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Update on Pack Llamas & Public Lands in Alaska

 Here is a brief update on recent events relating to pack llamas on public lands in Alaska.

1) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recent actions (2020-2021):

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages their land holding through Resource Management Areas (RMA's) that periodically draft new planning documents (every 15 or 20 years) called Resource Management Plans (RMP's). These RMP's act as guidance for future rule promulgation. The following RMA's in Alaska have recently proposed to restrict or prohibit pack llamas based on a perceived risk of disease transmission to wildlife.

a) The Bering Sea - Western Interior RMP (BLM BSWI RMP) in early February 2021 became final. Because the llama community was actively involved during the prescribed open public comment period relating to this decision, the outcome was favorable for us. The final language in the RMP reads as follows: "To minimize the potential for disease transmission to wildlife, applications for the use of pack animals will be reviewed on a project - specific basis." We see this as a favorable outcome for camelid owners because the final language does not expressly prohibit pack llamas and puts them on equal footing with other pack stock. Earlier language in the draft RMP had expressly identified camelids as having potential for disease transmission and due to llama community involvement, BLM changed the wording to include all pack stock. That way, camelids are not being held to a different standard than equids, for example.

b) The Central Yukon RMP (BLM CY RMP) is currently in the draft stage. The draft RMP proposes to hold camelids to a different standard than other pack stock. We are asking camelid owners to make comment on this because there is currently an open public comment period for the BLM CY RMP that ends March 10, 2021 (See - "A Call for Comments" for details on how to make a comment). We are suggesting that BLM adopt the same language in the CY RMP as was used in the recently approved BSWI RMP.

2) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recent actions (2020-2021):
The USFWS periodically (every 15-20 years) drafts new planning documents (similar to the BLM RMP's) that are called Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCP's). These CCP's act as guidance for rule promulgation. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) recently prohibited camelids based on a perceived risk of disease transmission to wildlife.

In August 2020 USFWS prohibited camelids  in ANWR in their final rule promulgation. USFWS used the approved 2015 ANWR CCP that contained a camelid prohibition for guidance. Consequently, the Greater Appalachian Llama and Alpaca Association (GALA) filed suit against USFWS and the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI). GALA and their attorneys are currently in negotiation with DOI attorneys to try and reach an out-of-court settlement. GALA is proposing that USFWS ANWR also adopt the same language as BLM BSWI (USFWS and BLM are both DOI agencies) so that camelids are on equal footing with other pack stock by not arbitrarily identifying camelids as a unique disease threat as compared to other pack stock that are allowed in ANWR.

It is important for llama owners and supporters to realize that their involvement in the public process has been successful in most situations, We are stacking up a series of wins (despite the ANWR setback) because of public involvement whenever open public comment periods are provided. So we must all work together to monitor what various public agencies are doing and make our voice heard whenever public comment opportunities are presented.

By Phil Nuechterlein