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.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Southern Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors announces an outstanding opportunity for a creative leader to continue building this organization. SNC proudly supports Nevada's public...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Founded by sportsmen and women in 1936, the Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF) is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to protecting, conserving, and enhancing Idaho's natural resources,...
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • THE MAGICAL UNIVERSE OF THE ANCIENTS: A DESERT JOURNAL
    Bears Ears, Chaco Canyon, and other adventures in the Four Corners area. 60 photos and lively journals. Purchase hc $35 or pb $25 from bigwoodbooks.com...