Public Lands Grazing Rule

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following

Why It Matters

Livestock grazing takes place on 155 million acres of public lands in the United States, with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administering nearly 18,000 grazing permits and leases. A 2016 report by the Department of Interior noted that 30% of assessed federal rangelands are not meeting the promulgated land health standards, and the damage is significantly attributed to livestock grazing. Strict permit standards governing where, when, and how many cattle can graze protect native species and ensure that lands are healthy and productive in the future.

BLM recently initiated a demonstration program for outcome-based grazing, which would weaken the stringency of grazing restrictions and accountability standards for permit and lease holders, giving them “an unprecedented level of flexibility in the management of livestock.”

Current Status

BLM has selected 11 demonstration projects for outcome-based grazing. Each project will undergo BLM’s permit issuing process. BLM has given at least one of the projects a categorical exclusion from NEPA requirements.


BLM issues ten-year, renewable permits to private ranchers for livestock grazing on public lands. By law, permits must include the kind and number of livestock for which the permit is granted and the periods, location, and amount of use authorized. Permits often include additional conditions and restrictions. Throughout the life of the permit, BLM and other regulators monitor the health of the leased land and may temporarily alter permits in response to changes in land quality.

Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, BLM must perform an environmental assessment before issuing most grazing permits to determine whether the permit will result in a significant impact on the environment. BLM has found “no significant impact” for nearly every grazing permit, which means that BLM is not required to perform a subsequent in-depth review of ecological effects of the new permit.

Any member of the “interested public” may protest a proposed decision by BLM, including the finding of no significant environmental impact. BLM is required to review and respond to protests before issuing a final decision. Any person “whose interest is adversely affected by a final BLM grazing decision” can appeal the final permitting decision. This appeal may be reviewed by an Administrative Law Judge or by a federal court, and a stay on the BLM decision could be issued.

Trump Era

On June 7, 2017, Interior Secretary Zinke issued Order No. 3353, “Greater Sage-grouse Conservation and Cooperation with Western States.” This order established the Sage-Grouse Review Team and charged it with examining the 2015 sage-grouse state land use plans to identify policies that could be modified or rescinded. More information on the history and current status of these plans is available on the Greater Sage-Grouse Protection page.

On August 4, 2017, the Sage-Grouse Review Team included outcome-based grazing demonstration projects in its list of policy recommendations for revising the state land use plans.

On September 22, 2017, BLM announced a pilot program for outcome-based grazing authorizations, resulting in an “unprecedented level of flexibility in the management of livestock” for livestock operators. Under the pilot program, BLM will grant outcome-based grazing authorizations (permits, leases, or exchange-of-use agreements) to around twelve projects. These authorizations are expected to be valid for 10 years and will broaden the authority of permit holders to graze cattle where and when they choose. BLM state offices accepted proposals for the project through October 27, 2017.

On March 28, 2018 BLM announced “11 demonstration projects in six states for its outcome-based grazing authorizations initiative, which is designed to provide BLM managers and grazing permit holders greater flexibility in the management of permitted livestock.” Click here for a list of the projects.

Thank you to Harvard student Laura Bloomer, JD/MPP 2019 for her assistance with this rule.

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