This week, environmentalists were sharply critical of the new rules.
"It's an explicit rollback," said Thomas Lustig, staff lawyer for the National Wildlife Federation in Boulder, Colo. "What [Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton] did was take Babbitt's regs and found parts where they could put a hurdle in to undermine the reforms."
Bureau officials said the new rules represented a step forward in improving its management of livestock grazing on federal land.
Bud Cribley, the agency's manager for rangeland resources, said the report was written by a number of specialists from different offices within the BLM. When it was finished, in November 2003, the agency believed it "needed a lot of work," Cribley said.
"We disagreed with the impact analysis that was originally put forward. There were definitely changes made in the area of impact analysis. We adjusted it.
"The draft that we published we felt adequately addressed the impacts. We felt the changes we did make were based on good science."
Most of the changes came in sections analyzing projected impact of the rules on fisheries, plant and animal health as well as water quality and quantity.
Bill Brookes, a former hydrologist with the bureau who assessed the regulations' effect on water resources, said in the original draft the proposed rule change was "an abrogation of [the agency's] responsibility under the Clean Water Act."
"Everything I wrote was totally rewritten and watered down," Brookes said in an interview Thursday.
"Everything in the report that was purported to be negative was watered down. Instead of saying, in the long term, this will create problems, it now says, in the long term, grazing is the best thing since sliced bread."
Brookes said work that the bureau's original specialists required more than a year and a half to finish was changed in a matter of weeks. He and Campbell said officials in Washington said the document did not support the new rules so they called in a new team to redo it.
According to the agency officials, the new grazing regulations were meant to give land managers and ranchers more flexibility in making decisions about whether to allow grazing on a particular parcel.
Though an array of conservation and environmental groups decried the new rules, Cribley said changes were minor but necessary.
"We don't look at this as a significant change from the current regulations," he said. "This is fine-tuning and making adjustment in existing rules. We came out with some significant changes in the grazing rule in '95, and we have been implementing changes since that time. We needed to make corrections after almost 10 years of experience."