Response to the Public Lands Council Press Release on the NPLGC Voluntary Federal Grazing Permit Buyout Proposal

The Public Lands Council (PLC), representing the public lands livestock industry, responded to the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign's (NPLGC) voluntary federal grazing permit buyout proposal in an April 23, 2002, press release. The following is a side-by-side analysis of the PLC press release (left column) and response by NPLGC (right column).

Public Lands Council Cover Letter and Press Release   National Public Lands Grazing Campaign Commentary

To: PLC Leadership, Board of Directors, State Affiliates, Members, and Interested Parties

From: Jason Campbell, PLC Executive Director
Enclosed is a copy of a press release that PLC sent out on the proposed permit buy-out from the environmental groups who are opposed to our using federal lands for livestock production. Please note: While PLC is fundamentally opposed to a permit buy-out that uses public funds to facilitate further political opposition to our presence on federal lands, we do strongly support individual permittees rights to dispose of their grazing permits in any manner that is legally available to them.If anyone would like to defer media contacts or requests for interviews on this subject, or if any producers or state affiliates have questions or concerns on this issue please contact our Washington DC office.   Legal options for permittees and lessees to dispose of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management grazing permits/leases are limited. Basically, a permittee/lessee may sell their base (private) property to a qualified livestock operator and transfer their permit/lease to the new owner with the consent of the proper federal management agency and in accordance with established federal procedures. Permittees/lessees may not otherwise sell or transfer a grazing permit or lease to another party.In some cases, an incoming permittee/lessee might pay the outgoing permittee/lessee in exchange for waiving the permit in favor of the new permittee. This is a common, but questionable practice.
For Immediate Release

Contact: Jason Campbell (202) 347-5355
Carole Dubois (202) 347-0228

Proposed Federal Grazing Permit Buy-out Not Viable or Preferable

Public Lands Council Raises Questions about National Public Lands Grazing Campaign Proposal to Compensate Federal Grazing Permittees
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - April 23, 2002 - A proposal by several anti-livestock grazing organizations to create a new federally funded program to purchase and permanently retire grazing rights on federal lands across the West is not feasible, the Public Lands Council (PLC) said today.   Grazing permits issued under the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA) of 1934 allow the permit holder the privilege to use publicly owned forage. The permits do not instill a right in permittees/lessees to graze federal lands. This distinction was intended by Congress in the TGA, articulated in agency regulations, restated in federal grazing studies, confirmed by scholars, and upheld by the Supreme Court as recently as 2000. 1 Federal grazing permits are revocable, amendable, non-assignable ten-year licenses to graze that do not convey property rights.
"PLC, and its member organizations strongly question the validity of this proposed program," said Manti, Utah sheep and cattle producer and PLC President Paul Frischknecht. "The organizations behind this idea are the same livestock grazing industry opponents who consistently file lawsuits and appeals with the ultimate goal of driving livestock producers from our federal lands. The buyout effort is nothing less than another attempt to remove federal lands grazing, and now they intend to use tax dollars to further that effort."   The Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act, Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Administrative Procedures Act, Clean Water Act and other federal laws have empowered citizens to enforce environmental protections on federal lands.

Congress has already provided these "sticks" to curb abusive livestock grazing on public lands. Conservation organizations now seek a "carrot" to soften the impact on public lands livestock operators. Although publicly financed, permit buyout is a great deal for both taxpayers and grazing permitees and lessees.
The group calls themselves the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign (NPLGC), and is lobbying Congress to provide funds to compensate federal grazing permittees who voluntarily return their federal grazing permits to the federal government. The NPLGC is proposing a compensation rate of $175 per animal unit month (AUM). If approved, the program could cost the American Taxpayer over 3.2 billion dollars.   If every federal grazing permittee/lessee availed themselves of the buyout option upon enactment of the NPLGC proposal, the taxpayers would have an immediate liability of approximately $3 billion. But this amount is far less than the long-term cost of continuing the public lands grazing program.

The annual cost of the federal grazing program is at least $500 million ($0.5 billion), or $28.38 for each of the 17,617,986 AUMs provided. 2 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. 3 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 approximately 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% nominal interest). 4
"Grazing on federal lands supports many communities throughout the West and is necessary for the economic survival of many rural businesses, communities and counties. The private/public partnership that federal grazing permits bring to the livestock industry preserves open space and curtails urban sprawl. Ranchers and farmers are our best wildlife habitat managers as their private lands and federal grazing permits support countless wildlife during winter months or during dry seasons or periods of drought. Federal lands grazing permittees also improve federal land for wildlife by providing water on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service." Said Andy Groseta, a cattle producer from Cottonwood, Arizona and Chairman of the Federal Lands Committee for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.   The economic contribution of federal public lands grazing to western state economies is negligible. 5

The contention that public lands ranching preserves open space is false. It's not a case of "cows versus condos." Open space is not "preserved" by livestock grazing, but exists only as long as a ranching landowner prefers to raise livestock rather than subdivide his or her private property. As soon as a ranching landowner decides to give up his or her chosen lifestyle, or sells their ranch to a new landowner, the "preserved" open space is lost to development. 6

