ELKO, Nev. -- It may be the dead of winter, but federal land managers already are preparing for a repeat of summer drought conditions in the nation's most arid state.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials said it's possible drought conditions could again force the removal of livestock or temporary closure of grazing allotments on some federal land in Nevada this summer.
The agency's Elko District Office has released an environmental assessment detailing how it plans to respond to varied range conditions, and has asked grazing permit holders to meet with BLM staff to assess range conditions before turning out livestock.
BLM officials said while recent storms have slightly improved range conditions in a few areas, the entire state remains unusually dry. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 60 percent of Nevada was in severe or extreme drought conditions as of Jan. 1.
Last year, the Elko district worked with ranchers to adjust their livestock operations in line with reduced forage due to the drought.
According to the BLM, forage remains of poor quality, and many water sources are drier than usual, putting more pressure on other water sources by all users, including wildlife and wild horses, and causing long-lasting damage to plants, spring areas and water quality.
"The Elko district may recommend these actions (for ranchers) again this year," BLM spokeswoman Lesli Ellis said in a statement. "These adjustments could include delaying turn-out, adjusting grazing numbers or in some cases taking substantial non-use."
Nevada Cattlemen's Association President J.J. Goicoechea said 2012 was an extremely challenging year for public lands ranchers because of reduced forage stemming from drought and wildfires.
An estimated 30 percent of Nevada's mother-cow population has been lost over the last 18 months, he said, and some ranchers have been forced to go out of business.
"I think the disconcerting thing to me is the year following a drought they (BLM) would like to reduce grazing as well," he told The Associated Press on Sunday. "That would be tough. I don't know if the science supports that. We're lacking that common-sense, hands-on range science we need to rely on."
He's hoping for a wet spring to ease drought concerns.
"If this drought persists, this year will be bad," Goicoechea said. "If we can get a nice, wet spring, we can be just fine."