Buyout Proponents Contact 25,000 Ranchersby Patricia R. McCoy
Capital Press - April 12, 2002
Some 25,000 livestock operators across the West will receive letters proposing legislation to establish a voluntary compensation program for those willing to give up public lands grazing permits.
The National Public Lands Grazing Campaign mailed the letters Wednesday, noting that Congress must pass enabling legislation. Getting it passed will require political pressure from conservation organizations and taxpayer watchdog groups, and the support of public lands graziers, said the letter, signed by Andy Kerr, NPLGC director.
The Idaho Cattle Association has no official position on this or any other buyout proposal, said Dave Nelson, ICA president.
"My personal reaction is that properly managed grazing is a wise use of public lands," said Nelson. "It enhances them, and doesn't degrade them in any way, shape or form, because it keeps the roughage removed and new, succulent grass growing. Land that isn't grazed or managed in some way becomes a weed patch and a fire hazard. That's devastating."
The grazing campaign's letter warns of conflict ahead.
"Environmental conflicts with domestic livestock grazing are increasing, not going away," says the letter. "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," the letter said.
The letter writers propose to compensate permit holders who will give up their permits.
"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," it says.
The letter invites ranchers to visit the NPLGC website at www.publiclandsranching.org , or contact Kerr at email@example.com for more information.
175 per AUM
The proposed buyout is for $175 per animal unit month. The current average westwide market is from %50 to %75 per AUM. Such a price should avoid expensive appraisal costs and compensate permittees for allotment improvements, such as fencing, Kerr wrote.
NPLGC said its letter went to every National Forest System and Bureau of Land Management permittee in the West. The proposed buyout also would be available to federal lessees on National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Department of Defense and Department of Energy holdings, Kerr said.
NPLGC members are several anti0-grazing and environmental organizations. The include the American Lands Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Committee for Idaho's High Desert, Forest Guardians, the Oregon Natural Desert Association, and Western Watersheds Project.
In a news release announcing the letter, the NPLGC called the compensation proposal something that could save public lands ranchers "from dire economic times, a losing occupation and a vanishing way of life."
Idaho cattleman Nelson pointed out benefits of grazing that the letter writers might be overlooking.
"Some permittees might want to look at this proposal, but removing livestock wouldn't play out as well for those lands as proponents think," he said.
Properly managed grazing turned a lot of range into productive land, evident in increased wildlife populations, said Nelson.
"It's true if we don't get some common sense back into how public and private lands are managed, it will be hard for ranchers to stay in business," he said. "Extreme regulations based on rhetoric instead of science are a problem. Good, science-based laws and rules are healthy, and can be lived with."
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