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Cattlemen Mull Buy-out Proposal

by Dave Wilkins, Staff Writer
Capital Press - June 28, 2002

JACKPOT, Nev. -- A proposal to buy out grazing permits using taxpayers dollars has some livestock organizations in a quandary.

Philosophically, many producers are adamantly opposed to any effort to permanently eliminate livestock grazing from public lands.

On the other hand, a federal buy-out may be a reasonable option for ranchers battling burdensome government regulations and environmental lawsuits, producers said last week during the Idaho Cattle Association mid-year conference.

The National Public Lands Grazing Campaign recently issued a call for Congress to establish a voluntary federal grazing permit buy-out program.

The NPLGC proposes that the government pay grazing permittees $175 per animal unit month to voluntarily retire their permits permanently. The group said that public lands ranching is "ecologically damaging, economically irrational and fiscally imprudent."

The ICA struggled to come up with an official response to the buy-out proposal, with members divided over whether taxpayers' money should be used.

The group finally settled on a resolution that said simply: "Be it resolved that the ICA is opposed to the programmatic removal of livestock grazing on public rangeland. Be it further resolved that ICA recognizes the right of individual grazing permittees to sell their federal grazing permits."

Some said a federal buy-out offer of $175 per AUM would be enough to virtually eliminate public lands ranching.

Some argued that if environmental groups want a wholesale buy-out of livestock grazing permits, they should be willing to pay for it themselves.

Others said there' nothing wrong with taking taxpayer money in exchange for permanent retirement of grazing permits. After all, decisions by federal judges and government agencies have contributed to the mess that public lands ranchers find themselves in, some reasoned. Better to take taxpayer dollars than to be driven off public lands without any compensation, they said.

A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill concerning livestock grazing in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area only added to cattle producers frustration. Winmill ruled that the welfare of wildlife must be placed before livestock grazing.

Some cattlemen expressed anger that federal judges, with a stroke of a pen, could take away the hard-earned equity built up by ranching families over generations.

"We're all just one lawsuit away from becoming an endangered species ourselves and losing our permits," said Marc Brackett, a Rogerson, Idaho, rancher.

The buy-out proposal at least recognizes that federal grazing permits have monetary value, something that producers have been arguing for years.

"We appreciate the environmentalists for recognizing that grazing permits have value," said Chuck Jones, chairman of the ICA federal and state lands committee.

The ICA is opposed to the wholesale retirement of federal grazing permits, but individual ranchers mush have the right to sell if they want to, Jones said.

"Those permits are his. He can do with them as he sees fit," he said.

Dave Wilkins, Capital Press Staff Writer
Cattlemen Mull Buy-out Proposal
Capital Press - June 28, 2002

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