Ranchers now have a way out


The years-in-the-making Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 finally became law last month. The act designates more than 2 million acres of new wilderness, plus 1,100 miles of new wild and scenic rivers, and it also  includes an increasingly popular model for resolving grazing conflicts on  public lands. In two Western states -- Oregon and Idaho -- ranchers can now permanently retire their grazing permits on select public lands. Private interests, mainly nonprofit conservation organizations, would pay ranchers to do it.

Grazing-permit retirement is a voluntary, non-regulatory, market-based solution to grazing problems. Congress last legislated this approach in 1998, when it provided for permit retirement in Arches National Park in Utah. With the omnibus bill, Congress has now authorized ranchers to retire many more grazing allotments on much larger expanses of public land.

The new law allows for grazing-permit retirement on over 2 million acres in and near Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and in six new wilderness areas in Idaho's Owyhee Canyonlands. Grazing conflicts with other public values on these public lands, and ranchers have found it increasingly difficult to raise livestock there.

Permit retirement provides public-lands ranchers with options that they do not currently enjoy. The ranchers who choose to do so can then use their compensation to retire, pay off any debts, restructure their operations on private lands, or invest in new economic opportunities that would benefit their communities by creating new sources of income, tax revenue and employment.

As public lands rancher John Whitney III of Arizona said back in 2005, "The buyout is not the end of ranching in the West. Far from it. We can use that money to continue ranching on more suitable land or start other businesses. It would be a godsend for many rural communities."

There's also a benefit for bureaucrats: Once livestock are removed from public lands, litigation over grazing conflicts with wildlife, watersheds, recreation and other public values will almost certainly decrease. Agency resources spent developing grazing plans, defending against lawsuits, processing endless paperwork, and responding to public protests over grazing abuse could be redirected to more important matters.

Fewer livestock on public lands will probably also result in fewer new listings of endangered species and also speed recovery of species already listed under the Endangered Species Act. Other benefits are improved water quality and quantity, and better hunting, fishing, birding and hiking on public lands.

A recent survey indicates that approximately half of the public-lands ranchers in Nevada are interested in retiring their grazing permits -- so long as they are offered a reasonable price. This leads us to propose that Congress create a national grazing-permit retirement program similar to the tobacco and peanut quota buyouts enacted in recent years.

Increasing competition from domestic and foreign producers, recreational use, increasing costs and stricter enforcement of environmental protections are rendering public-lands grazing untenable on many public lands. But grazing permits represent a sizable investment for ranchers, who may have also developed water storage and fencing on their grazing allotments. A voluntary permit-buyout program allows permit-holders to recover their stranded investments in public-lands grazing.

Giving ranchers the opportunity to voluntarily retire their grazing permits is a good deal for everybody. It's socially just, ecologically overdue, economically rational, fiscally prudent, and perhaps more important than anything, it's a politically acceptable solution to grazing problems on publicly owned lands.

The writers are contributors to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). Mark Salvo directs the Sagebrush Sea Campaign for WildEarth Guardians in Chandler, Arizona; Andy Kerr is CEO of the Larch Company in Washington, D.C.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.

Ranchers way out
John Galt
John Galt
Apr 14, 2009 04:58 PM
Mr Mark Salvo and Andy Kerr
John Whitney III has removed all credibility for all three of you phonies.
The programs and "politically correct" agenda of you Liberals will soon result in a nationwide famine and hyperinflation on all agri-products and foodstuffs.
Who the hell do you think you are fooling with your lies, propaganda, and misguided government bureaucrats?
Don't come to us when you are starving!

John Galt, An American cattleman and patriot
A rare win/win on grazing
Apr 15, 2009 11:39 AM
I don't know anyone could be against this.

Locking ranchers in grazing unproductive, conflict prone grazing allotments, the current practice, helps neither them, the economy, or the production of the food supply.

This change would also begin the application of market principles to the current system that is akin to feudalism.
Not necessarily
Apr 16, 2009 08:48 PM
What public land is more suitable for ranching? There really is no good place for cows on our public lands. I highly doubt the BLM going to issue more grazing permits. That would amount to just moving the cows somewhere else. Litigation will ensue. Realistically, this is a move towards getting cows off public lands entirely. I'm not saying that is good or bad, it is what it is.

