Forest Service, ranchers come to an agreement
In meetings Monday set up by U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and local ranchers represented by the McKenzie County Grazing Association and the Medora Grazing Association came to two agreements about using the Little Missouri Grasslands for cattle grazing in Medora and Watford City.
The land can be used for cattle grazing but there have been disputes between the grazing associations and the Forest Service over federally mandated grazing policies and how they work for North Dakota ranchers, according to a press release sent by Hoeven's office.
The first was to use third party informal mediation in land use disputes over the Little Missouri Grasslands in the grazing associations' jurisdictions. "It's important that we solve these issues in a way that benefits everyone," Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a media briefing after the meetings at the Dickinson Chamber of Commerce. "There's an opportunity to use the commissioner's (North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring's) skilled mediators not so much after decisions have been made but actually way before that."
Tackling issues early on helps the Forest Service understand both sides of the issues and allows for conflicts to be resolved long before final decisions are made, Tidwell said.
There was a discussion Monday morning at the meetings about the appropriate occasions to use third party mediation, Hoeven's State Director Shane Goettle said. This allows the Forest Service and ranchers to engage early on in the decision-making process.
"Pre-decisional mediation, I think, helps," Goerhing said. "We still need to recognize that when we have those issues out there we need to resolve them. And we probably need to be in more direct contact and talk about what those solutions may be."
McKenzie County Grazing Association President Keith Winter said he was encouraged that Hoeven brought up the use of ag mediation services for disputes with the Forest Service because it could lead to quicker resolutions.
The second issue discussed in Monday's meetings was using outside research from institutions such as North Dakota State University to influence Forest Service policy.
"I also was encouraged by the fact that a plan may be in place but it doesn't mean that if we have good research, good science, coming forward of management of the rangeland and pasture that we can implement some of that," Goehring said. "That it does affect the health and welfare of the grasslands, and that it does affect the ecology."
Using the best available science and being able to constantly develop science in policy-making decisions is important to the grasslands, Tidwell said. But also that new research is able to influence policy changes as scientific revelations are made.
"Through that partnership it really helps us to be very effective and so that together we can determine where are the gaps and that who is in the best position to move forward and do that research," Tidwell said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., said he was happy to hear that the Forest Service was going to take research done by local representatives into account.
"The key for us here in North Dakota is really stability," Berg said. "We need to know how many cattle we can have, where grazing is and make sure that's not going to change for things other than solid science and things that make sense."
The Little Missouri Grasslands are comprised of pockets of federally owned land that totals more than 1 million acres near the Little Missouri River.
Hoeven was not in attendance due to illness including laryngitis. A delegation from South Dakota led by Secretary of Agriculture Walt Bones attended the meetings as well.