Southern Utah and Northern Arizona ranchers have recently received a letter from an organization identified as the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign asking ranchers to support a proposed federal grazing buyout program that would pay ranchers $175 per animal unit month to permanently retire their grazing permits. Worth Brown, President of the Canyon Country Ranchers Association said the organization would be more accurately named as the National Public Lands Grazing Elimination Campaign, for that is their dedicated purpose.
Brown said, the author of the letter, Andy Kerr, an outspoken opponent of public lands livestock grazing has stated, "Advocating better grazing of the arid West is like seeking better beating of little children. Their battle is 'better' grazing. Our battle must be no grazing." Kerr was also a leader in the "Forest Wars" that effectively destroyed the timber industry in the northwest.
"Kerr has declared war on the livestock industry. Kerr and his Range Net associates intend to totally eliminate public lands grazing by 2010. If he cannot buy ranchers out he intends to litigate or legislate ranchers off public lands," said Brown.
There is no buyout program. There is no funding for a buyout program. Kerr wants ranchers support to create congressional interest in a grazing elimination buyout program; costing $3.5 billion in tax money the proposed buyout program has little chance of success, especially at the proposed $175 per AUM, said Brown.
Brown believes that this is an important time for ranchers to strongly support their livestock industry. The Bush administration is developing policy in support of congressionally mandated public lands multiple use. The Grand Canyon Trust's buyout program is under administrative and legal challenge by Kane and Garfield counties.
Brown recommends that stabilization of the livestock industry and the retention of livestock grazing on federal lands will do more to protect the market value of ranches and allotments for present, future and retiring ranchers and is a much better alternative than an anti-grazing sell-out program. Without public lands grazing private land ranching in the western states would no longer be economically feasible, said Brown.
Instead of supporting the grazing elimination campaign, Brown asks that ranchers support the livestock industry, their rural communities and continue to practice good range stewardship. Most importantly, ranchers should contribute a loud voice in support of continued public lands grazing, said Brown.
Any Utah and Northern Arizona rancher is welcome to attend the Canyon Country Ranchers Association meeting on May 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Warner Ranch located one mile south of Hatch on Fish Hatchery Road just off Highway 89. Tim Munns and Richard Nicholas of the Utah Cattleman's Association will speak on this issue. Brian Lamb is the secretary/treasurer for the Canyon Country Ranchers Association.
The following is a copy of the letter sent to ranchers from the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign. Dear Public Lands Grazing Permittee or Lessee: We are writing to inform you of a legislative proposal that if enacted by Congress would allow any federal grazing permittee to voluntarily relinquish their interest in public lands grazing to the government in exchange for compensation of $175 per animal unit month. To offer an example if this proposal became law a permittee with 300 cow/calf pairs that graze public lands for five months every year could receive $262,500.
Environmental conflicts with domestic livestock grazing are increasing, not going away. Under current policy, allotment closures for resource protection leave permittees without compensation for lost grazing privileges. Federal law is clear that no property right is vested in a grazing permit. However, financial and real estate markets do place a value on such permits. Understandably, permittees strongly resist cancellations and closures needed for resource protection, while agency managers are often reluctant to take action where needed because of the negative economic impact on permittees. We propose to compensate permittees who are willing to relinquish their permits as the obvious way to eliminate this barrier to better resource protection. While some voluntary buyouts of federal grazing permits are occurring on a very limited basis with private conservation funds, the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign is proposing a federal buyout program to meet increasing demand.
The undersigned are eager to find common ground with federal grazing permittees, who for whatever reason, are willing to voluntarily relinquish their interest in federal livestock grazing in exchange for compensation. Permit retirement would resolve conflicts between public policies of conservation and restoration of species, ecosystems and watersheds, and the practice of livestock grazing on public lands.
The average west wide market value of a federal AUM is $50-75. the proposed fixed price of $175 per AUM is generous and independent of market value to avoid expensive appraisal costs for each grazing permit, the $175 per AUM would also cover any improvements a permittee has made to an allotment.
Convincing Congress to enact a permit buyout programs will require political pressure from conservation organizations and taxpayer watchdog groups, and also support from public lands grazing permittees interested in relinquishing their permits for cash (either now or in the future.) Such expressions of political support from individual permittees will be crucial to the political debate. This letter has been sent to every national forest system and Bureau of Land Management grazing permittee in the West. The proposed buyout program would also be available to federal lessees on the National Park System, National Wildlife Refuge System, Department of Defense and Department of Energy holdings.
If this buyout proposal is attractive to you, either now or possibly in the future, please contact your elected representatives, local agency officials, and livestock industry leadership to notify them of your interest. A voluntary federal grazing permit and lease buyout program is a win-win-win proposal. It is good for the environment, public lands grazing permittees and taxpayers.
We don't have all the answers to environmental-livestock grazing conflicts. However, we believe the voluntary grazing permit buyout program is consistent with the Bush Administration's effort to work together, where possible, to achieve conservation through cooperation, communication and consultation.
Depending on the amount of political support and opposition, it may take some time to persuade Congress to enact a comprehensive voluntary permit buyout program. If you are interested in proceeding now, it may be possible with the assistance of local conservation groups to draft legislation for a site-specific buyout that could be jointly proposed to your congressional delegation. To begin this process please contact one of the organizations that work in your state.
The letter goes on to list the organizations: Center for Biological Diversity, Committee for Idaho's High Desert, Forest Guardians, Oregon Natural Desert Association and the Western Watersheds Project as the contact people for the western states.