Recently, the Humboldt County Commission held a special meeting to approve a draft portion of its Master Plan — the Livestock Grazing Plan. These documents outline the county’s goals and policies and include specific guidelines related to such matters as grazing reductions, restoration, permits and management principles.
At the May 15 meeting, Humboldt County Manager Dave Mendiola said, “These are the kind of documents where a county has thought through what their policies are and the impacts of different decisions by the different governmental entities how they impact us.” Mendiola said that agencies are more likely to take the county’s position much more seriously when federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the Forest Service (FS) when they prepare Environmental Assessments (EA), Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and final determinations.
The commissioners’ special meeting was in response to the US Forest Service notification regarding the request for comments on the Santa Rosa Management Plan Project.
The Santa Rosa Management Plan Project grew out of the initial Martin Basin Rangeland Project analysis from 2001. That original Draft Grazing EIS was challenged by cattlemen who brought a legal suit. “There were a number of things in that [document that] permittees [thought] were unworkable and that they could not live with,” Commissioner Ron Cerri said in an interview. Cerri’s cattle graze on land within the Santa Rosa range and was one of the permittees who brought the suit against the Forest Service.
“We appealed it and we protested it and finally ended up hiring a lawyer and we went to court on it,” Cerri said. The case went to an administrative law judge who ruled in the permittees favor against the Forest Service in 2015. “Basically,” Cerri said, “the Forest Service were told to go back and redo it. That's where we are right now.”
Jeremy Drew, Project Manager and Senior Resource Specialist who worked with the County to create the grazing proposal told the County Commissioners that what the Forest Service is “looking to do is reissue all twelve permits on the district. They aren't looking at any AUM cuts. In fact, they're looking at keeping what they call ‘head months’ the same and also providing flexibility to add extra head units in years when forage is available. They're also looking at extending the permits from seasonal use.”
Cerri is pleased with the way the Forest Service has redesigned the document. “The Forest Service has been very forthcoming and have reached out to try to make the document go as smoothly as possible this time,” he said.
The goal, Cerri says, is for cooperation between the various agencies, the permittees and the county which was missing during the 2001 analysis Cerri says. “This time we hope the draft will be something we can all agree to go forward and make work,” he says. But he knows it’s a work in progress. “I'm sure there will be things in it that [document] we're not going to be totally satisfied with, but we understand that as permittees. But we will have a document that we can live with and stay in business.”
The Forest Service looks to complete the EA by November 15 and a finalized decision notice issued by March 2020.