Buyouts doom private lands

  Thank you for the recent story and comments on grazing buyouts. We were especially taken by Executive Director Paul Larmer’s evocative description of the seasonality of grazing in the Paonia area, with its blend of low-elevation private lands, where cows have their calves, and its high-elevation public lands, where cows summer. Paul’s delightful soliloquy of pastoralism had a chilling ending, however, with his declaration that "Decades from now, we will look back at this period of buyouts as an important and necessary step in the evolution of public-lands management."

We hope in a future issue HCN will tell readers what it thinks will happen to the open space around Paonia if those ranchers sell their private lands, which will be the inevitable result if their summer leases on public lands are terminated. We think we know the outcome. Chopping off the public lands will hasten the day when these meadows reappear as housing developments. Paonia will no longer be the beautiful rural place it is now.

Over 400,000 square miles of public land are being grazed in the West. Altogether, there are about 170,000 square miles of private base ranch lands tied to these public grazing leases. Buy out the public lands and you make it more likely that millions of acres of private lands will be subdivided. Doubt that? Then realize that already one-quarter of all the private land in the conterminous United States is already in exurban development.

Buyouts have their place in the West. Not all public lands should be grazed and a buyout is an equitable way to resolve the matter. But grazing, done right, can support wildlife and contribute to the rural West that is so rapidly disappearing.

Richard Knight
Livermore, Colorado

Courtney White
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bill McDonald
Douglas, Arizona

Dan Kemmis
Missoula, Montana