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Forest Service may extend Grasslands negotiations

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is requesting that talks between ranchers and the federal government be extended by 30 days to hammer out the details of grazing allotments on the Little Missouri National Grasslands.

Hoeven sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on Thursday about a recent draft grazing allotment management plan. If the plan goes into effect as written, ranchers would be affected by new regulations in north Billings County and a small portion of northeast Golden Valley County.

“North Dakota grazers have expressed disappointment over the Forest Service’s responses to objections filed on the draft Record of Decision,” Hoeven wrote.

Tidwell visited Dickinson on May 30 to discuss the management plan and other issues with ranchers and state officials.

Forest Service spokeswoman Babette Anderson said Tidwell’s national office is working on a response to the letter, which should be sent next week.

A 45-day comment period, when ranchers could file objections to the allotment plan, ended Thursday.

During a meeting to present their objections earlier this month, ranchers were not given adequate time to resolve problems, Medora Grazing Association President Gordon Gerbig said.

Ranchers presented a written list of 59 objections to the plan, but were allowed 10 minutes to speak, Gerbig said.

The Forest Service initially promised about an hour-and-a-half for residents to relay their concerns, Gerbig said. But, the entire meeting ended up lasting that long because the Forest Service officials spent most of it to present to the crowd.

“It wasn’t what we were told it was going to be,” Gerbig said.

Dave Schmid, deputy regional forester for the Forest Service, has led the talks. Schmid did not return requests for comment.

Gerbig said grazers are anxiously awaiting to see how the Forest Service changes the plan, as well as Tidwell’s response to Hoeven’s letter.

“This is really our last hurrah before the statement comes out,” Gerbig said.

He said grazers oppose the Forest Service’s decision to use data from drought years in determining the impact of cattle on land.

Hoeven wrote that he would like to see the Forest Service take into account “the best science available,” including a grasslands management study currently being conducted by North Dakota State University.

He also urged more adaptability with a requirement that 20 to 30 percent of the pastures have a minimum 3.5-inch Visual Obstruction Reading — a measure of plant density.

“I encourage the Forest Service to provide flexibility for year-to-year and location-to-location management of grazing allotments to avoid policies that establish a one-size-fits-all approach,” Hoeven wrote.