BLM requests public comment on Middle Ruby River Watershed Assessment

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Dillon field office released an assessment of the Ruby River Watershed for public comment on Dec. 23. The assessment addresses the authorized uses of BLM managed land and the five standards for rangeland health—uplands, riparian and wetland areas, water quality, air quality and biodiversity.

Rebecca Ramsey, Ruby Watershed Coordinator, said yearly assessments of specific regions and habitats are a “common practice” for federal agencies like the BLM.

“I like that the BLM uses the watershed approach,” she said. “[The assessment] is not as much about the water currently, but what is impacting the water.”

According to Ramsey, the Ruby Watershed serves as a support system and liaison between federal agencies and landowners and residents of the valley. The assessment does not make any final recommendations or requests for management changes yet, but Ramsey pointed out three specific issues where landowners often have strong opinions.

“Grazing lands, prescribed burning and weed management—those are the top three,” she said. “People will be scrutinizing [the assessment] to see how all those rangelands are managed.”

Since BLM land in southwest Montana is dispersed and scattered with private lands, Ramsey said one group’s management strategies impact everyone else’s—that is why she believes a public release of an assessment provides a “ton of great information” and is incredibly useful.

“This assessment is really one step of many in the overall land health assessment process,” David Abrams, BLM public affairs specialist said. “We sent out an interdisciplinary team over many months to do a study of the land and this is their report.”

Abrams continued, saying the assessment is required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and that the multi-step process will eventually result in proposed and final decisions about the management of the land.

“It is really just part of a cycle that the Dillon field office goes through in assessing their lands,” he concluded.

Ramsey said the Ruby Watershed Council (RWC), for which she is the coordinator, partners with the BLM and other agencies to achieve shared goals for the land.

“For example, just recently we got a BLM grant to get water quality monitoring equipment,” Ramsey said. “In 2014, we will start monitoring the Ruby and two drainages—California and Ramshorn Creeks—they helped us fund that, but we will pass along the data we gather to them.”

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