The real solution: Buy ranchers out

  Jon Christensen does a great job in portraying one of the biggest issues facing the conservation community in the West: the constantly increasing pressure to develop and subdivide (HCN, 3/29/04: Who will take over the ranch?).

However, he fails to address an important question raised about land trusts: What will be the character of the preserved land? While open space used for livestock grazing and "working forests" is better than subdivisions, how much of the land trust conservation effort is going into the preservation of the wild areas that are key to the protection of the growing numbers of critically endangered species?

Moreover, he does not even mention another possible key to the puzzle, which is quickly gaining support among both ranchers and conservationists: the proposed "Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act." If passed, this legislation would give public-land ranchers who are ready and willing to permanently retire their allotments approximately $2,000 for each cow they have grazing yearlong on public lands. With the money from the voluntary buyout, ranchers who truly want to preserve their land will be able to keep their ranch, pay off their debts or diversify their business operations to gain income from the ever-growing recreation market. This money would go a long way toward making ends meet, until a friendly land trust can afford to purchase a conservation easement that will permanently protect their private land.

Billy Stern
Santa Fe, New Mexico

The writer is grazing program coordinator for Forest Guardians.

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