The Multiple-Use Conflict Resolution Act (MUCRA) (H.R. 3166) would provide
a safety net to federal public lands grazing permittees and lessees facing a
variety of challenges and impediments to their ranching operations. Passing
this legislation would allow ranchers to waive their federal grazing permits/leases
in exchange for a one-time payment of $175 per AUM (animal unit month, the measure
by which grazing permits/leases are issued).
Public lands ranching has always been a marginal business. Federal public lands in the West are generally more arid than private lands, and unproductive for livestock grazing. A century ago homesteaders claimed the green, productive valley bottomland for themselves and the remainder, unsuitable for cultivation, became public land. These lands are the same leftovers that public lands ranchers graze today, with great difficulty.
The nation's evolving economy, international trade, demands on public lands,
and more recently, drought, have combined to make public lands grazing untenable
for many of the 24,000 permittees/lessees in the West. 
Over the years, beef imports have increased and with the recent discovery of
BSE (mad cow disease) in the United States, exports have declined. Relatively
stagnant beef prices coincide with increased production costs (labor, fuel,
equipment, supplies, et cetera). Public lands ranchers typically operate the
most marginal of ranching operations. Where obtaining a production loan to work
lush farmland is often difficult, securing a loan for a public lands ranching
operation borders on impossible. With so many variables that can go wrong and
with little collateral to secure a loan, banks have little interest in these
Federal lands are our nation's playgrounds and the rapid growth of Western
cities increases the demand for recreation space every year. While recreation
is a legitimate use of public lands, it is yet another challenge confronting
public lands ranchers. Responsible recreationists complain about resource degradation
caused by livestock, increasing political pressure on ranchers to alter their
grazing practices. Irresponsible
recreationists leave gates open, damage fences, and shoot at pipelines and water
tanks, leaving ranchers with costly repairs.
Perhaps the most visible change on the landscape in the last 5 years is the
Many scientists now believe that the past 100 years may have been the wettest
century of the last millennium. Now, the current drought compares in length
and severity to the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. It may also be the most severe
drought in the last 500 years. If ranching in this climate was challenging before,
it is now approaching impossible. Recognizing that the present climate may simply
be a return to normal desert conditions in the West, the forecast for improved
grazing conditions is bleak.
Aside from the obvious decrease in vegetation needed to sustain livestock,
the current drought has forced federal land management agencies to reduce allowable
grazing numbers even further in order to protect the integrity of the land.
This is necessary to protect native plant colonies, native wildlife and the
viability of local watersheds that supply both farms and cities with precious
Of course, the necessary enforcement of these environmental laws increases
the hardships faced by public lands ranchers.
Voluntary Buyout is the Answer
The voluntary grazing permit buyout program proposed in MUCRA is voluntary.
Those who would opt not to take the buyout may continue grazing their federal
allotments as they do now. The decision belongs solely to the one who works
on the land on a daily basis: the rancher.
Some will stay. As many public grazing allotments remain viable (national
grasslands for example), many ranchers will continue to use their permits and
pass them on to their heirs. These ranchers might also find it easier to obtain
a production loan given that their permits would have a recognized value that
could be used as collateral with that passage of H.R. 3166.
Some will leave. Especially in the hot deserts (the Mojave, Sonoran
and Chihuahuan), ranchers with assets stranded in grazing permits will finally
have a way out. Others may like to have the buyout program as an insurance policy
for worsening drought, changing economics or increased recreation pressures.
Buyout is an Option Every Public Lands Rancher Should Want