Hoeven Hosts Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell for Grazing Associations Roundtable

Calls on Agency to Amend National Grassland Policies, Use Local Mediation

DICKINSON, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today hosted a meeting for grazing association leaders and U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to press for third party mediation to resolve disputes and more consideration of current research, including research conducted by state universities, in deciding management practices for ranchers on the Little Missouri National Grasslands. Also joining Hoeven at the meeting were Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Congressman Kevin Cramer, N.D. Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, N.D. Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand and Jason Nesbit representing Governor Jack Dalrymple.

The senator invited Tidwell to North Dakota to hear firsthand from ranchers on the practice of prescribed burns after last summer’s Pautre wildfire, which started as a result of a controlled burn and was not brought under control until it had burned 14,000 acres.

Tidwell is in North Dakota meeting with ranchers at Hoeven’s request to give the agency head a better understanding of the challenges facing ranchers in the grasslands. The chief was last in the state in 2011. Subsequent to that meeting, Hoeven and Senator Kent Conrad worked to negotiate the terms of a memorandum of agreement (MOU) between the grazing associations and the Forest Service that established a working group to help foster cooperation and resolve management differences early on.

Members of the grazing associations discussed a range of issues with Chief Tidwell, including the:

• Pautre Fire, and the larger issue of controlled burns

• North Billings Environmental Impact Statement

• Overall management plans for grazing on federal lands and

• More flexibility in the Forest Service’s requirement that 20 to 30 percent of the pastures have a minimum of 3.5 inches Visual Obstruction Reading (VOR), a measure of vegetation density

Other areas of concern included the Sage Grouse Management Plan and Forest Service staffing.

“Ranching families in North Dakota have lived on and worked the grasslands for generations, and they have been good stewards of the land because their livelihoods depend on the land. We hope that prior to making decisions Chief Tidwell will continue to work with our ranchers to develop a reasonable plan that uses the very capable range specialists we have in North Dakota for appealing Forest Service policies.”

Ranchers and Hoeven are encouraging the Forest Service to make more use the National Appeals Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to resolve disputes, rather than the Forest Service’s internal appeals process. They also urged the agency to use North Dakota Ag Mediation Services to give ranchers a more equitable voice in resolving disputes.

Grazing association leaders at the meeting include Gordon Gerbig, Medora Grazing Association; Tim Smith, Grand River Grazing Association; Brian Gerbig, Little Missouri Grazing Association; Scott Olerud, Sheyenne Grazing Association; Frank Tomac, Cedar River Grazing Association; Keith Winter, McKenzie County Grazing Association; and Dr. Kevin Sedivec, North Dakota State University (NDSU).