Frequently Asked Questions

 by Public Land Grazing Permittees/Lessees

 by Conservationists

 by Taxpayers

 by Anyone

 by Public Land Grazing Permittees/Lessees

How can conservationists contend that public lands livestock grazing is not a right?

Grazing permits (and leases) issued under the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA) of 1934 allow the permit holder the privilege to use publicly owned forage. The permits do not give a right to permittees and lessees to graze federal lands. This distinction was intended by Congress in the TGA, 1 articulated in agency regulations, 2 restated in federal grazing policies, 3 confirmed by scholars, 4 and upheld by the Supreme Court as recently as 2000.5 Federal grazing permits/leases are revocable, amendable, non-assignable ten-year licenses to graze that do not convey property rights. Consequently, permittees are not due compensation whenever their grazing privileges are reduced or eliminated.

The Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act would not affect federal ownership of grazing permits.

How would the grazing permit buyout program work?

The Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act would allow federal grazing permittees and lessees to waive their full permit or lease back to the federal government in exchange for $175 per animal unit month (AUM). Permittees and lessees would no longer be liable for paying grazing fees for the retired permit/lease. Compensation paid to them would be based on the average paid grazing use over the last ten years the allotment was grazed by the permittee or lessee or their predecessor(s). Years of grazing nonuse would be excluded from this average.

Since it is impossible to assess permittee/lessee demand for buyout or how much Congress would appropriate for such a program, federal payments could require some time. In this case, the Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act would allow permittees or lessees to choose not to graze for as long as they desired until funding for their permit buyout became available (the payout amount would be based on the 10-year average grazing use at the time of the buyout request).

See Grazing Permit Buyout: A Great Deal for Public Lands Grazing Permittees

Must I relinquish all of my AUMs to participate in the buyout program?

Buyout under the Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act would only apply for all AUMs for an allotment.

Where a federal grazing permittee or lessee has waived a permit or lease to graze a shared or "common" allotment, the managing agency would secure an area of the shared allotment from grazing proportionate to the amount of forage authorized for use under that particular permit or lease. If the managing agency is physically unable to secure a representative portion of a shared allotment from grazing, then permittees or lessees who graze that common allotment will not be permitted to participate in the voluntary grazing permit buyout program unless all graziers on the allotment agree to retire their permits or leases.

How would total AUMs be calculated for each grazing permit/lease retired under the buyout program?

Total AUMs for permit buyout would be based on the average grazing use over the past ten years, as stipulated by the permit or lease and paid for by the permittee or lessee, or their predecessor(s). Years of grazing non-use/conservation use would not be included in this average.

What would happen to my base property under the buyout program?

The Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act would only retire federally permitted AUMs, and does not affect "base properties" (the private lands to which federal AUMs are attached). Of course, permittees and lessees would retain the right to do whatever they wish with their base property. Many who have retired their permits via third-party buyouts used the money to purchase more private land, recapitalize their business, or retire on their base property. If a base property owner desired to sell their base or other property that has high conservation value, they might consider selling it to the relevant federal land management agency, a land trust or other conservation buyer interested in the area.

See Grazing Permit Buyout: A Great Deal for Public Lands Grazing Permittees

 by Conservationists

Wouldn't a federal permit buyout program convert federal public lands grazing from a privilege to a right?

No. The Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act would not create new rights in grazing permits. Indeed, one branch of the federal government (Department of Defense) has been compensating ranchers for lost public lands grazing privileges for the last fifty years without creating unintended grazing rights. If Congress enacts the Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act as introduced (with key provisions modelled after the existing military buyout authority), then no grazing rights will be created.

By endorsing the permit buyout, am I supporting the end of all livestock grazing on public lands?

No. There is a wide variety of opinion on the impacts of livestock grazing and the solutions available. Some of organizations that have endorsed the Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act also advocate continued, but improved, livestock grazing on public lands. Some seek to end public lands livestock grazing altogether. There is no universal perspective among groups that endorse permit buyout, except that all agree it is a fair and equitable way to resolve livestock grazing conflicts wherever they exist.

Would a buyout program end all public lands livestock grazing?

No. Since this is a voluntary program, only those grazing permittees/lessees who pursue buyout would remove their livestock from public lands. The only way permit buyout could end public lands livestock grazing by itself is if every public lands rancher opted for the program.

Could allotments retired under the buyout program be reopened to grazing in the future?

No, not under the Multiple-Use Conflict Resolution Act.

Will enough permittees/lessees opt for buyout to make a difference ecologically?

Over time, many permittees (and lessees) may avail themselves of the buyout offer if it becomes law. Consider the following:

Shouldn't conservationists avoid associating with or confronting public lands ranchers with a buyout proposal and instead focus on establishing Wilderness and other protective designations?