Any forage used by livestock is not available for native wildlife. For every month that a domestic cow (or five sheep) is on the public lands, the ecosystem and the public are deprived of sufficient forage to support approximately 11 pronghorn, 8 deer, 7 bighorn sheep, 2 elk, 1 bison or 1 moose. 7

Wildlife that have evolved in the American West were (are) naturally capable of finding food and water in arid landscapes before the advent of domestic livestock grazing on public lands.
"This proposal and its proponents, falsely link all livestock grazing on federal lands with environmental degradation," said Jason Campbell, PLC Executive Director. "In fact, research shows that ecological processes and functions are greatly improved with controlled and carefully managed livestock grazing. Ecological conservation objectives are much more easily attained with properly managed livestock grazing, than if livestock grazing is completely removed."   Domestic livestock grazing is comparable to the annual clearcutting of a very short ecosystem. 8 This highly destructive activity:
  • reduces both water quality and water quantity. 9
  • imperils many species of fish, wildlife, and plants. 10
  • spreads invasive weeds. 11
  • adversely affects forests. 12
Fifty years of research substantiates that improvements in rangeland condition occur much quicker under moderate grazing scenarios when compared to the total exclusion of livestock grazing. Most professional range managers agree that our nation's rangelands are in better condition today than since before the turn of the century.   NPLGC assumes PLC means the turn of the twentieth century--and 1901 is a poor reference point, as domestic livestock grazing had been degrading the public lands for a half-century by then. And one would not declare a patient that has been upgraded from critical condition to serious as "healthy."

"Range condition" is a measurement of forage availability for domestic livestock. It is not a measurement of ecological health.
Many mainstream wildlife, hunting, and resource conservation organizations do not support the buyout proposal; and a survey on a website hosted by some the sponsors of this new program reports that nearly 85% of respondents do not support the use of public funds for the purchasing of federal grazing rights.   A website poll, whoever sponsors it, has no statistical significance.
"While PLC supports permittees marketing their property and permits as they see fit, PLC opposes this effort at a buyout and the philosophy behind the proposal," said Campbell. "PLC also questions the use of public funds for this purpose. "There are other, much more effective avenues that Congress and federal agencies should be pursuing to achieve the conservation and livestock industry benefits this program purports to achieve. The livestock industry and our conservation partners recognize the ecological and economic benefits of having livestock grazing our western ranges, and we are working cooperatively to achieve common resource management and conservation goals."   The use of federal funds to retire grazing permits/leases is quite appropriate given that taxpayers are subsidizing the federal grazing program by at least $500 million annually. It would be much cheaper for the public to pay the proposed rate of $175/AUM for grazing permits/leases to relieve itself of the ongoing cost of the grazing program. 13
"The buyout of grazing privileges and eliminating livestock grazing opportunities with federal funds amounts to unsound public and fiscal policy," said Arizona rancher Andy Groseta. "Moreover, the idea associated with the buyout, conservation purposes, contravenes existing federal law. In the livestock industry's recent landmark case, PLC vs. Babbitt, two federal courts ruled that federal grazing permits could not be held for conservation purposes.   Existing federal law and policy that promotes livestock grazing on public lands also reduces water quality and quantity, imperils fish and wildlife, and destroys native vegetation, while creating a perverse economic setting that provides grazing permittees with few viable options.
Additionally, federal statutes such as the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, National Forest Management Act and the Federal Land Policy Management Act all mandate that federal lands must be managed under the concept of multiple use. Congress would have to enact new legislation in order to achieve the goals of the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign."   The voluntary grazing permit buyout proposal is ecologically imperative, economically rational, fiscally prudent, socially just and politically pragmatic.
The effort behind the buyout is a measure of opposite of the best interests of the livestock industry, the well-being of our public lands, and certainly the American taxpayer.   The Economist disagrees: "Grazing, along with hard-rock mining, represents the last bastion of government-subsidised extraction of commodities from public lands. The American taxpayer deserves a viable alternative." 14
The Public Lands Council is dedicated to the preservation of the western livestock grazing industry and is supported in this effort by the American Sheep Industry, the Association of National Grasslands, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and the American Farm Bureau. It represents the interests of nearly 27,000 federal grazing permittees in 14 western states.   The interests of the leadership of PLC in this case may not coincide with the interests of the membership. Voluntary grazing permit buyout gives public lands grazing permittees/lessees another option for their permit/lease. In this case, that which serves the best interest of PLC members may not support the organization's political goals and drive to maintain its membership.


1. Federal Grazing Permit Buyout Program will not Create New Rights in Permits.
2. Fiscal Benefits to Taxpayers of the Voluntary Federal Grazing Permit Buyout Act.
3. Federal Livestock Grazing AUMs: B(u)y the Numbers.
4. Fiscal Benefits to Taxpayers of the Voluntary Federal Grazing Permit Buyout Act.
5. Economic Facts of Public Lands Grazing.
6. Cows or Condos: A False Choice.
7. Livestock versus Wildlife.
8. Livestock Grazing is Annual Clearcutting.
9. Livestock and Water.
10. Grazing Impacts on Endangered Species.
11. Livestock and Alien Weeds.
12. Livestock and Forest Health.
13. Fiscal Benefits to Taxpayers of the Voluntary Federal Grazing Permit Buyout Act.
14. "Subsidised cow chow," The Economist, Mar. 8, 2002, p. 39 (available at