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Published October 21, 2009, 08:04 AM

U.S. Forest Service to implement grazing deals

The U.S. Forest Service will implement new 10-year grazing administration plans on western North Dakota’s federal grasslands even if the two major rancher associations decline to sign the deals, one of the state’s senators said. The rancher associations administer grazing on the grasslands on behalf of the Forest Service, issuing permits, collecting fees and ensuring ranchers follow management plans for areas where grazing is permitted.

By: By Blake Nicholson, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun

BISMARCK — The U.S. Forest Service will implement new 10-year grazing administration plans on western North Dakota’s federal grasslands even if the two major rancher associations decline to sign the deals, one of the state’s senators said.

The rancher associations administer grazing on the grasslands on behalf of the Forest Service, issuing permits, collecting fees and ensuring ranchers follow management plans for areas where grazing is permitted.

The Forest Service gave the Medora and McKenzie County grazing associations a one-week reprieve to make a decision on the agreements. The reprieve expired Tuesday.

Keith Winter, president of the McKenzie County group, said his association has told the Forest Service what parts of the agreements it objects to and is waiting for a response. He would not detail the group’s objections.

Clint Schneider, president of the Medora County grazing group, did not return telephone calls The Associated Press made Monday and Tuesday to his office and cell phone.

The accords the Forest Service presented to the grazing groups last week were developed after 10 months of negotiations to replace agreements that expired Oct. 12. They are to go into effect Wednesday.

The 1 million-acre Little Missouri National Grasslands is the largest grazing area in the country governed by the Forest Service. The Medora and McKenzie County grazing associations administer grazing on about three-fourths of the acreage, according to the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, a Forest Service division that oversees the Little Missouri and three other national grasslands in North Dakota and South Dakota.

The two associations handle permits for only a few hundred ranches, which is a small percentage of the total number in North Dakota.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told him late last week that the new plans would be put in place even if the grazing groups did not sign off on them, and the associations would be able to dispute portions during the next 45 days through a U.S. Department of Agriculture appeals process.

Grazing will not be disrupted by the dispute over the agreements.

Winter said his group was concerned about the appeals since they would be handled by the regional office of the Forest Service, rather than by an independent agency.

A spokesman for Tidwell did not immediately return a telephone call Tuesday seeking comment.

Neither the grazing groups nor the Forest Service are publicly discussing what parts of the agreements are in dispute.

Dorgan has asked the Congressional Research Service to study the language of the proposed plans.

“I hope we can get this straightened out in a way that uses some common sense,” he said. “It’s complicated language the Forest Service insists that its attorneys require it to use, but I don’t agree with that. We’ll ... have the experts see.”

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