I've heard ranchers say that when the cows leave public lands, there won't be enough land left for them to graze their cattle on their own land. Some speculate they're gonna sell it all and it will be subdivided. Tiny Mcmansions everywhere. I'm not saying I like cows. I can't stand them. They are destroying our western watersheds. At the same time, if ranchers start subdividing I wonder if we won't be moving into the law of unintended consequences... How hospitable to zoning are they out in Idaho? And how much money will they be getting for retiring leases?
The Cows Gotta Go
Tim Lengerich
Tim Lengerich
Apr 15, 2009 09:43 PM

    The degraded, unnatural condition of our western public lands from cattle ranching is a silent, little known tragedy. The Cowboy Myth has perpetrated a legacy of shame and destruction on our land of proportions unparalleled in our history.
   Our western homeland has been held hostage to this lunacy for well over 100 years now. Crippled, scarred, battered, eroded, desertified. What a train wreck!
    Of further disgrace is the cowpoke-patty cake policy that some environmental organizations have taken with this industry in the face of any truly substantiable reasons for sustaining this mess.
    Climate change and long term drought add more credence against any arguments to extend this onslaught.
    With increasing opportunities for ranchers to be bought out, now is the time for a sea change upon this ocean of ignorance.
Welfare Ranchers Aren't Owed Anything!
Jane Q'Public
Jane Q'Public
Apr 15, 2009 10:17 PM
The 'welfare' ranchers shouldn't be paid anything for 'retiring' their grazing permits. I read the obscenely cheap grazing fee AUM is about $1.65 per cow/calf per month these ranchers have had to pay for years (the government has even had to even take some to court to get that measly amount), their livestock destroying the habitat for our wildlife on PUBLIC LANDS, and taxpayers subsidizing their vet bills, fencing, and round-ups. As always, the tax payers get the shaft, seeing only 3% of the livestock of these welfare ranchers go into the US food market. ALL the profit into the pockets of these moochers that also have alot of the politicians helping them with their mission of the genocide of mustangs, wolves, and other wildlife that 'interfer' with their livestock. It's time they all get the "Heck Out of Dodge" - then the land can be returned to the rightful inhabitants - the wildlife. This taxpayer is sick and tired of paying your way.
Rightful Inhabitants
John Q'Public
John Q'Public
Apr 16, 2009 11:25 AM
Hey Jane Q. Since when are Mustangs considered wildlife? Last I checked, there are no existing equines native to North America. The taxpayer is coming out with the short end of the stick on the Feral Horse and Burro Act as well.
Reclassification of horses
Carl Roberts
Carl Roberts
Apr 18, 2009 11:37 AM
The unintended consequences of closing down horse slaughter and processing plants is now starting to be felt nation wide. Horses are being released on both private and public property at an alarming rate. Many times left to slowly starve or destroy the habitat they are released to. Public health consequences include degradation of water supplies where horses are buried in proximity to existing water wells .
    The removal of "the killer plants" has upset the lower end of the horse markets and has created an extrodinary burden to legally dispose of unwanted horses. If this has been an effort to be more humane in our treatment of this species it has had in large part an opposite effect. I can only hope that at some point the well meaning folks who have been instrumental in this effort will take responsibility for their error and work toward actually fixing the problem.
    If the problem was the inhumane or reckless way killer horses were transported , then address that. If the problem is a perception that eating horse meat was somehow"un-American", then you should perhaps examine your values a little closer. Does the waste of such a large chunk of protien seem appropriate in a world where starvation still exists? Are we to say that other cultures that savor horse meat are incorrect? I suppose that in a perfect world no one would eat meat, or there would be a transfer of kharma away from the consumer of meat to the one who slays or prepares the meat. As long as we are omnivores we will have to carry the burden for utilizing and killing livestock.
     Having been enamored with horses my entire life, and having made my living with them for over 30 yrs.I urge you to examine the impacts of decisions and legislation that perhaps some of your readers helped to create. I welcome civil debate on this issue, that we may better understand each others points and perhaps work together to rectify this situation. Wasting resources is never in the best interest of our planet or humanity.