Politically, conservationists made a deal with the livestock industry in the Wilderness Act of 1964, grandfathering grazing use in any area where it was occurring before it became/becomes designated as Wilderness. However, the deal has not resulted in the livestock industry supporting new wilderness areas. In fact, (strangely) in many parts of the arid West, the livestock industry has been the major opposition to Wilderness designations. If this opposition can be reduced through permit buyout, it is probable that more, larger Wilderness areas could be established on landscapes newly liberated from livestock grazing--while public lands graziers will get the transition payments they need to move on.

 by Taxpayers

Wouldn't a federal grazing permit/lease buyout program be expensive for taxpayers?

On the contrary, while a permit buyout program would cost a few billion dollars (over several years), it would save many more billions of dollars.

If every federal grazing permittee/lessee availed themselves of the buyout option, the taxpayers would have an immediate liability of $3.1 billion. But even this amount is far less than the long-term cost of continuing the public lands grazing program. Here's why.

The annual cost of the federal grazing program is $500 million ($0.5 billion), or $28.38 for each of the 17,617,986 AUMs provided. While federal permittees pay only $1.43 per AUM, the average grazing fees on western state and private lands are $12.30 and $11.10, respectively. Even worse for taxpayers, most of the $1.43/AUM fee isn't even deposited to the general treasury, but is diverted to the "Range Betterment Fund" to support continued grazing.

Given the on-going costs of the federal grazing program, the simple payback of buying out every federal grazing permit/lease today would be 6 years. Of greater benefit to taxpayers is the savings derived from each dollar not spent on public lands grazing. If every AUM was bought for $175/AUM, the total present value of the savings to taxpayers after costs would be $12.1 billion (3.2% real interest).

Of course, not all permittees will immediately opt for permit buyout, so both the costs and savings of permit retirement will be realized over time.

See Fiscal Benefits to Taxpayers of the Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act

See Federal Livestock Grazing AUMs: B(u)y the Numbers

Why should taxpayers pay $175 per AUM (a hefty premium) to buyout grazing permits/leases worth much less?

The current federal grazing program, established by the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934 and now deeply entrenched in our political and legal systems, has caused tremendous environmental damage and is a continuous raid on the federal treasury. While conservationists struggle to reform the grazing program, taxpayers are forced to pay for the destruction of their public lands. Our only realistic choices are to keep paying for ongoing environmental destruction (at an outrageous cost!) or pay permittees to end their grazing. Politically, we do not have the option to simply stop paying for the federal grazing program.

The proposed fixed price of $175/AUM is more than fair market value to encourage permittee participation and avoids expensive appraisal costs for each grazing permit offered for buyout. 6 The price covers any "improvements" a permittee has made to an allotment, demonstrates the fairness of the program to wary permittees, and averts any arguments of favoritism that might arise if the rate were determined on a case-by-case basis.

See Fiscal Benefits to Taxpayers of the Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act

See Federal Livestock Grazing AUMs: B(u)y the Numbers

Wouldn't increasing the grazing fee to market value be a better deal for taxpayers?

No, because the massive cost of the federal grazing program would still not be covered even if the federal government did charge fair market value for public lands grazing.

The federal grazing fee is generally $1.43/AUM (the amount of forage to feed a cow and calf for one month). For most federal lands, only a small fraction of this fee is returned to the federal treasury (National Forests: 25%; BLM, within "Section 3" grazing districts: 37.5%; BLM, outside grazing districts ("Section 15"): 0%).

The average fee for forage on private lands in eleven western states is $11.10 per AUM. Public lands ranchers often argue that the forage on federal lands is worth less than on private lands, as the latter are often more productive for grazing. However, the average fee for forage on state lands in the West (excluding Texas), which are generally comparable to federal lands, is $12.30 per AUM.

Even if Congress increased the grazing fee or instituted a competitive bidding process to achieve $12.30/AUM--or nine times more than the current rate--federal public lands grazing is still a money loser for the taxpayer because the federal grazing program costs more than $30/AUM.

See Economic Facts of Public Lands Grazing

 by Anyone

How important are federal lands to national beef/livestock feed production?

Less than 3 percent of American beef is produced from federal public lands, while only 2 percent of total livestock feed is produced on federal lands.

How much federal (and state) public lands are grazed by domestic livestock?

257,277,550 acres of federal public lands, 33,358,000 acres of state lands, 290,635,550 acres total. This is an area equal to all eastern seaboard states from Maine to Georgia, with Missouri thrown in as well.

What use are public lands, other than for livestock grazing?

Envision healthy, vibrant forests, watersheds, grasslands and deserts. Ungrazed areas laced with winding, cold water creeks and covered in wildflowers, fish and wildlife. As the West evolves, human communities, economies and recreation will be better served by these ungrazed landscapes. Permit buyout will allow public lands ranchers to be part of this future.

