As described on the “problems” page, there are many willing ranchers out there interested in receiving compensation for ceasing grazing (the value of the base property is in part tied to the number of AUMs in the associated public lands grazing permit, thus validating the concept of “compensation” for not grazing). It would be easier - and more just - for the federal government to fairly compensate the permit holders as it reduces cattle numbers on federal lands. Since, as described above, the government spends substantially more than it receives for grazing, in a few years the savings realized by reducing livestock numbers can effectively pay for much of the compensation (Kerr 1998). In the end, it will be less expensive - fiscally and politically - for the agencies to simply buy out the problematic grazing permits and save extensive planning, monitoring, research, public involvement, appeal, litigation and political costs (Kerr 1998).
On March 03, 2022, Congressman Adam Smith (WA) and Jared Huffman (CA) introduced the Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement Act (VGPRA) which would give grazing permit holders the flexibility to voluntarily waive their grazing permits on Federal lands for equitable compensation and to promote conservation of public lands. As reported in the Congressman’s press release, the VGPRA will provide grazing permit holders the option to waive their permits to graze on Federal lands in exchange for market value compensation (at a certain, agreed-upon rate per AUM) paid by private parties. The federal land management agency would then be directed to retire the associated grazing allotment from further grazing activity. The VGPRA facilitates agreements between third parties and grazing permittees that increase flexibility for the permit holders while ensuring that the conservation gains from removing livestock are permanent.
The voluntary retirement of grazing permits is the most cost-effective and equitable way to address this issue. Retiring these permits will ease grazing pressure on public lands to the benefit of wildlife, the surrounding ecosystem, and other multiple use activities on public lands. In short, the benefits to be expected of passing the VGPRA include (Kerr et al. 1998):
Introduced by Senator Barrasso in the 117th Congress, this bill would amend FLPMA to “improve the management of grazing permits and leases,“ specifically by requiring that the USFS and BLM make available to a grazing permit holder the temporary use of a vacant grazing allotment if one or more grazing allotments covered by the holder’s permit are temporarily “unusable” because of resource conditions from unforeseen natural events or disasters (including drought or wildfire). Especially with drying ranges now due to climate change, it would be very damaging for our federal public rangelands if this bill were to pass. There has apparently been no action on this bill since its introduction by SenatorBarrasso in the spring of 2021.
Introduced by Senator Lee in the 117th Congress, this bill would allow, at a State Governor’s request, for the Secretary concerned (DOI or USDA) to enter into a cooperative agreement with the State to authorize the State to administer “one or more” allotment management plans on eligible Federal land in the State, including the commencement of a lease or the issuance of a permit for domestic livestock grazing on the applicable allotment, subject to valid existing rights. Of note is that under S.1214 the term of such cooperative state allotments would be extended to 30 years instead of ten. Alarmingly, if passed S 1214 would categorically exclude every imaginable kind of mechanical vegetation and seeding treatment on the allotment from NEPA, as well as categorically excluding any changes in the number of, or season of use for, permitted AUMs “that a State commission makes to the allotment management plan.” Also alarming is this language: “Nothing in this subsection provides to the Interior Board of Land Appeals authority to hear a case with respect to a decision relating to an allotment management plan administered by a State.” This plainly translates as protecting management of these cooperative state grazing allotments from appeals by conservation groups.
As pointed out on the “problems” page, currently the funds brought into the treasury from federal grazing permit receipts fall significantly short of the federal expenditures to manage grazing on federal public lands. In addition, new planning and management processes now hopefully underway to place more restrictions on grazing timing, location, etc. (the need for which is made clear above), will only tilt the scale more unevenly in terms of income brought in from grazing receipts. This increase in spending in the federal grazing program can only realistically be made up for with an increase in the federal grazing fee.
To more permanently address the problems regarding gazing in Wilderness that we address above, a coalition of organizations has presented a proposal for revising Congressional direction for administering livestock grazing in Wilderness. It is critically important that Congress amend Congressional direction on grazing, and specifically to improve its direction for livestock administration in Wilderness. This should include direction to the agencies, through the land management planning process, to close vacant allotments in Wilderness, and to seek opportunities to transfer grazing out of Wilderness when less remote and less controversial non-Wilderness allotments become vacant. In addition, there needs to be direction to the agencies to restore Wilderness by removing structures and installations such as fencing, dams, abandoned roads, and other grazing-related infrastructure from vacant or closed allotments. And of course, these needed directions should be adequately funded through appropriations.
As we point out on the “problems” page, neither the BLM nor the USFS are equipped, with the constraints of their current livestock management strategies, to effectively deal with the long-term and crippling drought that is currently ravaging the western states and their fragile ecosystems. Congress should direct both the USFS to (1) Issue an emergency directive requiring all BLM lands, national forests and grasslands that are experiencing multi-year, Extreme or Exceptional Drought to sufficiently reduce livestock stocking to protect native species and natural resources, and to defer future grazing authorizations until vegetation is determined to have recovered to pre-drought conditions (and this directive should include required reporting, which should be audited afterwards, by all affected Forests and Field Offices); and (2) Initiate or continue a formal rulemaking process to develop comprehensive regulations for the agencies’ grazing program that combats the climate crisis and conserves and protects national forest lands, biodiversity, and natural resources. resources.
At a minimum, Congress needs to follow through with direction it gave to both the BLM and the USFS last year in the FY 2022 Interior Appropriations Report in which both agencies were directed to improve the management of active allotments and reduce any backlog of permits. On this note, both agencies were directed to brief the Committees within 90 days (BLM) or 180 days (USFS) of enactment of the appropriations bill, on progress made towards reviewing permits currently in the backlog.