But at the end of the day, it is largely a problem of resources. I want to work with you to ensure that the BLM has the resources it needs to reduce the backlog of grazing permits over the next five years.” Director Abbey agreed to work with Congressman Simpson and the members of the subcommittee to address this problem.

The hearing also focused on recently-leaked Department of Interior internal planning document on new monument designations. “The problem with the Antiquities Act,” Simpson said,” is that national monuments can be designated by executive order without any input from residents and local leaders. When we look at national monument designations, let’s look forward and do them legislatively, the way they were intended to be done, so that the Antiquities Act is used as a tool for collaboration instead of a hammer.”

In addition to issues that directly impact land use in Idaho, the hearing also focused on energy and mineral development on public lands and the wild horse and burro program.

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