Federal land managers are reducing grazing on public lands across Nevada to deal with what they call the driest rangeland conditions in 15 years.
Bureau of Land Management officials said a lingering drought in what is already the nation's driest state prompted them to close portions of 10 grazing allotments and reduce the number of livestock allowed on others.
"In the areas being closed, the plants showed severe drought stress," said Bruce Thompson, BLM range management specialist in Elko. "A high percentage of the shrubs ... are dying because of no moisture."
The latest closure of portions of seven allotments in Elko County in northeast Nevada along the Utah state line affects four sheep ranchers from Utah.
About 77,000 acres in the allotments near Wendover will be off limits to grazing for two years or until vegetation has recovered, BLM officials said.
Earlier this year, portions of two allotments in near Fallon in northwest Nevada and an allotment near Winnemucca in the north central part of the state were closed.
BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said they were the first closures in more than a decade.
"We've had a drought for some time, but it's to the point now where we're seeing these closures and conditions we haven't seen in 15 years," she said.
The agency also has reduced the number of allowable Animal Unit Months in other allotments, officials said. An AUM is the amount of forage required per month to feed a cow and her calf, or five sheep.
"There will probably continue to be some adjustments where some AUMs are reduced or we delay the (livestock) turnout time," Worley said.
Other options to deal with the drought include hauling in water or bringing livestock off the range early.
Most ranchers have been understanding and agreed with the steps, BLM officials said.
In Elko County, ranchers are working with the agency to remove or reduce the size of their herds, or to find other winter pastures.
"We're making other arrangements now as you have to be careful grazing on the desert," said Jerry Petersen of Hyrum, Utah, whose family has had herds grazing in the area since his great-grandfather arrived in the United States more than 100 years ago.
"You do what you have to do to protect desert range because it takes so long to recover if it's damaged," he added.
In May, the soil in the allotments measured between the absolute driest and second driest categories on a U.S. Agriculture Department scale.
BLM officials said they realize the importance of ranching to rural economies, and will work with those holding grazing permits and monitor the allotments.
The amount of winter and spring precipitation will determine whether more closures will be needed next year, Worley said.
"In the spring, we'll go out and see how the plants are doing and go from there," she said.