Isn't better grazing a better solution than no grazing on public lands?

No grazing is still preferable to "better grazing" under new, progressive management schemes on public lands. The best science has demonstrated that any livestock grazing is detrimental to native ecosystems. Reducing livestock grazing tends to reduce impacts, but not necessarily in a linear fashion, and it certainly does not eliminate those impacts. Changing the season of use, or constructing additional fencing or herding livestock to keep livestock out of the most sensitive areas, can mitigate but not prevent damage to natural resources. Forage eaten by domestic livestock is simply not available to native wildlife. Grazed watersheds yield less water - much of it polluted or otherwise severely degraded - than ungrazed systems.

Better grazing practices usually require less grazing and/or more labor and capital from the permittee to build fences and herd livestock from pasture to pasture. Fences, for example, are quite expensive and can cost $10,000 per mile to build. Maintenance is another issue: the half-life of an average livestock fence is just a few years. In many cases, it would be cheaper to buy out the grazing permit than to continually offer incentives to ranchers to build and maintain fences. Reducing stocking rates is no better option for cash-strapped permittees. Often, even a modest (10-20 percent) reduction in federal AUMs can render a grazing operation untenable for cash-strapped permittees.

Don't grasslands need to be grazed to be healthy?

No. Most of the interior West, where the majority of public lands are found, did not evolve with large herbivores like bison. As a result, they are poorly adapted to tolerate domestic livestock grazing. On the Great Plains, where plant communities are more tolerant of herbivory pressure, there are relatively few acres of public land, and no shortage of private land that are grazed. In addition, grazing by domestic livestock and wild bison on these grasslands are not comparable.

If a sufficient number of ranchers elect to take the buyout and end livestock production on public lands, won't that affect rural economies and communities?

No. Contibutions from public lands livestock production to personal income and employment in the West are miniscule. First, over half of all public lands ranchers are considered "hobbyists"; they earn most of their income from off-ranch sources. Most public lands ranchers depend on jobs in town, more than the towns depend on them. Second, even among those who are "full time" ranchers, there is a sizable number that are "trophy ranchers" and "corporate ranchers" who enjoy ranching as a lifestyle choice or perhaps a tax write-off. Despite the vast acreage involved, ranching (public or private land) provides few jobs, which are often taken by immigrants imported to do the work that most Americans shun due to the low wages.

What is the future of public lands ranching?

The future is not bright. Declining market share, cheap imported beef, and the inherent economic difficulties of dryland grazing operations make for a bleak future. Voluntary federal grazing permit buyout offers a chance for grazing permittees/lessees to restructure their operations or do something else with their private land and capital.

If not ranching, what would ranchers and cowboys do?

Upon retiring their grazing permit/lease, many permittees/lessees will continue to ranch on their private base properties. Others will retire. Some will convert or diversify their ranches into bed and breakfasts, hunting and fishing lodges, pack operations and birding meccas.

Who's behind the National Public Land Grazing Campaign?

NPLGC is a growing coalition of conservationists, sportsmen, recreationists, taxpayers and others who are critical of livestock grazing on public lands. Some have called for abolition of all commercial livestock grazing on public lands, while also seeking reduced or more responsible livestock grazing.

How can I help?

Unless Congress passes enabling legislation, there will not be a federal grazing permit buyout program. Please urge your Congressional representative and Senators to support permit buyout legislation.

1. Only a small fraction of federal grazing fees is returned to the federal treasury-National Forests: 25%; BLM, within grazing districts: 37.5%; BLM, outside grazing districts: 0%).
2. Approximately $40 per animal unit westwide. Torell, L. A., N. R. Rimbey, J. A. Tanaka, S. A. Bailey. 2001. The lack of profit motive for ranching: implications for policy analysis. Proc. Current Issues in Rangeland Resource Economics Symp. Western Reg. Coord. Comm. on Rangeland Economics WCC-55. New Mexico State University Res. Rep. Ser. 737. New Mexico State University. Las Cruces, NM (unpaginated) (reporting average permit value of $40/AUM on public lands in seasonal grazing states of Idaho and Wyoming, and $75/AUM in New Mexico, where yearlong grazing occurs (this would suggest an even lower capitalization rate in hot desert states).
3. 43 U.S.C. 315b.
4. See, e.g., 36 C.F.R. 222.3(b).
5. USDI-BLM, USDA-Forest Service. 1995. Rangeland Reform '94 Final Environmental Impact Statement. USDI-BLM. Washington, D.C.: 125.
6. Public Lands Council v. Babbitt, 529 U.S. 728, 741 (2000). See also U.S. v. Fuller, 409 U.S. 488 (1973) (holding that the federal government is not required by the Fifth Amendment to compensate a property owner in a condemnation action for the extra value of his private property attributed to his federal grazing permit).