Goehring asks Forest Service for mediation in grazing disputes

BISMARCK – Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring has asked the U.S. Forest Service to allow the use of mediation in all issues related to the agency's management of its lands.

“Forest Service regulations allow for mediation only in disputes involving term grazing permits,” Goehring said. “Now that the Forest Service is proposing to move the same language elsewhere in the regulation, this is the perfect time to revisit the regulations to allow mediation to address all issues encountered in the management of Forest Service land.” 

Goehring explained that most grazing agreements with the Forest Service in North Dakota are not with individual ranchers, but with grazing associations that obtain grazing agreements and then sublet tracts of grasslands to individual ranchers.

Goehring said that last year two North Dakota grazing associations requested mediation with the Forest Service regarding new grazing agreements.

“The Forest Service refused to participate, claiming grazing agreements are not subject to the mediation regulations,” he said. “Their reason for rejection, however, seems to contradict the law, which lists other issues that can be mediated.  The law does not confine mediation to grazing permits.” 

Goehring said he is puzzled by the Forest Service's limitation on mediation.

“USDA and its agencies encourage and practice the use of mediation as an effective tool for resolving disputes,” he said. “It is baffling that the Forest Service feels it is above using this tool to reach agreements between producers and federal agencies.”

Goehring said another option is eliminating the Forest Service internal appeals system and replacing it with a system similar to other agencies under the jurisdiction of the secretary of agriculture.

“The appeal systems vary somewhat from agency to agency, but the final step in all cases is a hearing by the National Appeals Division,” Goehring said. “It appears the law now gives the secretary authority to add the Forest Service to the list of agencies subject to the hearing process.”