The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

BLM Hosts 'Scoping' Meeting on American Prairie Reserve Request to Remove Fencing

 

April 18, 2018



The Bureau of Land Management held a “scoping” meeting in Glasgow April 12 to ask for public comment on an environmental assessment being conducted by BLM. The assessment is on a permit request by the American Prairie Foundation Inc. (commonly called the American Prairie Reserve or APR) to remove interior fencing on BLM grazing leases and to permit bison grazing year round. The meeting was well attended by farmers, ranchers, and local government representatives who mostly attempted to express their concerns of the proposal.

According to BLM spokesman Jonathan Moor, environmental assessments do not usually involve a public scoping meeting, but in this case the agency felt the contentious nature of the request warranted one. Moor described American Prairie’s request as stating they are looking to remove the interior fencing and fortify the exterior fencing with an electric wire to support year round grazing of bison.

Moor also stressed that opinions would not be used in the decision, but that comments with merit would be considered to discern “significant impacts” to the land management. The intent of the meeting was to scope those merit-based comments in order to determine if an environmental impact statement would be warranted under federal law for American Prairie’s request. Neither Moor or any of the BLM representatives at the meeting could produce a clear answer as to what a “significant impact” would be.

In an email later, Moor responded to the question by providing an excerpt from the National Environmental Policy Act Handbook, Section 7.3 which states, that significant impact would be something that meets the following criteria: it must look at both beneficial and negative impacts; must look at public health and safety; must look at unique characteristics of the geographic area, and the degree to which effects are likely to be highly controversial; degree to which effects are highly uncertain or involve unique or unknown risks; consideration of whether the action may establish a precedent for future actions with significant impact; consideration of whether the action is related to other actions with cumulatively significant impacts; scientific, cultural, or historical resources including those listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; threatened or endangered species and their critical habitat; any effects that threaten a violation of federal, state or local law or requirements imposed for the protection of the environment.

According to Moor, the regulation is generally vague. The apparent result of that vagueness is the interpretation of those regulations in favor of either decision being warrated. The scoping comment period, therefore, is designed to gain input from the public to assess if any “significant impacts” are going to result from American Prairie’s request to remove internal fencing and graze bison year round. Moor also pointed out that the opinion-based comments about American Prairie Foundation’s mission or goal cannot have any weight in the decision making process, and only comment relating to significant impacts will be assessed.

BLM intends to hold future meetings in Glasgow once the draft environmental assessment is completed. The Courier is working on more information about American Prairie’s request, and their organization as a whole and will continue to report on BLM’s decision making process. Scoping is open until May 29 and comments can be emailed to blm_scoping_ncmd@blm.gov or mailed to APR Scoping Comment, BLM Malta Field Office, 47285 Highway 2, Malta, MT 59538. Comments are subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, so do not provide personally identifiable information you do not want made public.

 

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