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Published June 05, 2008, 12:00 AM

Grazing cuts come as suprise to some

A grazing association official says some southwestern North Dakota ranchers were surprised to get a Forest Service order to reduce cattle grazing 30 percent on national grasslands by June 20. The agency says it’s an attempt to protect resources in dry areas. The Forest Service manages grazing on about 1 million public acres on the National Grasslands, including the Medora District in southwestern North Dakota and the McKenzie District to the north.

BISMARCK (AP) — A grazing association official says some southwestern North Dakota ranchers were surprised to get a Forest Service order to reduce cattle grazing 30 percent on national grasslands by June 20. The agency says it’s an attempt to protect resources in dry areas.

The Forest Service manages grazing on about 1 million public acres on the National Grasslands, including the Medora District in southwestern North Dakota and the McKenzie District to the north.

Doug Pope, president of the Little Missouri Grazing Association, said the Medora District has had more than 4 inches of rain this spring, and he said ranchers are questioning the 30 percent order.

“Last fall, the grass across the association looked excellent, and overall this spring it still does,” Pope said.

“A lot of people thought the letter wasn’t warranted, with the rain we’ve had,” Pope said.

The Little Missouri Grazing Association has an estimated 7,000 animal units, normally cow-calf pairs permitted among 109 operators, Pope said.

Ron Jablonski, the Forest Service ranger for the Medora District, said the 30 percent cut was based on the condition of the ground and the lack of moisture.

“We’re still behind, even if the rains come now,” he said. “We don’t want to abuse the resource.

“There are some places down there that got a lot of rain, probably related to that storm that hit in South Dakota,” Jablonski said Wednesday. “We’ve told them (ranchers) that if there are places that got more rain, we’d be happy to take a look at them and if we need to make adjustments, we will.”

Jablonski said much of the responsibility for the grazing rules falls to the association, and the Forest Service has been trying to work with the group.

In the McKenzie District, the Forest Service has an “eat half, leave half (grass)” policy that lets the ranchers decide how to reach that goal.

Ron Whited, vice president of the McKenzie Grazing Association, said rain this week has helped, but he said ranchers in the district are cutting back on the amount of time grazing, or on cattle.

The Forest Service listened to the ranchers, Whited said. “Everybody’s on the same page,” he said.

Range manager Gary Petik said the McKenzie District has about 120 operators and about 17,000 cow-calf pairs. He hopes the summer is not a repeat of 1988, when grazing had to be curtailed in August.

“The next meeting (with the grazing association) might have to be a prayer meeting,” he said.

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